Sugeng Wibowo was on his way to lunch on his motorbike when a pedestrian suddenly appeared from nowhere to cross the street. He fell as he swerved his vehicle to avoid hitting the pedestrian. Except for feeling some pain and soreness in his right eye, Wibowo, who was 17 at that time, didn’t think much of the incident. Over time, however, his vision seemed to deteriorate. A doctor later discovered a retinal tear caused by the fall. Wibowo underwent several long and painful surgeries, only to be told in the end that he would never fully regain his eyesight.
The accident didn’t stop Wibowo from going to college and graduating with an engineering degree nor did it interfere with his skills and abilities. Still, with the stigma that unfortunately comes with many physical impairments, Wibowo struggled to find the job he wanted, which was to work for a multinational bank or consultancy firm. He sent out resume after resume, sometimes even with pictures of himself before the accident, so that prospective employers would not see that his right eye was impaired. But even when he made it to the interviews, he would be told that he failed to pass the required medical tests.
That was nearly two decades ago. Today, the 36-year-old father of two runs his own online business in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He first ventured into digital commerce in 2013, setting up his own website to sell fragrances. A year later, one of his closest friends introduced him to Lazada, on which he launched his store, Toko Alona, selling home décor and bedding products.
WATCH: Sugeng Wibowo’s seller story
Toko Alona marked the first time Wibowo sold on an eCommerce platform, and the vast ecosystem of resources and support proved immensely helpful to him as an entrepreneur.
“When I ran my own online business, I had to do everything by myself, including creating and driving traffic to the site,” he said. With Lazada, not only has he been able to leverage the platform’s existing consumer base, its reputation as a trusted eCommerce destination has made customers feel more confident about buying from his store as well.
The eCommerce platform’s sophisticated technology has also played a major role in Wibowo’s entrepreneurial success. “With the data insights I get from Lazada, I can learn more about my consumers – what items they’re most interested in or what promotions they like – so I can better determine the next steps in business development,” he said.
Since launching on Lazada seven years ago, Wibowo’s business has allowed him to provide for his young family. In 2015, he expanded with an offline store on one of the main streets of Kaliurang, a small town just north of Yogyakarta. The business has also created jobs for those in the local community, including a dozen housewives whose work as tailors bring additional sources of income for their families. Even when the pandemic hit, Toko Alona continued to sustain the livelihoods of Wibowo and his staff.
“As an online seller, customers do not care what you look like, they only care about the quality of the product,” Wibowo said, reflecting on the challenges of being seen as having a physical infirmity. “I’m thankful I followed my heart, gave this a try and now even have a brick-and-mortar store because of the success I had on Lazada.”
While continuing to grow his business, Wibowo has used his story to empower those with real or perceived limitations to achieve what they thought could not be possible. He joined the Yogyakarta chapter of Lazada Club, which covers a community of more than 150 sellers in the area and two other nearby cities and towns, and became a seller leader, volunteering his time to train and impart his knowledge and experience to other small-business owners and encouraging his friends and relatives to become online entrepreneurs. Once, an elderly woman at a Lazada Club gathering he organised approached him to ask for advice. They met again at another event a few months later and she thanked him because the advice she shared worked. Even though it was a simple gesture, it meant a lot to Wibowo to know he helped another person who had challenges to overcome.
“It’s my responsibility to encourage others,” Wibowo said. “I will continue to do that through my business and my work with the sellers’ community.”
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