e27: The Validation Check for Growth-Stage Southeast Asia Companies
Source: We want to be the ‘validation check’ for growth stage companies in SEA: TNB Aura
Anisa Menur A. Maulani
26 April 2023
In March, TNB Aura announced the appointment of Glen Ramersan as the new Managing Partner & Head of Indonesia, supporting the Singapore-based VC firm’s portfolio in the country. As the firm is on its way to launching its third fund, it intends to further expand in the Indonesian market.
Various reports have highlighted the Indonesian startup ecosystem’s resilience in this startup funding winter, as it continues to become a favourite for regional investors, in addition to Singapore and Vietnam.
But how do Ramersan and TNB Aura see Indonesia? In a recent interview with e27 during his visit to Singapore, Ramersan tells us about the one thing that he would like the public to know about Indonesia: Despite a number of success stories, it is still in the “very early stage” of its startup journey.
He also shares what is behind the resilience of the local startup ecosystem.
“[No matter what the ‘season’ is,] a good company is a good company,” Ramersan says, stating that a sustainable company should be able to withstand any market condition. “And there is always enough supply of sustainable companies that are forward-looking in Indonesia.”
“Maturity of the ecosystem is also important. If you see the type of founders that are working in Indonesia … you see a lot of people who have experiences abroad. They studied abroad, they worked in PayPal, Amazon. Now that they have returned to Indonesia, they start something … they have done this before and they will do it again.”
Following the COVID-19 pandemic and other back-to-back global crises, Ramersan notes the appearance of more “thoughtful” founders in Indonesia–those who think two to five steps ahead.
“They understand how to be sustainable; they don’t just think about ‘growth at all cost.’ Because now it’s very clear that it can cost you the company … Thinking how you can do things efficiently, grow efficiently, and one day be profitable, that’s important. And we see that mindset change in Indonesia.”
In this interview, Ramersan shares how TNB Aura approaches investment and its views on ongoing trends in the startup ecosystem–including the rise of AI.
Starting from the top
In their investment philosophy, Ramersan explains that TNB Aura is taking a top-down approach when it comes to assessing a potential investment.
“We don’t just invest in deals that come to us. We invest in deals that we approach. So, we do market research, not just on the industry itself, but we narrow it down to the business models within the industry, what we like, and the players within those business models,” he begins.
“Let’s say, there are four or five of them. We speak to all five of them, we see what they do, see their strategy, and how they actually grow throughout the years. For the one that we really liked, we offer them something they can’t refuse. This company might not be fundraising; this company might actually be in the middle of fundraising. But we are so highly convinced, we invest only in those companies.”
TNB Aura primarily focuses on Series A stage companies, which tend to be slightly later than many VC firms in Indonesia.
“If you invest in a company that is in the very early stage, usually there will be a lot of question marks. [Meanwhile] we would like to make a company that is ready to explode. We want to be that validation check. Because what we like to do is that we like to institutionalise this company … That’s how we want to add value. We want to help with governance, business plan, and everything else to institutionalise them,” Ramersan explains.
“I think one of the things to note is that as a regional fund, how we add value to a company can come in a lot of different ways. One of them is that not only we can help them, I would say, make their business plan more efficient, but we also can help them with regional expansion. So that’s why we are investing more often later stage companies,” he continues.
If we look at the list of companies that are in the TNB Aura portfolio, we can see a great variety of companies working in different verticals, from e-commerce to agritech. The firm picks these companies not only for the size of their impact on society but also for how they can change the lives of millions in the market they operate in.
TNB Aura also sees that as an investor, they cannot be oblivious to trends in the market, including AI. The firm’s portfolio in the AI segment includes Ematic from Singapore.
“AI is something that is very intertwined with the startup ecosystem. A lot of startups have implemented the technology, if not on the front end, then maybe on the back end. The way we see it is that AI is an inevitability. It will become bigger, it will become more integrated,” Ramersan says.
“We always tell founders to keep a lookout. Even with the latest founder we have chatted with in our board meeting, we will say, ‘Hey, guys, have you learned about this yet? How can we implement this into your system? What feature can we add to this?’ But again, it is totally up to the founders to finalise the use case of AI. We always push them to understand more, because this thing is coming fast.”
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