A sneak peek into the background profile of our portfolio companies’ founders.
1. What's your story?
I was born and raised in Singapore but my mother is from Indonesia so I am firmly a product of Southeast Asia. I left Singapore in 2009 to study in London and ended up working there for a number of years as a trader before uprooting again to the US to pursue my MBA. In 2017, I moved to Indonesia to start Dana Cita, a FinTech startup on a mission to make education affordable in Southeast Asia. I still call Singapore home but split most of my time today between Manila and Jakarta.
2. What did you want to be as a child?
I think I vacillated between wanting to be a physicist/astronaut and an investor like Warren Buffett. The common thread seems to be a desire to push the bounds of what we understand about the world around us and to take risks.
3. Tell us something unique about yourself!
I wouldn’t really say it’s unique but I’m a fan of endurance sports and have completed a full Ironman triathlon (and proposed to my wife at the finish line!).
4. Why did you decide to move to Jakarta and start Dana Cita?
It was fortuitous. Post-MBA, I knew I wanted to spend my time working on something that could create real impact at scale in Southeast Asia. I flirted with a few startup ideas and potential co-founders but never found the right fit. I then met my co-founder, Susli, through the Wharton network and found in her someone who shares a lot of the same values and ideals that I do (even though she would be the first to admit that we are quite different personality-wise). Susli had actually come up with the initial idea for Dana Cita in 2014 but for one reason or another didn’t pursue it further. Convinced that there was still a massive opportunity to address a real need and build a viable business around it, we decided to revive Dana Cita in 2017 and trial a pilot program in Jakarta. At that time I had actually already accepted a job offer from McKinsey but decided to put that on hold while we bootstrapped Dana Cita. We got into Y Combinator at the end of the year and the rest is history.
5. What do you notice about the different tech/working environments between US and Southeast Asia?
I think there’s a much greater appreciation for diversity and real-world practicalities in Southeast Asia owing to the fact that a large proportion of the potential customer base (for B2C startups at least) is only just entering the “consuming class” and owning a smartphone for the first time.
6. What's the most exciting thing about building a startup in Southeast Asia?
Knowing that we are in our own small way helping to shape the future for the next generation of Southeast Asians. I also really relish working together with passionate and smart individuals to solve difficult problems that have a tangible impact on people’s lives.
7. What has been the biggest lesson you learned since you started Dana Cita?
Humility. I think I am a lot less naïve today about startups and entrepreneurship than I was when I first started Dana Cita, but I also think that I would say the same thing about my present day self a year from now.
8. What do you do to stay on top of relevant news/ trends in the startup world?
I am a regular reader of Fred Wilson’s and Andrew Chen’s blog/newsletter. For regional news I rely on the usual tech media outlets.
9. What piece of advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Spend time really thinking about and understanding why you want to pursue entrepreneurship. It’s a long and arduous road and it’s difficult to stay the course if you are not doing it for the right reasons.
10. If your life was a book, which book would it be?
Hopefully only a third of my manuscript has been written so we have to wait and see what kind of book it ends up becoming. What I can say though is that I am pretty introverted so it would probably not be a book that is easily understood or appreciated at first read.
11. Any tips for our readers thinking about moving to Southeast Asia?
Take the time to get to know and understand the nuances of the different countries and markets. The region is truly beautiful in its diversity, magnanimity, and untapped potential. I believe that we are well equipped to make a technological leapfrog and in the process fundamentally improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people. I wouldn’t want to be based anywhere else.