In 2018, Irma Surya founded PLATO, a “one-stop-shop legal platform” focused on helping small businesses navigate Indonesia’s legal landscape. A lawyer with extensive experience assisting businesses expand in Indonesia, Surya details what inspired her to found PLATO and what’s in store for the company’s future in this interview with Asia Law Portal.
You began your legal career as a lawyer in 2007. What did you see in the market that led you to found Plato?
Having a passion for technology, coupled with 13 years of legal industry experience serving some of Indonesia’s leading firms such as Ali Budiardjo, Nugroho, Reksodiputro Counsellors at Law (ABNR) and German’s leading firm called Luther LLP made me:
- have a deep understanding of the complexities of the Indonesian legal system, small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) as well as startups ecosystem, and technology;
- appreciate legal services in ways most people don’t;
- understand that in Indonesia, establishing new ventures, obtaining legal support for contracts, or any other purpose, including signing legal documents is inefficient, costly, and time-consuming. This has been a big problem for entrepreneurs and the industry, especially for SMEs and startup ventures. While on the other side, there are 20,000 lawyers across Indonesia who from time to time have empty billable hours and constantly worry about their marketing cost in order to reach their potential clients;
- want to make legal service more affordable, accessible and scalable while keep on maintaining its reliability; and
- want to change the legal ecosystem by combining reliable and low cost of legal service using technology – modernizing the traditional way people get and provide legal service, including modernizing the traditional way people sign documents.
Recognising the limitations as mentioned earlier, the only way was to come up with an innovative solution … I created Plato!
Plato is B2B platform. Plato aimed to elimate all the hurdles that clients face when engaging legal support in Indonesia. By using technology and common sense, Plato is revolutionizing the legal ecosystem step by step. We created the first part of an online legal platform that can provide our B2B clients with reliable, affordable, and easy to access “end-to-end” legal solutions, thereby making legal work faster, simpler and more affordable.
My vision is to revolutionize legal ecosystem especially in Indonesia by applying smart technology that makes legal work faster and AFFORDABLE. So entrepreneurs and the industry, especially for SMEs and startup ventures will not have to waste their time figuring out the Indonesian’s legal landscape; or pay expensive legal bills to get good quality company incorporation service, document templates, in addition, our platform will ease lawyers’ worries about their empty hour and marketing cost ever again!! And everybody from lawyers, entrepreneurs, B2B, B2C, C2C can digitally sign and approve document instantly and securely and conduct e-KYC so they don’t have to waste their time in traffic nor travel far away from one place to the other just to carry out a KYC process or to sign documents.
How has your experience as a lawyer and a partner in a law firm helped you with Plato?
There is no free lunch. You have to pay for it one way or another and you have to work relentlessly seven days a week to get where you wish to be. People leave for a reason, learn from it and move on. Take it as a learning experience. Broken relationships might be a blessing in disguise, even if we do not see it at the moment. When relationship ends, it will hurt. It’s ok to cry. After those tears, get your ass up, let go and move on. You can look back, learn the lessons you paid with this relationship. So, learn it well, but, do not let it affect you so much that you can’t move forward. Always embrace the bright side of life – each part of the journey teaches you something, and often the hard phases teach you most.
Being motivated, driven, and passionate with extensive experience made me know how it is to move mountains and getting things done.
Being no stranger to large contracting and structuring assignments related to heavy industries and able run a boutique firm as a partner made me successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to my and Plato’s advantage.
Plato is described as “Indonesia’s One-Stop-Shop Legal Platform” focused on small businesses. Tell us more about this.
We believe that SMEs are the growth engine in Southeast Asia. Cited data from the Indonesian Ministry of Cooperative and SME’s, out of a total of 58 million SMEs across Indonesia, only 15 million SMEs in Indonesia have bank accounts or have done transactions with banks.
