Founder & CEO, WoBe
Adrianna works on the intersection of tech, content and social. From founding and growing tech startups in Southeast Asia to starting and running non-profits in India, she believes strongly that technology and social good can and should go together.
In 2014, she founded WoBe, an innovative take on financial services for low income women in Southeast Asia. Headquartered in Jakarta and Singapore, WoBe will put the power of micro-entrepreneurship into the hands of millions of women who make under a hundred dollars a day, with the support of one of the largest telcos in the region.
She also helps Silicon Straits, a Singapore-based innovation tribe, start and grow companies. In that role, she helped to start and run ideabox Myanmar, Mobile Monday Yangon, and a slew of other community-focused movements in Myanmar.
In a previous life, she did UX, community management and Asia launch work at Yelp, Uber, mig.me and other great startups. She also started and ran a small dev shop, Pen to Pixel, out of Malaysia and Singapore.
With a breadth and depth of experience across technology and social causes especially in the emerging economies of Asia, she brings a unique cross-section of skills that help to sell products, drive growth and grow communities of passionate users.
In the social space, she is also the founder and managing director of causes such as The Gyanada Foundation, an education non-profit which gives scholarships to underprivileged girls in India, and of Culture Kitchen, a grassroots movement for Singaporeans and migrant workers to learn more about each other through food and dialogue.
Which startup are you keeping an eye on?
I’m watching Tokopedia at the moment, they are one of the pioneering e-commerce players here in Indonesia. Recently, they raised $100 million from Softbank and Sequioa. E-commerce in Indonesia has huge potential, clearly, for a country of 250 million people. As early adopters of mobile technology in this country, Tokopedia’s journey will also show us lessons which can be learned in mobile e-commerce.
At the moment there are still many regulatory obstacles which prevent e-commerce companies from taking off the way they can. I look forward to witnessing a liberalization of the industry, and of the creation of a local e-commerce giant, then with the involvement of a foreign competitor — the same way it happened in India with FlipKart, Amazon India, etc. This will be a huge market to watch in every way.
What’s the conversation like in the major ecosystems right now? What types of ideas are attracting the most funding, what are investors looking for, how is the startup ecosystem evolving? (This is a general question, but please try to give us insight into the trends and forecasts related to the global startup landscape)
Many people think that we are in a bubble, and perhaps we are. How many “Uber of Anythings” can we get? How many laundry apps do we need? (See ZipJet vs Washio, for example) I think we are seeing a proliferation of real world meets online with a bit of the ‘sharing economy’/collaborative consumption aspect thrown in. I think that’s great, and I personally use Airbnb to stay somewhere, get from point A to B with Uber or Lyft, sell things I don’t want on apps, get people to do small tasks for me on the likes of TaskRabbit…. to a point. I think these types of services have huge growth potential in developed markets. I also suspect we may be reaching saturation point in these types of services in these markets. I’m expecting to see that I can now get a hug off an app which will be delivered by someone riding a skateboard I can customize or swap, then I can swipe left or right on whether or not I liked this experience. And that I will find out such a service has been funded for $100 million.
I’m not personally confident that that type of trend will be sustainable. I say this out of an emerging markets bias — I think there are huge problems to solve with tech in the developing world, and that no amount of Silicon Valley backed anything is ever going to do those successfully. You can’t solve problems of access to healthcare or education out of an office in New York. You have to be doing it where you want to be doing it: in the Philippines, in Kenya, in Indonesia, wherever.
I see money and interest moving towards the emerging markets, but it will still be a while before we are talking about similar levels of interest and money. You’re not going to see an Indonesian company which hasn’t monetized living off VC money for 3 years before they get bought out for millions or billions of dollars. Or bought out at all. The landscape is evolving, and the money-scape is evolving too.
I am based in Southeast Asia and I see three massive markets here: Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar. They each have their own problems and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s fragmented, which is why it’s going to be hard to anyone outside of this part of the world to really figure it out. I learned today for example that when I sign documents for my Indonesian company in Singapore, I should take a selfie of myself with said document outside the Indonesian embassy. You learn something new everyday.
But for every “wtf” moment, I honestly believe it adds up to the kind of “wtf money” we can expect to see in the very near future.
I’m excited to live in a world where digital payments exist in Myanmar and you can buy fresh fruit off your phone in Indonesia. These things don’t exist yet — it will take a while for us to catch up with what’s already out there, but I’m of the school that thinks we’ll get there quick and also make massive steps forward in everything else.
Where is the next digital revolution happening? What will it be about?
Access. We think the world is digital, but if it truly was, Mark Zuckerberg would not have been in Indonesia talking up internet.org. Substantial billions of people are still unconnected. The big guess is they will get connected, eventually. Everyone’s trying to figure out how to hasten that pace.
I was lucky to have been able to have spent some time working on the ground in the startup ecosystem in Myanmar — heck, actually to have been able to be part of building that ecosystem — and we went from $2000 sim cards to $200 ones to $1.50 SIM cards with data, today. And when these people of extremely diverse backgrounds go online, people are going to want to build apps and businesses around these very different users.
I’m excited to see what that’s going to look like.
Some people think the money is in e-commerce. I think it will be about seizing this moment to build sustainable businesses across ‘aspirational industries’. Where do these billions of people want to be in 2 years? In 10 years? Can your company take them there?
What does it take for an idea to disrupt an industry? Are there any disruptive ideas at the moment? Where are they and what can we learn from them?
We often talk about disruption from a technological solutionism point of view. Someone builds an app which changes up something in an ancient/fading industry — transportation, laundry, dating, whatever — and we call that disruption.
I’m not a fan of technological solutionism. I don’t believe that teaching the homeless to code takes them out of poverty. I don’t believe in any of those things. I believe that technology is a mere tool — along with education, opportunities, infrastructure, and other forms of progress — but that it’s the tool which is most tangible, and in some ways the quickest and easiest to do.
The one I’m a huge fan of – and it might not be everyone’s cup of tea — is private space travel. I 100% believe in what Elon Musk and Richard Branson are trying to do (to varying degrees). I think it’s disruptive to imagine a world beyond the immediate one which surrounds us, and that people who can afford to indulge ideas which are hugely expensive and potentially world-changing have their hearts in the right place. Like Elon Musk, I am fascinated by the idea of a post-Earth/post-humanity world, and that’s not only because I’m a sci-fi geek. I don’t know what the outcome of those explorations will be, but I am glad that a ‘good guy’ is leading that charge.
On a more terrestrial level, I definitely don’t think wearables are disruptive in any way. I’m personally interested in anything which disrupts traditional energy sources. Solar doesn’t seem to be it though.
I’m also personally interested in disruptive forms of media and communication. There’s a company building a Star-Trek-like communicator device. I want to see how things like that change the way we communicate. In the greater scheme of media products and various challengers, tools which allow people to invert power structures are very interesting and disruptive to me. There’s a site in Bahrain which lets you crowd-source protests so you can record and document abuses of power and force. Stuff like that really excites me. The tech themselves may not be disruptive, but their outcomes are. I think we will see more of those in the near future.