Willson Cuaca, a Singapore based entrepreneur and venture capitalist, believes that there are ample opportunities available over and above the innovation that has already taken place in South East Asia. His company, East Ventures, has become one of the top venture capital firms in South East Asia. The company focuses on consumer internet, SaaS, and mobile.
Mr. Cuaca, the Co-founder and Managing Partner of East Ventures, has become one of the most prolific investors in South East Asia. The company was established by Mr. Cuaca and Tokyo-based managing partners Taiga Matsuyama and Batara Eto in 2010. It was one of the first venture capital firms in Indonesia.
East Ventures has funded various early-stage companies in Indonesia and across South East Asia. Some of the notable investments include Tokopedia, Go-Tix (formerly known as Loket), Shopback, Traveloka, Grab (formerly known as Kudo), Xendit, Sociolla, Ruangguru, MokoPos, 99co, Cermati, Bridestory, Ralali, Warung Pintar, Member.ID, Fore Coffee, and Cohive.
East Ventures has recently launched a coffee company, Fore based on the online model in China, which has made its presence in all major shopping marts and is into a lot of delivery.
East Ventures has made 281 investments to date with the most recent one on Jan 16, 2020, when they pumped in an undisclosed sum into Moladin, an e-commerce platform for buying motorcycles in Indonesia. The company has had 21 successful exits. The most notable exits include Mercari, gumi, and Gunosy.
Mr. Willson Cuaca is also on the advisory board of Code4Nation.id, a mass developer movement to help the Indonesian government solve problems through various hackathons. His expertise in product/market fit and in ecosystem building has helped in accelerating value proposition and product delivery of the movement.
Mr. Cuaca has received a degree in Computer Science from the University Bina Nusantara.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Mr. Willson Cuaca says:
My advice to entrepreneurs would be: BE YOURSELF!
It’s okay if the investor rejects you and doesn’t like you. You will find another one that aligns with your vision and mission. However, it is pathetic if you have to change your personality/gesture/message to adapt to different investors.
Three questions which I generally ask founders:
Why did you start this?
Why did you start with this team?
If I invest in you today, what will you do tomorrow?
Read on to know more about Willson Cuaca and his groundbreaking projects.
What background and domain expertise do you have? What makes you turn into an investor?
Willson Cuaca: I’m a computer science trained professional. I started earning money by teaching computer and networking (Novell Netware, Windows NT, Linux, Internet) courses during my 1st year of university in 1997, skipped a lot of classes, and gained lots of exposure on how to engage with people. In 1999, I was the first Cisco Certified instructor in Indonesia to trained Cisco engineer and probably one amongst the very few CISSP (certified cybersecurity professionals) in early 2000. I was also running a sales and support organization in a Singapore security firm before I found an iPhone and Blackberry mobile startup in 2008. Sold one company, SCOOP – the largest Indonesia digital newsstand – that I founded and started East Ventures in 2009 with my highschool friend Batara Eto, co-founder of Mixi.jp.
As an investor, what kind of startups have you invested in? How did you find those startups to invest in?
Willson Cuaca: Early-stage could be as early as the idea stage. Most of the startup we invested were inbound.
What would be the core factors that you decide “Not” to invest in certain companies?
Willson Cuaca: If we couldn’t figure out these 3 core traits. Product and market are secondary.
What would be the KPI that you usually check about the startups’ growth? It may diverse in each industries like LTV, CAC, MoM, etc. but would be helpful to understand more about your additional investment factors.
Willson Cuaca: Different stage company requires different KPI’s. For an early-stage company, we put a lot of attention to founder personality development and product-market-fit.
What is the investment range, and in a typical year, how many startups do you invest in? Do S.Korea headquartered startups have a chance to get investment from you, or should they be headquartered in certain countries?
Willson Cuaca: We have invested in around 150 companies, over 4 early-stage funds in SEA, and 1 growth fund. We believe in single market domination, and you should be leading in your home country. So if Korea founder pitch to us, they must have a mission to win the Korean market.
Can you list one company that you have passed (rejected) investment before but think you should have invested in that company. If there is any, why do you think you have missed that investment opportunity?
Willson Cuaca: Most of the companies that we rejected we don’t look back or regret.
We are pretty binary in decision making; there is no 50:50. If the founder/company has no culture-fit with us, we wish them success with other investors.
We managed to write the 1st cheque for 2 unicorns, Tokopedia and Traveloka – both cheques after the 1st meeting. We unfortunately never really engaged with Gojek and Grab (mytaxi) when they started or raised money, so we did not technically miss them. We did write a couple of 1st cheques for what we think might be the next unicorns, finger crossed.
What are the main factors that startups fail as per your experience after getting investment, and how can they prevent mistakes in advance from your personal perspective?
Willson Cuaca: Majority early state startups failed for 2 reasons.
- First, founders fight
- Second, they are too late in establishing a business dashboard. You can’t drive a fast car (startup must run fast) without a dashboard
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs who have a chance to meet investors like you? What are the top 3 questions that you always ask to founders?
Willson Cuaca: My advice: BE YOURSELF!
It’s okay if the investor rejects you and doesn’t like you. You will find another one that align with your vision and mission. However, it is pathetic if you have to change your personality/gesture/message to adapt to different investors.
- Why did you start this?
- Why did you start with this team?
- If I invest in you today, what will you do tomorrow?
What’s your general thought about the term “Global” and What are the important factors (criteria) for Korean startups to consider for an international expansion?
Willson Cuaca: In the startup world, any geography context comes with 2 attributes. Knowledge and execution. So if you said “Global”, do you have knowledge or execution or both? If you have global knowledge (understanding what’s going on outside your own domestic market) but only local execution then do a local startup that addresses domestic market.
If you have global knowledge and global execution, then start locally first and expand to 1-2 countries that you think you can execute well. It is very hard to expand globally from day 1.
As you know, our company name is “beSUCCESS”, what’s your definition of the term “success” as an investor or as an individual human being?
Willson Cuaca: Success is a journey not a destination. It is measured by the impact of your actions to your closest community. beSUCCESS = beIMPACTFUL.
What are the one or two things that you would do differently if you could go back to 10 years ago?
Willson Cuaca: None. We are binary.
When you have a chance to come to Korea next time, what kind of Korean entrepreneurs and startups you want to meet?
Willson Cuaca: If I come to Korea next, I hope I don’t need to do work.
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