Each year, 208,000 new SMEs are estimated to be established. Assuming an average establishment cost of US$ 600 per entity, this brings the incorporation market alone to an estimated US$ 125m per annum. If we add on compliance and digital signature services to our mix of digital services, we are looking at a total addressable market in Indonesia of about US$ 227m per annum.
With Plato, I am building and rolling out one of Indonesia’s first online legal platforms, thereby morphing the relatively old-fashioned legal landscape into a suitable platform for the 21st Century.
Plato is focused on the legal aspects of company establishment, including securing legal permits and ongoing compliance, which are accessible via an online platform. We serve small and medium-sized businesses including startups and enables them to cut costs, create transparency in the legal field, and save significant time. Plato intends to disrupt the traditional legal services market by combining reliable and low cost of service with a solid margin.
Plato utilizes digital signature technology. What has been the response to this by your clients?
Digital signature provides a cryptographic process for software publishers. It ensures the integrity and authenticity of software and documents by enabling end users to verify publisher identities while validating that the code or document has not been changed since it was signed. Digital signatures go beyond electronic versions of traditional signatures by invoking cryptographic techniques to dramatically increase security and transparency, both of which are critical to establishing trust and legal validity.
Our clients come from different parts of the world. From Indonesia, Asia, USA, and Europe. When our clients come to us for their legal needs, the first thing they asked was if they can sign all of the documents that we provided them digitally. That way, they don’t have to waste their time in traffic nor travel far away from one place to the other just to sign documents. The recent COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is a testament of why digital signature technology is so necessary in what we do in the corporate and legal fraternity.
When a notary or lawyer receive a digitally signed document, they asked key questions to validate the signature, such as:
- Is the digital certificate that signed the document still valid? Has it expired or has it been revoked?
- Has the document been changed since it was signed? Has the integrity of the document been affected? If there are changes, are they allowed changes or not
- How do you know if you can trust a digital signature?
- What aspects of the signer’s digital certificate/credential should be noted?
- How do you verify the signer’s identity, and how critical is the storage of the signing key itself?
As of today, we understood that there are no digital signature service providers that answer all of the above questions while being able to meet the local legal standards for digital signature solution. Which made us understood how to change the digital signature landscape.
Plato utilizes a network of lawyers to assist clients. Tell us more about this.
Our closed legal marketplace works by using simple algorithm. Its like Tinder for lawyers with “personal concierge”. We basically matchmake clients with the most suitable lawyer/ law firm from our pool of partners, which is providing us with discounted rates via Plato platform in return for a potential larger volume of clients.
It’s a win-win situation for our client, members lawyers/ law firms as well as Plato. It is a win for our clients because they get discounted rates from the best pre-vetted lawyers and law firms. It is also a win for our members lawyers/ law firms because they save on business development time and cost. Ultimatley, it is a win for Plato from the success fees. So far, our clients and our pre-vetted lawyers/ law firms love this concept as they have additional free hours by focusing on something that they do best, building their business!
What are Plato’s goals for the future?
I believe everyone has the right to have access to affordable and reliable legal solutions within one platform. I really want to change the world with the super app for legal industry that Plato is currently building – modernizing the traditional way people receive and provide legal services, including modernizing the traditional way people sign documents.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought more awareness to those who use to have limiting beliefs on how we can use technology to revolutionize the legal ecosystem especially in Indonesia. We are monetizing and gaining more tractions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is enabling Plato to deeply integrate into the SMEs, startups, compliance and legal ecosystems.
We recently secured our initial Term Sheet led by Indonesian VC investor in the amount of US$ 250,000 from the total of US$ 500,000 in a seed funding round that we are raising. For this seed funding round, the second potential investors (VCs) from London and Indonesia have currently started to conduct their due diligence.
The fresh funds will go towards investment in digital product development, and rolling out Plato’s services across Indonesia’s two main cities (Jakarta and Surabaya). With the additional funding, Plato will strengthen its team size and increase its marketing activities.
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