When she was young, Otari Octavianti often felt like an underdog because of where she came from.
Its hometown is Kampung Bahru, a remote fishing village in North Sumatra, Indonesia, where many have no access to education.
There was even a saying: “If you come from a fishing village you can’t win.”
This is why Octavianti considered himself “lucky” when his parents sent him to a junior high school in the city. But he quickly learned that there was a “gap” between him and his classmates.
“I was threatened because I came from a coastal village … I was not like the people who were already well educated and had no financial difficulties,” he told CNBC Make It.
The experience ignited in him and gave birth to a personal mission – ensuring that one day, his village would be known for its potential, not for its poverty.
“At the time, I didn’t know how I was going to achieve this, I just wrote it in my diary.”
Today, these are not just the words of a leaf, but reality.
Now, at age 28, Octaviant is the co-founder of Aruna. It is an Indonesian fisheries e-commerce start-up that acts as an end-to-end supply chain aggregator, giving fishermen access to a global network.
To date, it has raised $ 65 million in Series A funding, which according to Aruna is the largest Series A fund for Indonesian start-ups.
Her entrepreneurial journey began in 2015, with a seafood craving that Octaviant had when she was in her final year of technology graduation in Bandung.
“Getting good seafood was not easy. My family served seafood at home every day, but suddenly, it was very hard to find. I thought to myself, how much better it would be if we could buy seafood directly from the fishermen. [in coastal villages]”
He shared his idea with his classmates Farid Nawfal Aslam and Indraka Fadlillah. Together, they have created a website that aims to meet consumers’ seafood needs and connect them with fishermen.
The 21-year-old then decided to join a competition called “Hackathon Merdeka” to raise capital.
To their surprise, they won.
But the biggest surprise is the amount of interest Aruna has after the launch of the website.
“We have received demand for 1000 tons of seafood from customers যাদের from restaurants and importers outside Indonesia who need a steady supply of seafood.”
The trio quickly started working – creating websites using two MacBook computers that won the hackathon, and bootstrapping through freelance work on website design.
Their first significant capital came from another competition, from which they won a cash prize of about $ 700.
Although it was a “very small” amount, Octavianty and his co-founders used it to run a pilot program in the seaport town of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan. They stay with a fishing community for a month.
At the end of their stay, they made their first transaction with a local restaurant in Bandung. At that moment they realized that their idea was not something that worked only on paper.
“We can actually make it happen,” Octavianti said.
Finding the right investors
Over the years, Aruna has expanded into more fishing villages in Indonesia. As their demand for seafood increased, so did the company. But one of the challenges that Octaviant faced was finding the right investors.
“There are many investors in Indonesia, but it is not easy to find investors who understand our business,” he said.
“Some investors will be interested because they see the scale of this business potential. But we were selective. We wanted investors who wanted to invest, not because of the company’s potential, but because of its impact.”
The fisheries platform exported 44 million kilograms of seafood to seven countries last year, mostly in the United States and China, Octavianti said.
But he said his biggest achievement was giving fishermen direct access to the market and giving them fair and good wages instead.
“We have helped fishermen increase their income by two to three times more than before they joined Aruna,” he added.
Although Aruna was tough on her investors, this approach made the company even more attractive, Octavianti said.
“We are open to investors about the challenges we face, but in return, we hope they will also help us, for example, connect or solve problems.”
A sustainable future
In January, Aruna Vertex Ventures announced a US $ 30 million Series A follow-on funding led by Southeast Asia and India. With new funding in the bag, Octavianty seeks to expand to more fishing villages in Indonesia and to invest in sustainable fish farming practices.
To date, more than 26,000 fishermen from 150 fishing communities in Indonesia use Aruna.
“Now that we have the market open and we have more fishermen on board, we have to be very careful about fish stocks because that Indonesia is already catching extra fish,” said Octavianti, who is also Aruna’s chief sustainable officer.
This is why Aruna wants all their fishermen to focus on quality rather than quantity of catch and refrain from fishing in marine protected areas.
Aruna advises fishermen not to use fishing equipment such as trolls and bombs which will damage the natural seabed habitat.
“It’s also about inspiring the industry. We see a lot of fishing companies in Indonesia that don’t care about sustainability,” Octavianti added.
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