Aaron Sarma exits AirAsia.com, mulls greater ecosystem role
By Karamjit Singh September 21, 2019
- Credits Malaysian ecosystem as instrumental in helping Vidi scale
- Looks forward to serving nation and giving back in time to come
Digital News Asia has reliably learnt that Aaron Sarma, founder and chief executive officer of travel discovery platform Vidi, has stepped down from his role as chief operating officer of AirAsia.com though he remains a non-executive director at AirAsia.com, which in essence is Vidi.
What’s even more intriguing is that there is talk that Sarma is mulling a key ecosystem role. “Stay tuned” is all DNA could get out of him when he confirmed his departure from AirAsia.com and shied away from revealing more about his future plans.
On his entrepreneurial journey so far, he says: "I am blessed to have had the support from govt, ecosystem, and industry. Now its time to give back."
DNA first featured Aaron in Jan 2013 when he was the country manager of StreetDeal Malaysia and he was promoting the still nascent concept of social commerce.
Three years later in Aug 2016 we featured him again, this time as an entrepreneur running travel planning platform Touristly, which had just received a strategic investment of an undisclosed amount from Tune Labs in exchange for a 9.54% stake. Till then he was running Touristly, which he launched in June 2015, under the radar without much publicity.
But it didn’t take AirAsia Group long to realise it had made a gem of an investment in Touristly and just nine months later, AirAsia announced it had acquired a 50% stake in Touristly for US$2.6 million.
The investment was significant from the point of view that, couple with the earlier 9.54% stake sold, Sarma was willing to give up majority control. But he made sure that it was still Touristly management that was calling the shots. In return he had the mouth-watering opportunity to monetize AirAsia’s 60 million yearly travelers. Btw, that number has grown to almost 100 million today.
In May 2018, came another key moment with the name change to Vidi, Latin for “to see”. Sarma told me then that the rebranding reflected the evolution of the company from a traditional trip planner to a visual discovery platform to help travellers see the world by discovering and booking the best things to do while on holiday.
And 12 months later, in May 2019, AirAsia decided it had clearly “seen” its own future as an online travel company tied intimately to Vidi and announced a full acquisition and just a month later, Vidi in essence became AirAsia.com and has disappeared as a brand.
Sarma was busy helping to smoothen the operations of the major online platform as its chief operating officer while also apparently convincing AirAsia founder, Tony Fernandes, that he was ready for a new challenge in his life. As to what exactly that challenge will be, besides spending time mentoring some of his angel investments, we will have to wait and see.
But what is clear is that Sarma is clearly grateful for the support he has received from the government, especially Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) and Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd, and his peers in the ecosystem. For instance, on MDEC’s GAIN programme he tells me that, “GAIN has truly been instrumental in helping us get market access to partners outside of Malaysia and in providing us avenues for exposure and visibility.”
Sarma has also been a recipient of Cradle’s CIP500 in May 2016 and was part of its highly successful Coach & Grow Programme as well besides winning numerous startup awards.