Founders Say U.S. Education Granted Confidence and Funding Access to Go Big
Brown, Purdue, Columbia, and Harvard - those are some of the neat U.S. universities in which founders of notable startups in Indonesia pursued their higher education. And in a recent chat, these founders pointed out that their experience abroad indeed played a hand in the formation of their tech-powered businesses back home.
"I would have still done it, but at a slower pace," Nadiem Makarim, Go-Jek founder, said.
Nadiem, a Brown University and Harvard Business School graduate, launched his business, which provides motorcycle taxi services, in 2011 after he had completed his studies. Go-Jek catapulted to fame thanks to its strong social media presence.
Nadiem added that studying in the U.S. "exposed me to people doing amazing things from around the world", pointing out that his peers had launched startups by the time they enrolled in their MBA programs.
This, he said, inspired him to kickstart his own venture.
"You are very much inspired by what your peers are doing, and your self-expectation increases a lot when your are amongst these people," he explained. Jason Lamuda, founder of e-commerce site, Berrybenka, added that university alumni similarly served as inspiration.
"University students there have plenty of role models to look up to," he said. Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, for example, is a Harvard alumn.
This, coupled with the entrepreneurial vibe throbbing in campuses, had students eager to go ahead with their own business ideas, Jason continued. "So it's not so much about the education being given," he noted.
Nadiem further added that studying abroad fostered confidence because he got to exchange ideas with some of the smartest students. He further said that being abroad enabled him to view the home market from a higher, or macro, vantage point.
"It makes you see things from the perspective of a foreigner and most importantly, a foreign investor," he said.
This "seeing the forest and not only the individual trees", he said, was critical during pitching sessions with foreign venture capitalists. "You understand their business objectives and hence, are able to speak their language," he said.
Ryu Kawano Suliawan of Veritrans Indonesia, a payment gateway solution provider, concurred that studying in the U.S. facilitated founders in building their business networks, including with investors. Ryu is a Harvard Business School graduate.
"U.S. graduates may meet with more people that can introduce them to investors, which makes fund-raising easier," he said.
However, he pointed out that the playing field has "leveled up". An increasing number of world-class investors are entering the Indonesian market. Tokopedia, an e-commerce company founded by William Tanuwijaya, recently received US$100 million injection from Softbank and Sequoia Capital. William studied at Universitas Bina Nusantara (Binus), a local university that produces many tech graduates.
Ryu added that at the end of the day, it did not really matter "whether you were educated in the U.S. or not". "I believe there are two key success factors for startups. First, the passion to do something very hard and secondly, the ability to control cashflow," he said.
Jason agreed that "local graduates have much potential". All local graduates had to do was dare to take the plunge, with those already working at successful startups leading the next wave of startups.
"Slowly but surely, these people will be the key to and inspiration for the next round of startups," he said.