Opinion: NZ should look
to Asia for tech inspiration

In Western countries, including New Zealand, Asia is often portrayed with an inferiority subtext, but there's so much New Zealand can learn from the experiences of Asian businesses writes Leadership Network member Angela Lim.

Angela Lim is the CEO and co-founder of Clearhead, a health tech company in New Zealand, and also a member of the Foundation's Leadership Network

Speak to any New Zealander about Silicon Valley and most would easily be able to rattle off a few of the tech unicorns there, Uber, Airbnb, etc. Ask them to do the same for tech unicorns in Asia and you’d probably get blank faces, or worse, surprise that such companies exist. I’m not trying to put my fellow kiwis down, because to some degree I am just as guilty.

I recently went to Indonesia as part of the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s tech delegation. The purpose of the trip was to connect with fellow tech entrepreneurs, tech unicorns and venture capital that exist in Indonesia.

With a population of 260 million and the ability to attract half of all the tech investments in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is one to watch. To understand the potential of Indonesia is to relate to it as the USA of Southeast Asia. Yes, I am sorry to have to use this analogy, but it helps get the picture across. There are also some subtle cultural similarities.

The potential that most foreign investment is banking on in Indonesia is the burgeoning middle class forming a whole new class of consumers that will keep the capitalistic wheel turning. However, the country's entrenched culture of corruption may mean this will take longer than investors hope. It doesn’t mean that the country is a write off though. If anything, it is a hotbed of innovation because of these factors. 

The entrepreneurs visited Go Jek while in Indonesia, one of Indonesia's five tech unicorns (companies worth more than one billion dollars)

Localisation of tech startups in Indonesia is the key to success. Go-Jek is the largest of Indonesia’s five tech unicorns, with more than 100 million app downloads in three years and a valuation of $10 billion USD. It is like the Uber of Indonesia, with a key difference that it is predominantly reliant on “Ojek” or motorcycle taxis rather than cars.

Go-Jek’s most unique innovation, their payment platform, Go-Pay, was born out of the more than 135 million Indonesian consumers without a bank account.

In Indonesia, all the banks combined have about 80,000 ATMS, while there are more than one million Go-Jek drivers who act as “mobile ATMs”. How it works is the consumer can give their cash to their driver and have the money transferred to their Go-Pay account on the spot. Simple, secure and convenient. The payment platform is then able to pay for anything from getting food delivered to sending an important document for work through the use of Go-Jek drivers.

Another company of note is AloDokter, a startup with 18 million users. In order to meet what consumers are able to pay, AloDokter’s telehealth sessions only cost $1.

What these examples illustrate is that it is possible to solve a need at an affordable price point and at sufficient scale to benefit the masses.

For entrepreneurs who want to create businesses that benefit society, these tech companies prove a solution is definitely viable. We might just need to be a bit more creative and think outside the box; perhaps challenge ourselves to look further afield and draw inspiration from places that on the surface might be unfamiliar.

Asian countries are busy solving their local challenges and competing for capital and talent so as to become the next “Silicon Valley”. So trust me, there is no inferiority complex, they really don’t care what Western countries think of them. They are just focused on the doing and getting results that matter. It is those of us in the West that will lose out if we don’t overcome our bias against Asia.

Angela Lim says, "For entrepreneurs who want to create businesses that benefit society, these [Indonesian] tech companies prove a solution is definitely viable."

Thank you Asia New Zealand Foundation for the privilege of being one of the five inspiring New Zealand tech entrepreneurs that got the chance to participate in this amazing experience. It has been humbling to be able to represent Clearhead this early on in our start-up journey.

Angela Lim is CEO and co-founder of Clearhead, a health tech company that is developing a one-stop-shop to achieve mental wellbeing through the use of artificial intelligence. Previous to founding Clearhead, Angela worked as a paediatric doctor at Auckland Hospital. Angela co-founded another health tech company, Catalyst Point, which is focussed on creating a software platform to improve the efficiency of hospitals. She has received a number of awards, including being a finalist for the 2017 Young New Zealander of the Year. She is a member of the Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network.

Views expressed in this article are personal to the author and are not to be taken as representing those of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.