“I believe that I’m a trailblazer. In fact, when we started very few people here saw restaurants as a lucrative business,” says Christian Rijanto. “Many had doubts about us venturing into the food and beverage industry at all. But I love good food, so I pressed on. In a span of several years, we have already turned it into a serious business. Now we see that more and more people are aspiring to become chefs, restaurateurs and so on.”
Rijanto is a co-founder of Ismaya Group, a market leader in lifestyle hospitality. Along with his business partners Bram Hendrata and Brian Sutanto, he leads a company that boasts more than 20 successful hospitality brands in Jakarta, Singapore and Dubai. Its F&B brands include Blowfish, Dragonfly, Social House, Skye, Publik Markette and GIA. Meanwhile, its entertainment division, Ismaya Live, runs Djakarta Warehouse Project, the biggest annual dance music festival in Southeast Asia, among other events. The group has brought world-renowned acts like One Direction, Katy Perry, John Legend and David Guetta to Indonesia.
Rijanto has high hopes for Ismaya Live, while accepting that entertainment is a tough industry in which to succeed. “As for our entertainment division, a lot of people love music but it’s not easy to create a sustainable music business,” he declares. “But again, because we have really put our hearts, minds and sweat into it, we’ve managed to create something that people would look at and say: ‘I want to do that too’. So I think we’re really changing the mindsets of people just by doing what we love.”
How did Rijanto get the idea for Ismaya Group? “We started in 2003, when we had all just got back from studying overseas and we sort of missed the food scene there,” he recalls. “Back then, there was still little variety here. It was very different from the food scene of Jakarta that we know today. We rented a tiny office in a basement parking lot and opened a small Japanese restaurant called Blowfish, which quickly became the talk of the town. It blew everyone’s mind, and it became obvious very quickly that one restaurant was not enough. We’ve been adding outlets at a steady pace ever since, with unique brands that have become household names in Jakarta and beyond.
“At Ismaya, we want to share and spread the philosophy of Semar, the beloved larger-than-life wayang creature. Actually, that’s where we got the name Ismaya from. Semar is also known as Ismaya. He’s depicted as this wise bon-vivant who lives life to the fullest. That spirit of Semar became the foundation of Ismaya, where we strive to create the good life for each and every one of our customers.
“We have 15 F&B brands now, one function hall called The Establishment and one event management arm called Ismaya Live, which organises four to five major festivals annually, including We The Fest, Djakarta Warehouse Project, and Jakarta Culinary Festival in Jakarta to Sunny Side Up and Ultra Music Festival in Bali.”
So, how did Rijanto get into music promotion and live events? “To me, music is life,” he replies. “Everyone at Ismaya, and all who know me, can see that I definitely make music a big part of my life. I even take care of the music selections in all of our outlets. As for the business, actually, it was kind of by chance.
Several years back, we had an incident at Blowfish where we were going to hold the Blowfish Warehouse Project. Unfortunately, an accident happened which forced us to reorganise the way the Project was to be held and handled. It was a pretty tricky situation because we had already made commitments with sponsors, artists and DJs, so obviously we had to deliver.
“We decided to do it outdoors for the first time ever and even though it was very challenging, we learned a lot and since then we have been committed in making a bigger and better festival experience every time. When I look back, it sort of felt like a blessing in disguise.
“More than 90,000 people came last year to Djakarta Warehouse Project (DWP), including 23,000 overseas visitors. Why were so many international partygoers interested to come to DWP? We believe it’s because we provide the best festival experience for everybody, and that can relate to any festival-goers from all over the world. We have great line-ups with big productions, but also we provide good value for our tickets. FYI, the first presale for DWP 2017 is sold out already!
“My vision is to make Ismaya Live the biggest and most reputable event creator and festival promoter in Asia. For me, vision is the most important qualities if we want to succeed in this music industry. You really need to have a vision that will lead you to actually know where the market is going. A vision will help you to understand what the customer wants. Combining all these basic facts, the market and the customer are very important for an entrepreneur, because only then can you make the right decision based on statistics and your own instinct.
“We also want to maintain the event quality that we have established over the years. We also have a plan to expand new festivals to new countries. So far, we have four festivals in one year in Indonesia and two more festivals outside of Indonesia next year. For the time being, we are currently opening franchise inquiries for our music festivals beyond Indonesia, especially DWP, and mainly concentrating on Asia.”
In light of the bombing of Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester in May, how does Rijanto maximise his concert security? “Since two years ago, especially for our big events like DWP, we’ve been implementing heavy airport-style security,” he reveals. “Because we are aware that customers have to have the real feeling that they’re indeed safe while enjoying our events. It’s really important. We might be the only festival in the region that uses X-ray equipment, bag detectors, different layers of armed security and even bomb squads. We invest heavily in protecting our brands and customers so that people can truly enjoy themselves and focus on the festival experience that we’re providing.”
What does Rijanto hope to achieve with Ismaya, both in terms of F&B and live events? “Next year, we hope to double the number of our outlets that we currently have right now, making it approximately more than 100 outlets next year,” says Rijanto. “We are opening new concepts very soon: Mr. Fox, Social Garden, a beach club in Bali and also projects overseas including Dubai, Thailand and Malaysia. Hopefully, event-wise, we’re looking to have 12 events per year, including solo concerts, large-scale music festivals and also food-related events.”
How does Rijanto see the live event-organising industry? “It’s a tough business, super risky,” he grins. “Many things can go wrong. Simply being passionate is not enough. You really have to give it your all, and your team also has to give it their all. Otherwise, you’re not going to make it.
“As for myself, my main strength is that I have the vision and I stick to it. I know what works and what doesn’t. And I have the creativity to create a unique brand identity that appeals to the market. Wanting to do too many things at the same time and being too much of perfectionist can drive my business partners crazy sometime. These are my weaknesses. But I personally believe that having the right partners and people in your team can balance my weaknesses and bring you back to focus.”