Week in Review: Indonesian (startup) Dream gains momentum, new believers

  • Recent investments into GoJek, Traveloka, Tokopedia sees govt, private sector believing too
  • Aiming to learn from China, Indonesia renews invite to Jack Ma to be eCommerce advisor


ON DNA’s most recent fortnightly radio show on on BFM (Business FM) where I and two of my team members were talking about the stories DNA has covered, I shared my thoughts about how more Malaysians had become infused with the belief, “Yes, I can!” thus gives them the courage to take the step out to become startup entrepreneurs.

But even if a listener had called in and asked what term I would use to coin this phenomenon, I would not have described it as the Malaysian Dream.

Interestingly enough, that’s how one of the most respected VCs in Indonesia, Willson Cuaca, has coined that nation’s startup momentum – “The Indonesian Dream”. As the managing partner of East Ventures, one of the country’s earliest and most aggressive venture funds, Willson’s thumbprint can be seen all over the Indonesian startup ecosystem.

As he says, East Ventures were among the first to believe and have faith, or to be precise have “blind faith” in the potential of Indonesia’s startup economy. This faith gave them the courage to be the first investor in Tokopedia back in 2010. Today, it has grown into the leading Indonesian e-commerce site and just recently, on Aug 17, announced that it had raised US$1.1 billion in funding led by Alibaba.

They were also among the first investors to bet on Traveloka in its seed round in 2012, and that travel site recently went on to raise US$350 million from Nasdaq listed travel company Expedia.     

With the exciting developments at Traveloka and Tokopedia and not forgetting GoJek and even Kudo which was acquired by Grab, the Malaysian founded and led ride hailing startup, Willson expressed confidence that many more of Indonesia’s young founders will embrace the Indonesian dream and go on to build their unicorns.

Expounding in this Indonesian Dream, Convergence Ventures partner Donald Wihardja shares that it is about building some technology based solution to solve everyday Indonesian problems that will enhanced lives and be quickly adopted nationally and in the process, drive the startup to unicorn status.

Donald points out that this will be on a national, not international scale. "Most Indonesian startups believe Indonesia itself is big enough, rich enough, and has enough problems that it is ok for them to just solve Indonesian problems first.”

The best part about the Indonesian Dream is that it is spreading beyond startup founders. "We can see today, that even the government and the private sector are starting to believe in and participate in building the dream.”

As they go about building the Indonesian Dream, Donals tells DNA that Indonesia wants to learn from how China leveraged on technology to transform and improve the day to day lives of its people. Infact, he was part of a public-private sector delegation to Beijing this past week for this exact purpose. It was during this trip that Donald says they renewed their offer to Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and chairman, to be the advisor to a steering committee for Indonesia’s eCommerce roadmap. “We don’t need to do everything he says but we do need to listen to what China has learned.”

That’s the kind of hunger to learn, in this case from China, that will keep driving Indonesian and international investor hunger in Indonesia, which in turn will further fuel the startup ecosystem in the country. And with the Indonesian economy expected to become one of the top five economies in the world by 2030, I wonder how soon it will be before the unicorn’s of Indonesia start snapping up startups from their neighbouring countries.

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