On April 29th, 2017, a historic event will occur in Indonesia. A small group of women entrepreneurs are planning to stage Indonesia’s largest women’s empowerment conference yet.
The event will feature speakers like Sophia Amoruso of Nasty Gal fame, Clair Deevy, Head of Economic Growth Initiatives at Facebook, Stephanie Kurlow, the world’s first Hijabi ballerina—and even some men. The goal is to help women overcome the obstacles that are holding them back. After speaking with Nina Moran, a veteran entrepreneur and co-founder of Resonation, it became clear that the act of building a movement is full of obstacles itself.
If any place were ripe for a women’s movement, it’s Indonesia. The World Bank reports that while women make up a significant number of the nation’s self-employed, they still face societal limitations in and outside of the workplace. With over 12 years of entrepreneurship experience, Nina Moran is no stranger to these limitations.
“[There is this] fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear of putting out there something that’s not actually perfect.”
It all started when she founded a magazine called GoGirl!, a print (now digital) publication created to entertain, educate and inspire its predominantly young female readership. Through her work with GoGirl!, Nina noticed that there was a fear in the minds of many of her readers, particularly women going into their twenties and early thirties. “[There is this] fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear of putting out there something that’s not actually perfect,” says Nina. “Combined with a lot anxiety and cultural barriers—there’s just so many things that young women are afraid to do.”
Wanting to take action, Nina reached out to her network of other women entrepreneurs. They all agreed that they had this “hunger to help women to achieve their dreams” and break through whatever glass barriers are in their lives. That’s when the idea of a conference came to mind.
Although there are enough women in Indonesia to power the majority of the country’s entrepreneurial economy, most of these women are scattered and in small groups. There are some women’s empowerment events and women's networking events, but, says Nina, they often consist of discussions in very segmented groups. Nina envisioned something grander, more powerful and ultimately, more inclusive.
“I wanted to collaborate with other women leaders who want to help and mentor other women. That’s how it began.”
A NEW CONCEPT
In June of 2016, Nina began planning Resonation, a name that embodies voices speaking and being heard. Nina had planned events before—her media company GoGirl! produced and participated in various expositions—but the main challenges of planning expos come from dealing with more tenants, more people, and more sponsors, all with their own needs.
Comparatively, the logistics of producing Resonation are much less daunting; however, other aspects of the event are. “The challenge of Resonation is to get people to grasp the concept because it is new.” Resonation isn’t a regular seminar. In Indonesia, seminars often follow the traditional structure of speakers, breakout sessions, and/or speed mentoring. “What can you get in 7 minutes? It doesn’t work for dating, let alone mentoring.” Resonation is looking to change the way that seminars function with a unique mentorship process that matches attendees with a facilitator.
“Once attendees are registered for the event,” says Nina, “we are going to use Bizzabo to send a survey where they tell us about what they want to learn specifically.” The overall aim of Resonation is to get women talking about their dreams and the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving them. But not all dreams are the same. That’s where the facilitators come in. The results from the Bizzabo survey will help match attendees with a group of similar women, each of which will be lead through a ninety-minute “reflection session” by a facilitator of varying industry expertise.
“I want this to be a really deep session where all of the attendees can ask their mentors, their facilitators about all of the things that are stopping them.” From there, mentors can give them tactical or motivational advice.
“The barrier is getting them to understand that.” Nina fears that most attendees will want to buy their ticket a few days before their event. But attendees need to register early so that they have time to fill out the Bizzabo survey and get matched with the right mentor. As a result, Nina is working hard to push ticket sales.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Some of the registrants are readers of GoGirl!, but the majority of them have heard about the event through word-of-mouth. If Nina and her team are going to hit their attendee goals, they are going to need to find a way to boost her marketing reach, and fast.
Fortunately, they have some help.
Facebook is sponsoring the event as part of She Means Business, an initiative that supports the development of female business leaders (“When women do better, economies do better,” reads their homepage). With this sponsorship comes a hefty sum of Facebook Ads credits and also some promotional posts. “But that isn’t enough actually,” says Nina. Facebook is after all only one channel, one influencer. To further amplify her marketing efforts, Nina is partnering with KOLs (key opinion leaders) and a number of media partners. Given Nina’s background in media, finding partners was easy. Still, things are far from perfect.
The Resonation team has been sending out sponsorship proposals since June last year. Only a small handful of sponsors have signed on, and they only did so the month before the event. But the team is not giving up. “I don’t even know how many times we’ve presented, but basically that’s all we’re doing: Present, present, present.”
The main focus of the sponsors seems to be on cost per acquisition, but Nina has been able to draw their focus to the benefits of using the Bizzabo app. At the very base, sponsors will have their logos and any special offers integrated into the app. Given that the app will be the events central networking tool, sponsors will receive guaranteed engagement from attendees. On top of that, the apps analytics will allow sponsors to see how much engagement they are receiving, how many people are clicking on their offers, and how many people are going to their sites. Greater yet than statistics or data, participating sponsors will be associated with with a significant event.
