Highlights from 2019 Insights from tech start-ups
Kicking off the first panel session, moderator Lito Camacho, Vice Chairman Asia Pacific, Credit Suisse, invited the speakers to share what sparked their journey in launching their respective tech start-ups.
A common thread that emerged was that they all saw an existing gap, and had the foresight to leverage technology in order to create something to address that need.
Speaking first was Leontinus Alpha Edision, Co-founder of Tokopedia, touching on how his partner and he were both struck by how technology was a powerful leveler. Coming from small cities in Indonesia where opportunities were more limited as compared to larger cities like Jakarta, they had a vision to build a platform where anyone can start anything as a business owner, or discover anything as a consumer.
“Our mission was to democratize commerce with technology”, said Leon.
For Sandeep Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of droom.in, he realized that while the automobile industry has grown leaps and bounds with increasing automation since Henry Ford, the marketplace experience for used cars was “still a very 19th century experience”. Coupled with the fact that India is the third largest automobile market in the world, worth US$300 billion annually, with high-speed Internet and mobile penetration, there was an opportunity for him to create something akin to “Walmart of India”.
“We were driven by the idea of disruption, and wanting to do it by ourselves”, shared Tribodi (Beam) Arunanondchai, Vice Chairman and Co-founder of Lightnet Pte Ltd, the panel’s third speaker.
Given their finance backgrounds, Beam and his partner quickly zoomed in on the money transfer market. Conventionally, the market sector presents high barriers to entry, fragmented market players, and heavy reliance on the money network. To address the existing challenges, they leveraged upon the conglomerate of 7/11 stores and Stellar, world-leading blockchain network, to develop a network that is non-bank, able to operate round-the-clock in real-time, and that was highly operable with the wallet infrastructure and banking realm.
The speakers also shared what it takes to start up a technology company. Contrary to popular belief, the qualities required go beyond possessing technology savviness. Apart from creativity, one of the key qualities is a problem-solving mindset. In addition, the ability to create, and leverage, trust also ranks amongst the top.
“You need to be very thick-skinned”, shared Sandeep, speaking about the challenges and problems that he faced in his start-up journey. He prepared for stiff global competition from existing corporate giants, and avoided the first-mover advantage becoming a curse, by exploring other competitive modes and maintaining a critical outlook at differentiation.
Other challenges included establishing a common understanding with international partners, as Beam experienced. With every country in Asia having its own unique payment behavior, it was necessary to bring partners on-board to share the same vision, in order to successfully create a universal back-office infrastructure that still accommodated different applications locally. Moreover, by capitalizing on the existing local infrastructure, trust and relationships, it helps create high barriers to entry for other competitors and chain companies, even if they may be willing to spend billions.
Leon spoke about the “difficulty of finding investors and financial backers, and to hire a team of founding members”. Having no previous experience working with big tech companies, their lack of technology savviness was also a challenge. However, “when you are at war, you just do your best”, said Leon. Through perseverance, alongside mentorship from investors, and always striving to do things better is key. Additionally, embracing change will go a long way in helping prepare oneself for competition and success.