In 2015, Jefrey Joe, Chandra Tjan and Will Ongkowidjaja built their company with a wealth of experience, passion and drive in an office space with only two desks but not enough space for their ambitions. Fast forward 7 years to 2022, and they now have a team of nearly 40 employees in Singapore and Indonesia, and recently raised $433 million in funding, bringing their total funding to $650 million.
No, this is not a story about startups and their founders, but about Alpha JWC Ventures, the first independent and institutional venture capital firm in Indonesia that grew into the largest early-stage fund in Southeast Asia.
Founding partners Jefrey Joe and Chandra Tjan noticed the dynamism and great potential of Indonesia’s startup scene, and through their networking and conversations, they also saw more Indonesians embark on the entrepreneurial journey. Seeing a gap in support and funding for Indonesian startups, Alpha JWC Ventures was established in 2015 as the first independent institutional venture capital firm in Indonesia.
Both Jefrey Joe and Chandra Tjan are native Indonesians, so on the original team, the firm was able to leverage its deep and home-grown understanding of Southeast Asia’s largest economy when making investment decisions and helping its portfolio companies.
Fast forward a few years later, and not only has the team expanded, but so has the geographic scope of growth, investment, and focus—expanding to Southeast Asia. The company now has bases in Indonesia and Singapore with a team with regional and global experience in different fields. The growth has been driven by Southeast Asia’s booming start-up scene, with many unicorns emerging in a relatively short period of time in recent years. Alpha JWC has seen three companies in its portfolio achieve unicorn status over the past two years: Ajaib, Kopi Kenangan and Carro.
Expansion is not just geographic. Alpha JWC has also strengthened its network connections and has had the privilege of working with excellent partners such as Kearney, Credit Suisse, AWS, Paypal and top universities in the region. It has also led multiple funding rounds with other venture capital firms including Sequoia, DST, SoftBank and Polestar. Naturally, it is now finding startups not only in Indonesia but throughout the region.
Compared to about 5 years ago, the VC ecosystem is at a more mature stage. Valuations and appraisals make more sense, and founders have access to more funding these days. In a hotbed of growth, innovation and entrepreneurship, Alpha JWC Ventures raised an oversubscribed third round of financing of US$433 million in 2021, bringing its total assets to US$650 million, making it the largest early-stage fund in Southeast Asia, investing as little as 100,000.
But times have changed. A founder’s mission isn’t just about increasing revenue or raising capital, it boils down to making a lasting impact and driving positive change in society. It may be easier to raise capital now than it was before, but that means more focus now on VCs and founder relationships, and the other added value VCs can bring to founders. Money may be a deal enabler, but the nature and value of a partnership is a deal breaker.
As such, this determines how Alpha JWC makes its investment decisions and how it sees its role in the journey of the startups it invests in.
Since 2015, Alpha JWC Ventures has been a pioneer in the value creation space of its portfolio companies, as it believes that startups need more than capital injections to achieve sustainable growth and impact. The company has a strong and growing team in value creation, working with portfolio companies in areas such as organizational planning, talent acquisition, compensation benchmarking and strategic marketing and communications, as well as other support that benefits each startup.
What’s more, Alpha JWC is also the friend every founder needs – someone who is supportive but equally unabashed when it comes to providing feedback. The team tried every dish, every app, every cup of coffee and every service so that they could provide the most candid/honest feedback to help founders get better.
Before Alpha JWC makes an investment, it determines a fair valuation for a startup by looking at growth forecasts, financial viability, and product-market fit. The company does this by looking at numerous data points and using its deep market understanding and experience in the Southeast Asian sector to assess whether an idea will be successful. or not.
However, the most important assessment is not so quantifiable because it focuses on founders. There is a strong emphasis on the founder’s clarity of thinking and ability to maintain it in all situations to achieve key goals and lead the team. In an entrepreneurial journey full of changes and challenges, a founder’s vision, skills for taking action and making tough decisions will lead startups to success or oblivion.
for example. For Indonesian dining unicorn Kopi Kenangan, the founders were very clear from the start that they wanted to build their coffee brand through owned brick-and-mortar stores rather than franchising. They believe this is the way to control the quality and scale of the product. However, with the outbreak of the new coronavirus and the lockdown in Indonesia, foot traffic at Kopi Kenangan stores has dropped significantly.
The thinking at the time was that having so many brick-and-mortar stores was a bad idea, and COVID “proved” that. Rather than closing stores entirely, however, the team has opened new kiosks near high-traffic places like gas stations and developed new products like Cerita Roti, Chigo Fried Chicken and cheap instant coffee. The ability to think quickly and adapt and stay focused has ensured the brand continues to see sales and weather the worst of COVID almost unscathed.
Another example of a founder who has shown clear thinking is another unicorn, Ajaib. Its founders are very focused on serving the underbanked and millennials in Indonesia. This focus has led them to offer a trading platform that is very easy to get started and used by retail investors. They know very well what needs to be done and how to do it. result? They are one of the fastest companies to reach unicorn status in less than 3 years.
Aside from capital injections, the biggest currency in which value and value reside is the mutual trust between Alpha JWC and its portfolio companies. It is often forgotten that before investing money, both parties must first trust each other in order to believe that each other is the right partner. Portfolio companies must trust that Alpha JWC will support and do its best to open doors and help enable growth, and allow Alpha JWC to maintain its integrity and ensure the company is doing the right thing for short-term gains.
Term sheets will only be considered and signed if there is trust. But it doesn’t stop there. Where trust is given at the beginning, it continues to be gained throughout the partnership.
Alpha JWC also places great trust in the founders it invests in. This explains why it has been an active investor in early stage startups since its inception in 2015 – about 50% of the new companies Alpha JWC signed for its Fund III alone were seed/pre-seed investments. This shows that founders have a lot of trust in the capabilities and vision of the idea itself, as there is often not much revenue or numerical information to evaluate an idea in the early stages. Additionally, 90% of founders (from Funds I and II) continue to receive follow-on funding from the company.
Alpha JWC set its sights on the Southeast Asian market with one foot on the accelerator. It believes that this is a prime time for SEA founders to be at the forefront and startups to take their place on the global stage. As the company moves through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and the long winds and rains, it hopes to select founders who want to make a legacy impact in the world along the way and help them to succeed.