But even with an amazing app at their fingertips, Nina admits it’s been tough.
“I’ve been in business for a while, but this year, for whatever reason, everybody is just so slow—the media, the sponsors—everything is moving so freaking slow.”
And these aren’t the only setbacks.
THE “REALNESS” OF FAILURE
If you’re going to stage the biggest women’s conference in the history of Indonesia, you’re going to want a world-class speaker to be a part of it. In June 2016, when the ball first started rolling for Resonation, Nina and her team reached out to Sheryl Sandberg. After all, few loom quite as large as the Facebook COO and author, whose book Lean In has become the working women’s must-read. It turns out that if you want to book Sandberg, you need to do so in advance. Roughly three years in advance.
It wasn’t long before Nina read about Sophia Amoruso in Forbes. At 22, while working odd jobs around San Francisco, Amoruso started her own online retail company, Nasty Gal. The company first started off a seller on eBay, but then soon grew large enough that she moved it to a site of its own. Through shrewd marketing (particularly on social media) and strong leadership, the company grew its revenues to $223,000 in 2008. By the beginning of 2016, Nasty Gal closed an estimated $300 million in sales. At the time, Sophia herself had a net worth of $280 million. Like Sandberg, Amoruso had published her own best-selling business women’s guide, GirlBoss. She also had a popular podcast, a coffee table book, and even a biopic series in the works for Netflix.
Amoruso was just the flagship speaker that Resonation needed. Working with a speakers agency, Nina managed to secure Amoruso’s spot in August.
In November Amoruso filed for bankruptcy and sold her company to a UK retailer for a huge loss.
"It’s not all rainbows. It’s not all Series A, B, and C. It’s hard work and sometimes this can happen."
“At the time, when we heard the news that she was filing for bankruptcy, we kind of talked with her agents about that,” explains Nina. In the event of a new development, Nina had the contractual right to cancel Amoruso and the agency would help them find another to fill her spot. But she decided not to.
“I thought about it and there’s just so many people that glorify success and not enough the falling down, the journey, the disappointments, the heartbreaks that you actually feel,” says Nina. “Startups can happen and then can succeed and then things can happen like this, especially with the economy right now. I really, really wanted to portray this face of entrepreneurship, you know? It’s not all rainbows. It’s not all Series A, B, and C. It’s hard work and sometimes this can happen. It’s real. It’s normal. It’s perfectly OK. It’s part of life.”
There’s a notion, especially in Silicon Valley, one of the global capitals of entrepreneurial thought, that you either have talent or you don’t. The media is quick to talk about Elon Musk’s technological brilliance, but fails to highlight his shortcomings. The media also fails to cover the privilege, opportunity, and, yes, hard-work that got him to where he is today. The end result is perfection, and who can compare with perfection?
Nina recalls how one of her readers reached out to her, distraught. She told Nina that she was the same age as Mark Zuckerberg when he founded Facebook, yet she’s not even close to accomplishing anything like that. “It makes you feel like you aren’t doing anything with your life, and that’s just stupid, right?"
That’s ultimately why Nina and her team decided to go ahead with Amoruso, despite the sudden change. They wanted to portray this “realness” of failure and the need to get back up. Rather than applaud only people who appeared to succeed without effort, Nina wants Resonation to be the sort of event that recognizes the bravery in failing and trying again, and that’s exactly what Amoruso is going to talk about at the conference: her tough times, her failures, and finding the courage and strength to start again.
WHEN PEOPLE COME TOGETHER
The other speakers at the event have no less impressive nor less important stories to tell. Stephanie Kurlow, wanted to be a ballerina when she was younger, but stopped pursuing it when she noticed that there weren’t any services or facilities for Hijab-wearing muslims. A series of events later inspired her to continue her dream. At the age of 14, she created a kickstarter to raise funds and now attends a full-time ballet school. She hopes to someday open a ballet school for all religions.
Angkie Yudistia contracted malaria when she was 10 and as a result began to lose her hearing. She is still going through the hearing loss and the thought of one day not being able to hear her children’s voice is almost unbearable for her. But she turned that around and founded Thisable, an enterprise that empowers those with disabilities to be financially independent.
None of this is to say anything about the men’s panel. It’s not uncommon for women to receive admonitions about ambition, jokes about their ability, or downright scorn from their male partners and colleagues. The author Henry Manampiring and the development engineer Johan Ekengård are both outspoken supporters of women. They will answer questions about why. There will also be a public photo exhibition by the photographer Johan Bävman that challenges the notion of the typical male bread-winner by highlighting stay-at-home fathers.
Adversity, whether internally or externally, is part of the game of being an entrepreneur. Add on being a woman or a minority and the push-back multiplies. Nina and the Resonation team are undertaking a great risk in what they are doing here. They’ve suffered setbacks and surprises, they’ve encountered obstacles and outright no’s. But nonetheless, they are about to pull off an event of historic proportions. They are about to show us what happens when people come together. They are about to make a movement.