From Corporate Engineer To Startup Founder

We were very lucky to have Kristian Widjaja visiting the Guadalajara tech scene. Kristian has been in Silicon Valley doing software development for over twenty years. He has worked at companies as Oracle and PayPal, but also he has been in several startups. Nowadays he is starting his own startup, Jonajo, which is based in San Francisco and Monterrey.

This is what he shared with StartupGDL about his experience out of working from large corporate environment into startups:


Why did you choose to start your professional career at Oracle and not by founding your own startup?

Kristian: That’s a great question. Well, at that time, when I just graduated from school, I choose to work at Oracle because, Oracle at that time was a big name and it was a good venue to gain experience; because fresh out of school, I’ll be honest, I knew nothing, even though I had 4 years of computer science education. But in terms of how to run a business, how things are done, I didn’t really know anything. By that time, I didn’t know much about funds, so Oracle was a good place to start.


After Oracle, you moved to PayPal. Why did you moved to PayPal and how it was different to Oracle?


“I needed to do something more focused on newer technology, something more consumer based and internet focus”. 


Kristian: So PayPal, is a little bit more like a startup because at that point of time, PayPal had about 6,000 people, but there was definitely more openness in terms of how they worked. I chose to go to PayPal because even though I was in Silicon Valley, I thought that Oracle was getting a little too big, too corporate, I needed to do something more focused on newer technology, something more consumer based and internet focus. PayPal gave me this experience.


Can you share the biggest lessons that you learned in PayPal that have helped you in your future endeavors?

Kristian: Sure, I would say that one of the things that I learned to do well is leadership, because PayPal was not a small company anymore, and I had to build teams. Build  engineering team’s starting with with 4-5 people, but eventually teams of 20-25 people large, and I had to make them work effectively across the globe.

So, cross cultural experience, communicating technology, and leadership is something that I learned.


What do you think was the main factor that pushed you to work from big companies as Oracle and PayPal to building your own startup?


“One of the things that you get in a startup, is,  you get your head into many many different things, so I learned a lot more”.


Kristian: I moved from the large corporate environment into startups, by the way, before I even started my own startup, I went to a couple of other startups first. Because really, now, I’m in Silicon Valley, I’ve worked for this big companies, but I still felt that there was something lacking.

So the first startup that I went to, was PaySimple and it actually was lead by the CTO of somebody who I used to work at PayPal, so it was an easy transition. Over there I learned a lot more, because one of the things that you get in a startup, is,  you get your head into many many different things, so I learned a lot more about technology such as mobile app development. It gave me a lot insight on how to run a business.

Those experiences led me then to finally starting my own company. I would say that going straight from being a in a large company as an employee to founding my own business, I could have done that potentially, but I don’t think I wouldn’t be as successful. Something that you won’t see at my Linkedin profile is two failed startups that I did. So, having those experiences actually helped me build my own successful startup.


Do you consider that working at a startup prepared you to become a founder?

Absolutely, because I was much closer to the business, I had direct contact with the founder, the CFO, the Chief of Operations, so I knew what challenges they had. Now that I have my own company, even though I was mostly focus on engineering before, I also know what it means to run recruiting, marketing and sales, things that before I didn’t even had exposure at a all at larger companies.


Why did you choose Mexico to develop software for your company?

In business companies as Oracle and PayPal I always had global teams all the time, mostly they were in Asia, particularly in India. Now, people there were pretty good engineers, they are really smart, but the problem that I always faced was time zones, because you could never find a common time to really collaborate.

In my previous company, Rocket Layer, I was head of engineering, I actually started a team in Saltillo, Coahuila, starting from one person that ended up in 15, so that was my first experience actually working with a Mexican team and I found it eye opening, in a sense of “wow”, I can actually work with smart people in another part of the world, no too far from the US and they work pretty much in our business hours, and that was just amazing. So having that experience in Saltillo, building a team there, when I started my own company, I already had that experience, and I decided to start a team first in Monterrey, and hopefully, now in Guadalajara.