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Insights on Tech and the Indonesian Diaspora in Silicon Valley

October 31, 2017

Navigating through different diaspora communities, one tech event at a time.


By Richard Darsono, co-written with Karel Luwena.


The Big Picture

Many of our friends from back home ask “How is life in the Bay Area?” Or as foreigners usually call them, the ‘Silicon Valley’.

We never have a short answer.

Things happen in the Bay Area all the time. Most of the time it’s about tech. It ranges from product launches like the latest Apple and Google announcements to big corporate drama, or new startup funding rounds from the hottest VCs in town.

Moreover, unless you live or have ever lived here, you would rarely talk about the Indonesian diaspora community in the Bay Area. A quick research shows that there are about 90,000 Indonesian professionals living in the US, about 4 to 5 percent of them live in the Bay Area. And, of course, there are hundreds of Indonesian students in universities across the Bay.

After living in the Bay for about few months, we have learned that the Indonesian community is quite fragmented. There are a lot of small Indonesian communities such as students organizations, religious communities, and professional networking groups. However, there is no umbrella organization that unites all of them.

We understand that the current sub-communities may have different objectives, and serve wide-ranging audiences. However, we feel that there needs to be a connector that brings every group together. Through this article, we want to add some value to the large and fragmented network.

On a related topic, the rise of digital economy in Indonesia and beyond has increased the demand for the ‘hungry’ and talented individuals. Even the CEOs and COOs of Indonesian startups would leave their offices and fly halfway around the world to convince Indonesian professionals in the Bay to return home.

Given the current situation, we believe Silicon Valley and other tech hubs in the US will play an increasingly important role in connecting the local talents abroad with Indonesian startups. This trend, and the movement of people back to their home country are best exemplified by the migration of the Chinese abroad educated founders and tech execs back to China.


Why did we write this?

The month of September is very special to us.

As the new kids on the block, we want to connect to the visionary individuals in the area. We also want to know what other Indonesians are up to. And, we want to share our experience and learnings.

In September, we went to a number of networking events that are related to the development of tech industry in Indonesia. We had the chance to meet many inspiring startup founders and key players from back home. Most importantly, we met so many diverse young talents from all around the US.

Therefore, to build on the September’s momentum and epiphany, (1) we would like to share the learnings that we got from the four events we attended, and (2) to initiate a conversation on the possibility of building better bridges to connect the existing Bay Area Indonesian communities and beyond.


For the sake of simplicity, the event(s) is divided into context, people, and key takeaways.

P.s. We think these events are important for catalyzing collaboration.

Without these kind of events, this writing would not have been possible. We got connected at the first event, PERMIAS Congress 2017.


1. PERMIAS Congress 2017, “Conquering Indonesia 2030”

Context

  • Persatuan Mahasiswa Indonesia Amerika Serikat (PERMIAS) Nasional is student-run organization that is comprised of a number of elected executives from various PERMIAS Chapters across the US.
  • Every year they hold a Congress event, which revolves around a specific theme. The event is concluded with a general meeting and a change in the PERMIAS Nasional leadership.

People

  • Both Vidi Aldiano (Indonesian Pop Singer) and Yansen Kamto (Founder of KIBAR) shared their entrepreneurial journey as an singer turned entrepreneur, and as an ad agency guy turned entrepreneurial-ecosystem-builder.
  • We found KIBAR (Google for Entrepreneurs Founding Partner in Indonesia) to be really interesting. KIBAR is an pre-seed/seed stage accelerator in Indonesia with three foundational functions: event organizing, startup accelerator, and strategic-partnership maker.
  • Kibar has worked closely with the Mayor of Surabaya (Ibu Risma) and the ICT Minister’s Office for the ‘1000 Digital Startups Initiative.’ They are also building collaborative spaces in 10 major cities (such as Yogya, Bali, Medan, Pontianak, etc) through partnerships with the respective City offices.

More about KIBAR:

Key Takeaways

  • Yansen advised Indonesians students abroad to go back, contribute, and create solutions that solve the most pressing problems in the country.
  • Yansen also envisions an equal distribution of access and wealth across Indonesia. He believes that talents are spread throughout Indonesia, but not all of them have an equal access to mentorships and capital.
  • Rejection is normal — Vidi thrived, despite experiencing initial rejection by the major record labels. He ended up making his own record label, and expanded his personal brands into F&B businesses, and most recently a creative talent marketplace called, Krowd.id.


2. IPA, Indo Tech Community and Intudo Ventures

Context

  • Indonesian Professionals Association and Indo Tech Community hosted a small gathering for Indonesian fresh grads, startup founders and Indo tech veterans.
  • Patrick and Eddy founders of Intudo briefly talked about the strategy behind their latest fund.

People

  • Eddy Chan is the Co-Partner of Intudo, who splits his time between Southeast Asia and Silicon Valley. He is an investor in Paypal, SpaceX, and Palantir.
  • Patrick Yip is also the Co-Partner of Intudo, who in charge of operations in Jakarta. He is one of the investors behind large tech companies in Indonesia. Patrick was the founding partner of Goldman Sachs’ Venture fund in Indonesia.

Key Takeaways

  • Intudo is an one of the few independent venture fund that invest in two things: (1) a Joint Venture model, and (2) local companies with strong founder/market fit.
  • Intudo has raised ~$16 M fund. They plan to invest in 12–16 startups in the Greater Jakarta Area. (Link to TechCrunch article).
  • Indonesian new tech businesses will have an increasing demand for both fresh and experienced talents.


