I’m Shitting Bricks.
I got my first term sheet yesterday.
Unlike many people who might be thinking about startups for the first time, reading entrepreneur porn daily, or thinking about leaving their jobs (don’t, unless you have a plan) for a glamorous startup — I’ve lived and breathed this Kool-Aid for some time now.
Right out of college I started a little company which build apps and games as a hired gun. The plan was — let’s learn to build things, and then let’s do our own thing. I’ve learned from my own experience, and from speaking to many others, that this never works.
Since then I’ve been drifting from project to project in what I call my ‘off time’, helping startups with a range of things. I worked at some great startups from the US and from Australia, helped execute their Asian operations, and learned a ton in the process. I’ve always said if I was the sort of person to go for a job, I couldn’t do better than those guys (Yelp, Uber, Mig.me, Pozible and others). It wasn’t that I was above a job, it’s just that I’ve always had this fire inside me I couldn’t quite figure out. It was there, it looked and felt exactly like what a fire in your belly should look like. But I just never found the right fit. I’m interested in tech of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, but as a weird hybrid hobo-preneur who cared more about helping little girls in India go to school than about climbing corporate ladders or making shit loads of money, I found the tech business extremely isolating.
I kept trudging on. I was doing tech on the one hand and dreaming up ideas for social good on the other. I started a non-profit in India, and I kicked off several interesting social projects in my home country of Singapore as well. At some point I suppose it finally permeated my dense head that I should be doing them both — at the same time.
The result was WoBe.
It’s many things, but at its core: WoBe is a mobile application designed for low end smartphones, targeted at low income women in Southeast Asia, of which there are many. We start in Indonesia. We let any woman with a smartphone start a small business, using nothing more than their phones and their data connections and their wits. Imagine you are a domestic helperliving in a suburb of Jakarta. You are enterprising, yet you have no capital to get a business going. You are surrounded by 20 other people like you: youngish, chatty, and you keep in touch with each other and your families through your phone. If you help each of them top up their prepaid phone connections, you could potentially make up to US$10 a day. Considering that your salary is probably about US$125 a month, that’s not a bad start.
So we brought this crazy idea and worked hard on it.
Just yesterday, we were announced as one of the eight startups accepted to the highly selective Ideabox Indonesia incubator. The Indosat connection helps; we’ll get to move forward on many technicalities with the telco relationship.
I realized that it isn’t that I was bored with the ‘regular tech world’. It’s that what gets me up every morning is the burning desire to make my part of the world a better place with tech. I don’t want to make a wearable or found yet another transportation dispatch application. I don’t want to make restaurants more easily bookable. I want to be there — on the ground, doing the only thing I know how to. Use tech to bring about some kind of social change. It isn’t necessarily loftier or better than whatever you’re working on — it’s just a personal story of how I Came Around To Understanding What I Give A Shit About Was Right Here All Along.
In end October, I move to Jakarta to work on this. I’ll hire a local team, learn Indonesian, and learn to build and execute WoBe. Actually, I’ll have no choice — I’ll have to ship, by the end of the program. But I have bigger plans for it.
I’m excited by Indonesia. It’s hard not to be. I feel that being from Singapore, doing tech there and in ‘the West’, the unique position I’ve found myself in is that I am actually from here, but not really. I’ve hired an Indonesian tutor for intensive language lessons, and should be functional before I get there.
The truth is I don’t know how to do any of this. Well, I have an inkling — but I gotta move fast and break things and hope they stick. I’m lucky to have the support of a great program and some of the best people in this region.
But there is nothing else I would rather do.
I would not do something if it didn’t also make me feel like shitting bricks.
I’ll write here regularly to keep a check on my sanity.