I first met Trivet Sembel when we were both students at Green River College in Washington State, USA. We had a lot of mutual friends, and I knew him back then as the yoyo kid (in fact, if you google his name, you’ll still find a lot of his yoyoing competition videos on YouTube!). Since then, he has graduated with a Sociology degree from the University of Washington (UW) and co-founded Proud Project, a social-media based company that aims to empower the Indonesian youth. He also founded and is currently President Director for Proud Media Group, the media company that owns Proud Project, and a few other ventures he founded.
What brought you to the US, and why the University of Washington?
Before attending Green River, I actually went to high school in Colton, in San Bernardino County, California. I moved to Washington and attended Green River after graduating from high school because my older sister was already there.
After Green River, I fell in love with Seattle and Washington State in general, so I didn’t want to live anywhere else. The best university in Seattle is UW so I told myself I have to get accepted there; otherwise, I’ll go back to Indonesia. That was actually the only university that I ended up applying to, and thankfully I got accepted!
My experience there was amazing. I think I would rate it 8.5 out of 10, so if my university experience were a movie, it would have been a really good movie. I would go to class, finish my homework, then in the evening I would walk outside, and go to Gas Works Park. I also met my girlfriend in Seattle. Overall it was such a great time.
How did you go from studying Sociology at UW to co-founding a startup focused on storytelling?
A few months before I graduated, I was with my friend getting dim sum in Seattle. After dinner, we walked back to his car in the parking lot. Out of nowhere, this huge white dude wearing a beanie and baggy clothes suddenly started walking towards us. He couldn’t walk straight, I think he was drunk. Here’s the conversation that ensued after:
Man: Can I bum a cigarette?
Me: Sorry sir, we don’t smoke.
Man: I’ll ask you one more time, can I bum a cigarette?
Me: Sorry sir, we just don’t smoke.
Man: *shouting* I know Indonesian people like you smoke, I’ve seen you guys smoke everywhere! There must be a cigarette somewhere in your pocket! Screw Indonesian people! Go back to your country and just bomb some other place!
Me: Holy crap, what just happened? That went from 0 to 100 very quickly. *drive away*
When I got home, I thought, wow, there’s a huge problem here. There’s a wall of misunderstanding between Indonesians and Americans. I started looking into how storytelling can help with all this. I believe that storytelling is the most powerful weapon in this world, even more powerful than nuclear weapons. One nuclear catastrophe can kill a lot of people, but a piece of good storytelling can also influence a lot of people, whether it be positively or negatively.
From there, I decided to explore storytelling with Proud Project. We interviewed various people on the street to hear about their stories and posted them to Instagram. We started small, but we kept at it. We just wanted to spread stories that matter, and thankfully, as of today, 124k people enjoyed them enough to follow the account.
Can you tell us more about Proud Media Group, and its relationship to Proud Project? What do you hope to accomplish there?
I met my Proud Project co-founder around four months before returning to Indonesia. In those four months, we did a lot of brainstorming and researching. Did you know that initially Proud Project was going to be a t-shirt company? After some thought, I asked myself, do I really want to spend my whole life making t-shirts? In the end, we decided to start a media company because one of the best ways to change people positively is by creating media that tells stories that matter. Our original content was pretty similar to Humans of New York style, but we’ve branched out quite a bit since then and we even do videos now.
Proud Project was just a passion project in the beginning. I love talking to people and also interviewing people. I didn’t think it could work, because we’ve all heard that 90% of startups fail in the first two years. But at some point I met this guy, and he said, “Is this really just a passion project? It’s such a shame because I really think this is sustainable. You currently operate in the online space, but why not try offline? Corporates need storytelling too, you know.” So I thought about it more. Hmmm, online to offline? It turns out that in marketing, there is such a thing known as online to offline campaign management. I got hooked, and I started to learn all about it. After some time, I got my first corporate client, and it went really well. From then, I decided to make it more serious, and that’s how I created Proud Media Group, legally known as PT Koloni Pendobrak Tembok.
Proud Media Group serves as the umbrella company for Proud Project, as well as a few other companies, such as Folkative (a media company that highlights Indonesian pop-culture), Livehouse (a talent management company), and Creo Creative Lab (a creative agency). The main goal of Proud Media Group is youth empowerment. We want to empower the Indonesian youth so that they can create contents that can sustain while inspiring others. I currently serve as the Chairman for Livehouse, Commissioner for Folkative, and CEO of Proud Media Group, Creo Creative Lab, and Proud Project.
