Willson Cuaca - Khaleej Times UAE

UAE startups have immense opportunity to carve out success

November 8, 2021

Jakarta’s venture capital poster boy Willson Cuaca is in town and yes he is taking a serious look at the UAE startup ecosystem. The co-founder and managing partner of East Ventures is on a visit with a high-level delegation.

“The UAE startup ecosystem is frontrunner in the region and the diversity on display is reflected in the sectors that do well in the country,” said Cuaca, who thinks the opportunity to carve out success for startups in the UAE is immense.

“The demographic and socio-economic constitution also makes it a strong test-bed for startups that are looking to scale into other similar markets in the region. Magnitt’s Q3 2021 report shows a 107 per cent year-on-year growth in funding. A good sign of international interest is the fact that participation from international investors was recorded at an all-time high at the end of the third quarter of this year,” he said.

Founded in 2009, East Ventures has transformed into a holistic platform that provides multi-stage investment, including seed and growth for over 200 companies in Southeast Asia, with 20 plus exits.

“We are the first investor of Indonesia’s unicorn companies, namely Tokopedia and Traveloka. Other notable companies in the portfolio include ALAMI, Ruangguru, Warung Pintar, Kudo (acquired by Grab), Loket (acquired by Gojek), Tech in Asia, Xendit, IDN Media, MokaPOS (acquired by Gojek), ShopBack, KoinWorks, Waresix, Sociolla, and Carro,” said Cuaca.

East Ventures is sector-agnostic and has arrived at a working formula to inform about its next investment through its investment philosophy it calls 2P: people and potential market.

“We believe that good founders have three core traits. First, integrity, doing the right thing even when no one sees. Second, high-level self-awareness, understanding their own strengths and weaknesses. Lastly, paradoxical traits, being flexible in carrying out contradictory traits. From there, we always ask the founders about the potential market size and the target of a reasonable market they want to see. With the right people in the right market, the right product will follow,” said Cuaca.

“We are bullish about prospect, and we are inclined towards innovation that addresses local challenges. Some of our best investments have been in hyperlocal solutions, where the returns have come from relevance, and not necessarily from scale.”

So will East Ventures invest in the UAE startups? The VC is trying to understand business opportunity, stakeholders and deep dive into the UAE ecosystem, which is globally-connected and regionally-unique. That is the first step!

Indonesia’s digital ecosystem has accelerated because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We believe that UAE, with its core strength as financial hub, can be our financial partner to invest in Indonesia. We have witnessed strong partnerships between both countries; the current ones are Indonesia’s leading telecommunication service provider Smartfren signing an MoU with G42 Investment AI Holding RSC Ltd, agreeing to set up a database (data center) with a capacity of 1,000 Mega Watts (MW), and DP World and the Indonesia Investment Authority (INA), who have signed a deal to explore investment in port infrastructure in Indonesia. We are looking forward to more strategic partnerships that will benefit each other,” concluded Cuaca.


Original article on Khaleej Times, November 6, 2021.