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Icons Meet The Tribe: Nicko Widjaja

Meet The Tribe: Nicko Widjaja

Meet The Tribe: Nicko Widjaja
By Rachel Duffell
July 02, 2019
The tech investor and CEO of Indonesia’s largest corporate venture capital fund, MDI Ventures, reveals what he looks for in the entrepreneurs he invests in and how he believes anyone can become a better leader

Meet the Tribe is an eight-part series introducing some of the industry leaders across Asia who helped us select the Gen.T List 2019—a panel of experts we call The Tatler Tribe. Nicko Widjaja is a member of the Tribe in Indonesia, representing the Technology category.

Indonesia is one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting startup communities, with four unicorns to have come out of the country to date, namely Go-Jek, Tokopedia, Traveloka and Bukalapak.

Tech investor Nicko Widjaja, who counts working in Silicon Valley during its startup boom among his experience, has placed himself at its forefront, first founding his own venture capital fund, Systec Group Ventures, before going on to head up what is currently the nation’s largest corporate venture capital fund, MDI Ventures, backed by Telkom Indonesia. The fund invests in growth stage companies not only in Indonesia but also in Asean and Silicon Valley, while also seeking to support the nation’s startups through incubator and accelerator programmes.

Widjaja shares his significant experience by speaking across the region and serves as an adjunct professor at UPH Business School. We caught up with the seasoned investor ahead of the launch of this year’s Gen.T List to see what he had to share about startups and success.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in tech investment?
I lived in the US for more than 12 years. After graduating from university, I moved to Silicon Valley. It was the early 2000s when most college graduates aspired to work on Wall Street or in top consulting firms.

I was more interested in cult personalities than in dealing with people in suits. Silicon Valley was–and still is—the perfect place for this. It was after the apocalyptic dot-com bust, but before the era of Facebook, Google and Netflix. For five years, I worked as a temp analyst, moving from one early-stage startup to another, including Palo Alto Software and Embark, and experiencing the vibrant and charismatic culture of each organisation.

What are your proudest accomplishments to date?
MDI Ventures is my proudest accomplishment. As the biggest venture capital fund in Indonesia, we’ve managed to turn a profit in just a three-year investment period—this usually takes five to eight years. We had one IPO on the Tokyo Stock Exchange last year and one private sale, and we are looking at another IPO in the Australian Securities Exchange this year. After more than nine years in venture capital, I can say that we have the right formula. It’s about balancing investment fundamentals—profitability—with building up the nation’s digital entrepreneurship prowess. 

What do you look for in the entrepreneurs of the tech companies you invest in?
Skin in the game.

How do you feel about the future of tech startups in Indonesia?
Everywhere in the world, tech startups and the venture capital industry are male dominated. We need more female founders and leaders. I believe having more in Indonesia will elevate the country to a whole new level of progress. I hope to see more female tech entrepreneurs and investors on the Gen.T List.

I hope to see more female tech entrepreneurs and investors on the Gen.T List

Nicko Widjaja

What are the most useful resources for someone looking to become a better leader?
Don’t read self-help or how-to-get-rich books. Instead, consume something meaningful from contemporary thinkers like Yuval Noah Harari and Nassim Nicholas Taleb, or philosophers like Nietzsche, Kant or Sartre. Leadership and success are mostly derived from deep thinking, not bubblegum content. 

As a leader, how do you foster creative and innovative thinking? 
Innovation and creativity are a byproduct of strong teamwork. I believe leadership must result in the empowerment of your team. To be able to empower, you have to be able to listen and lead in an egalitarian way. 

What are the most important traits of a successful leader?
Intelligence and confidence.

Which leaders do you admire? 
Those who can execute.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken professionally?
Returning to Indonesia and betting on its digital revolution—it was worth the risk.

If you could give one piece of advice to the Gen.T honourees, what would it be?
Make mistakes.


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