What have you learned so far since starting Proud Project and Proud Media Group?
In the early days of Proud Project, I met Bang Bogel. He’s this very scary looking dude, and he works as the parking attendant at a coffee shop close to my office. He’s blind in one eye, and has this chain tattoo right around his neck. Underneath it is another tattoo that says “RatNA”. I thought wow, this dude is so scary! Who would get a tattoo of a chain on their neck? I have to talk to him one day. Days go by and at some point I braved myself to approach him. I asked him if I could photograph and ask him some questions, and to my surprise, in his raspy voice he welcomed me and even offered to have a seat. My perception of him changed dramatically, and the 10 minute chat I had with him after that changed my life.
Bang Bogel’s “RatNA” tattoo is for his ex-wife, who he had been with since middle school. He said that they separated because “back then I was an idiot.” All he would do is get drunk and spend all their money. They initially got married because they got pregnant, so her whole family never liked him in the first place, even though he cared for her deeply. In the end he decided that for her to be happy, she needs to be with someone else. I asked him what happened to his eye, and he said, “Karma. Maybe it’s because in the past, I never really cared for my father.” When his father died, he never came to the funeral. Instead, he went out and got drunk. Some time after his father died, he woke up and his eye started hurting. Suddenly liquid started oozing out of his eye, and that’s how he became blind in one eye. “From my life that was full of colour and emotion, in an instant it became dark. I even couldn’t sleep because I had so much regret.” When I asked what he has learned from his experiences, he said, “Telen semua ego-mu. Sebelum ego-mu nelen kamu. (Swallow your ego. Before your ego swallows you up).” I will never forget that conversation I had with Bang Bogel. (You can read more about it on Proud Project’s Instagram here.)
What I’ve learned from my conversation with Bang Bogel, as well as others that we’ve featured on Proud Project, is that (as cliche as it may sound) you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. This applies to many things, whether it be not judging people you don’t like, to not judging your employees or colleagues who are underperforming. Who knows, maybe something is happening in their personal life that is negatively affecting their work, and maybe there’s something I can do to help them.
Any advice for young Indonesians out there who are looking to start their own venture in Indonesia?
First thing, gak semua tai itu buruk, tai itu bisa jadi pupuk (not all shit is bad, shit can also become fertilizer). From interviews with famous people, to those I met on the street…whoever it is, I’ve found that everyone has been through their own issues. Everyone has their ups and downs. It’s important to realize that when you’re down, there’s still an opportunity to get better. Think of an arrow. You have to pull it back before it flies off into the distance. Think of this when you’re not doing great — it’s all part of the process of learning and getting better. On the other hand, when you’re at the top of the world, don’t be too arrogant because you can still lose. I’ve interviewed all sorts of people, all the way from people who go from rags to riches, as well as people who go from riches to rags.
My second piece of advice is to be brave. My grandparents grew up amidst the war. My grandfather witnessed his father bleed to death right in front of his eye. My grandmother’s friend died whilst hanging up her laundry due to a stray bullet. What I’m trying to say here is that whatever you did back then, there’s a much higher possibility of dying. The life we live nowadays is so much easier. When you step up and get out of your comfort zone, what’s the worst thing that could happen? If you do something embarrassing, the worst thing is probably that people talk about you for a bit, but in my opinion that’s much better than death. Dare yourself to create and innovate. I know it can be scary, but we as the younger generation can’t take things for granted. We have to make sure the sacrifices that our parents and grandparents make isn’t for naught. That’s why I do my best to continuously inspire and empower people through Proud Project. There’s so much potential that could be unlocked if only we are empowered to think more critically and realize that we can do so much more.
This article was written by Indira Pranabudi and edited by Riri Malikah. Featured in this article is Trivet Sembel. In his own words:
Trivet Sembel is an award-winning CEO who founded an independent new age media company called Proud Media Group. He graduated from University of Washington and majored in Sociology. Spent his entire teenage years as a professional & competitive yoyo player with two national champion titles and multiple international titles. Legend says that he is also a master at bad jokes.