Willson Cuaca, Co-founder & Managing Partner at East Ventures (EV), is one of the key figures behind capital injections into hundreds of start-ups in Indonesia. However, the story of how he raised investor funds and channeled them to startup founders—who, even then, only had an idea and didn’t have a team yet—is a gamble. Yet, he never knew whether to win or lose.
Willson calls ‘leap of faith’ as the keyword that brought EV to this phase. The company he founded with Taiga Matsuyama and Batara Eto started with an investment of only US$2.2 million in 2009. The majority of this fund came from Japanese investors. There was also an addition of each founder’s personal money.
His bet on Indonesia began with investing into Tokopedia in 2010. The investment in the E-commerce startup—which now shares with Gojek to become GoTo and is listed on the stock exchange—is based on the consideration that in developed countries, market locations have always been the locomotive for the digital economy.
At that time, internet users in Indonesia were still 30 million, and not many of them shopped online. With many innovations, he believes the adoption of online shopping will increase and turn the wheels of the digital economy faster. “The digital economic cycle always starts with the consumer,” said Willson. And sure enough, the e-commerce business they invested in continued to grow.
Apart from Tokopedia, there are Traveloka and Sociolla, as well as several other start-ups such as Waresix, Aruna, Bibit, and Fore Coffee.
Research by Preqin, a global alternative asset market financial information and data provider company, in 2019 identified East Ventures as one of the top five most consistently performing venture capital firms in the world.
As the digital economy grows in Indonesia and the performance of EV-funded startups increases, the funds deposited by investors are also getting bigger. “Our asset under management (AUM) is now US$1.5 billion (Rp22.5 trillion),” said Willson, emphasizing their investment under management which has grown nearly 700 times. “That’s not talking about the value we generate from it.”
In total, they have done eight rounds of funding in the last 13 years. Six of them are seed funding, and the other two are growth. The funds collected are distributed to around 300 startups, about 61 percent of which are in Indonesia. While the rest, spread out among others, 21 percent in Singapore, 3 percent in Malaysia, 3 percent in Vietnam, 2 percent in Thailand, and 4 percent in other markets. During that time, they were also successful and witnessed more than 30 successful exits.
How big investors are interested in putting their funds in EV, said Willson, cannot be separated from their track record. When meeting Masayoshi Son for instance. It only took him 30 minutes to convince the SoftBank CEO to spend US$60 million because two of the four Southeast Asian unicorns were in the EV portfolio at the time.
“I told him, ‘If you want to catch unicorns, you have to invest in us.’ Then he said, ‘Let’s go fishing together. Your ship is small, mine is big,’” he said with a chuckle. “So about US$2 million per minute.”
You can read the full story in the October 2022 edition of Fortune Indonesia Magazine and check out other interesting stories from the Businessperson of the Year 2022.
Original article on FORTUNE Indonesia.