3. Insights and Updates on Indonesia’s in general and recent development on Indonesia’s digital economy.

Context

  • The Indonesian Information and Communication Technology Ministry’s Office sponsored 15 selected startups from Indonesia to go on a roadshow to meet the top VCs firms in SV.
  • Along with the Indonesian Consulate General in San Francisco and PERMIAS SFBA, they hosted a meetup and sharing session for the Indonesian students and diaspora.

People

  • Pak Rudiantara (the ICT Minister) opened the event with a Skype call from Jakarta. He explained both the current challenges and opportunities in the Indonesia’s tech landscape.
  • Kevin Aluwi (Co-founder of Go-Jek) and William Tanuwijaya (Co-founder and CEO Tokopedia) then shared their stories about the hardships and learnings from building the first Indonesian unicorns. FYI: Gojek is the Indonesian version of Uber, Tokopedia is the Indonesian version of Alibaba.

Key Takeaways

  • According to a report, from 2028 to 2034, Indonesia is going to experience the demographic dividend. Moreover, the economy will double its size, and reach the world’s no.5 position by 2030 at $6tn (PPP).
  • Economic stability is a priority, Indonesia makes up about 46% of ASEAN population. The country also contributes a huge chunk to the ASEAN economy.
  • Top priorities as mentioned by the ICT Ministry: skilled human resources, Logistics and Infrastructure, Consumer Education (digital literacy), Tax System, and Cybersecurity.
  • Strategic Partnership is important — this has allowed Gojek to grow exponentially. Gojek has great initial local partners such as NSI, Northstar, and the Makarim Law Firm that help them “win.”
  • Different ‘schools’ of expansion — Gojek plans to enter other markets by way of local partnerships and growing local ops team. On the other hand, Tokopedia wants to establish itself as a staple brand for Indonesians. They want to focus on the Indonesian market first.
  • The market expertise advantage — William:
“It’s a fallacy to say that SEA is a ‘region’ [market], different countries have different market behaviors, even within Indonesia, different cities are [behave] differently.”
  • On being the underdog — William has proved his perseverance by leading Tokopedia since its inception. Tokopedia has managed to maintain a leading market share despite from competition from e-commerce giants from US, Japan and China. The odds of Tokopedia winning, by measure of resources/capital, was around 1:50. However, Tokopedia has continued to lead the market by creating products that the users love.
“Capital is not the only factor. You have to have the humility of being an underdog.” — William, CEO Tokopedia
  • Vision to empower the Bottom of Pyramid — ojek drivers, SMB entrepreneurs, and of course, consumers share the benefits of greater market efficiency. Not only helping the middle class, both Gojek and Tokopedia have enabled Indonesian people to have the ‘Indonesian dream’. Gojek and Tokopedia are not the most profitable businesses (yet), but they have succeeded in empowering people (ojek drivers and sellers) to be 100% more efficient.


4. Indonesia’s Digital Disruption with Tanifund, Modalku and Adskom.

Context

  • Few other startups who were also on a tour to meet the VC firms in Silicon Valley stopped by at UC Berkeley to share about what they build.

People

  • Tirto Adji, co-founder of Adskom, shared about Adskom, a platform that connects advertisers and ad space owners.
  • Adskom’s VP of Engineering did a quick demo for the ad bidding and buying process. Adakom’s users include the largest Indonesian e-commerce giants, such as Tokopedia, Bukalapak, and Blibli.com.
  • The second speaker came from Modalku, Iwan Kurniawan, co-founder and COO.
  • Modalku is part of the Funding Societies consortium that operates in Malaysia and Singapore as well. They connect individual investors (lenders) with individual borrowers, similar to what the Lending Club does in the US. There are 23,000 individual investors who have received an average of 21% ROI on Modalku. They employ the latest technology to minimize risk and improve ROI.
  • Christian Wirawan, Chief Investment Officer at Tanihub, explained the two-pronged strategy at Tanihub, an agriculture focused B2B and lending startup.
  • Tanihub helps to solve the middleman and access to capital problems for Indonesian farmers. At the core, Tanihub serves the B2B market between farmers and large-scale buyers (supermarkets, exporters, etc). Additionally, they cater a P2P lending model to the partner farmer groups.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial Inclusion as a goal — there is a $120 billion financing gap between the bankable and the unbanked.
  • Indonesian Fintech landscape — from the most mature to the most nascent sectors respectively: payment processing, financial product aggregator, lending, SaaS, to cryptocurrency.
  • Opportunities throughout the value chain: Christian: “There is a market for every different quality of the farmers products.” Tanihub faces some current challenges such as improving the logistics of their moving goods and maintaining the volume of trade to maximize the unit economics.


What’s Next?

We believe that this piece is a stepping stone onto something of greater value. We would like to initiate a spark within the existing communities and beyond. We understand that uniting all Indonesian in the Bay Area is a tough challenge. However, we think the benefits far outweigh the cons.

We think that there is a great potential for further collaborations among the individual members who belong to many different organizations.

(Like what we did with this article).

Ideas do not exist in a vacuum, and we hope that we can help to facilitate that initial conversations.


Established Communities in Bay Area


About Authors

Richard Darsono is currently interning at a microfinance crowdfunding platform in San Francisco to develop his curiosity in the intersection of finance, tech, and social impact. 

Karel Luwena is an Engineer at a Silicon Valley stealth startup. He is planning to return home to help great people build the future of Indonesia on the next wave of technology. 


This article was first published on Medium. It is reproduced here in its original version, with the permission of the authors.

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