December 14, 2023

Scaling Startups in Southeast Asia

Square Peg Partner Tushar Roy recently hosted a fireside chat with Doctor Anywhere Founder and CEO Wai Mun Lim, along with Pluang Co-Founders Claudia Kolonas and Richard Chua to chat about scaling startups in Southeast Asia.

Tushar Roy

January 2, 2024

Scaling Startups in Southeast Asia

Square Peg Partner Tushar Roy recently hosted a fireside chat with Doctor Anywhere Founder and CEO Wai Mun Lim, along with Pluang Co-Founders Claudia Kolonas and Richard Chua to chat about scaling startups in Southeast Asia.

Tushar Roy

Square Peg Partner Tushar Roy recently hosted a fireside chat with Doctor Anywhere Founder and CEO Wai Mun Lim, along with Pluang Co-Founders Claudia Kolonas and Richard Chua to chat about scaling startups in Southeast Asia, a deeper dive on the businesses they’re respectively building, the way they approach product-market fit, and how they’re navigating the current economic environment. 

TR: Let’s start with introductions, tell us a bit about yourselves and the business you are building.

WL: I’m Wai Mun, the Founder and CEO of Doctor Anywhere. I started off my career in Standard Chartered Private Equity investing in real estate, and my second job was at Temasek where I stayed for 9 years, investing in oil and gas. I ventured into starting my own company for the very first time in healthcare, and it’s very complex. What we started off doing was really just connecting patients to doctors in Singapore. After the consultation over our app, we would deliver medication to patients and that was it. However, over time, we realised that it was a very scalable business, which is why we went into other parts of Southeast Asia. Today, we’re in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and we just started in Indonesia. However, healthcare is very localised so we have slightly different models in different countries. Broadly, while we started off trying to make healthcare more accessible and affordable while still maintaining quality, we have three key pillars: 1) creating personalised healthcare, 2) being borderless because we operate in Southeast Asia, and 3) we want to be more inclusive.

CK: I’m Claudia, and Richard is my Co-founder at Pluang and husband. We’re a wealth tech platform- crypto exchange and the first and only provider of fractional US stocks in Indonesia. The initial idea for Pluang came about because I grew up in Indonesia and spent a lot of time in my family business within traditional financial services. So I’ve done a lot of projects related to wealth. At the time, Richard and I had the idea to start a wealth tech company, and Go Ventures was our initial backer. They were strategically linked to Gojek, who was scaling up their wallet at the time. 

RC: Hi everyone, I’m Richard. I’m from Australia and got my start in Sydney, founding an education business called Talent100. It’s now the second-largest education tuition business in the Sydney metro region. I then spent five years in the US working at Google within the Strategy team and also attended Harvard Business School where I met Claudia. I went to the US because I really wanted to learn how to start a technology business. When I started my first business in Sydney, I felt that the tech ecosystem was still nascent here. I had always invested throughout my career and thought that was something we could bring to Indonesia. 

TR: Give us a sense of what traction you’re seeing in your companies, and as you look forward, where is the growth coming from? Are you thinking about geographic expansion, product expansion or customer segment expansion? 

WL: When we first started off, we were focused on building a very simple product that connected patients to doctors. And what we also did was expand into offline client services. Although this was a very small portion of our revenue, we did that because within Healthcare, it's a very reactive space. People don’t go onto our app to search for a doctor or see if they can chat with them next time. So how do we get to be top of mind when someone falls sick? We decided that the best way is to have an offline presence that also generates cash for us. 

We also have a third-party administrator service, where we help people with insurers, and channel patients to the right doctors within the region. In the middle to late last year, we realised that what we were really doing was building section channels. We built a very nice ecosystem of high frequency, lower average bill size, but higher volume, so we transact approximately 20,000 - 30,000 paid patients a day. 

The question for us was, what’s next? We were a scale-up at that point. How do we move onto the next stage, while also understanding the user experience of our customers? The key issue today was bringing customers into the journey, but now I need to move to secondary care from primary care. So how can I as a customer, continue my experience with Doctor Anywhere?

CK: Generally, I think that we started at the right time. We started Pluang at the beginning of 2019, and when we first started, there was a significant boom in investing pre-COVID-19. Indonesia in particular is very unique. Over the last three years, there are about 18 million new crypto investors in Indonesia. Of the retail investor segment that grew into 26 million from 4 million. About 18 million of those investors got introduced to investing via crypto. So the scale-up for us just happened, and it didn’t take much for us to grow.

Along the way, we have embedded a lot of relationships within Indonesia so we’re embedded within some of the largest ecosystems, such as GoPay and Tokopedia. These are ways we were able to embed ourselves to decrease friction and allow people to create wealth accounts. We’ve grown to about 3 million funded accounts with very little spend.

TR: When you reflect on your businesses, do you remember when you got product-market fit (PMF)? 

WL: Healthcare is a little bit different. When we first launched, I knew we first got PMF when the Ministry of Health called me in the morning and I thought that we must be doing something right or wrong. For us, achieving PMF was more gradual. For healthcare businesses, if someone told you today that their healthcare business was growing exponentially, they’re either really correct or really wrong. Because healthcare businesses go up very steadily.

Whether it’s a good or bad day, it’s incrementally increasing. It was the same journey for us. When we first launched, we could see good traction. And even before the pandemic, we were growing very nicely. So COVID-19 just helped us accelerate our user adoption and over time we thought we had great PMF. Another data point that made me know we got PMF was that we already had an offer to buy us in 2019. Just two years after starting the company, we had an offer from a bigger healthcare company to buy us. 

RC: We actually started our business as a gold trading app. Because I invest a lot, investing in US stocks and crypto, we decided as an experiment to launch crypto and we launched just before the boom happened. So when we opened the dashboard one day and the metrics were off the charts, we thought ‘Was this a data issue?’ That’s when we knew that we had product-market fit. The converse of that though is that in investments, markets can go up and down. So in crypto, they went up and they went down, but one thing we’ve done well is diversifying our asset classes. So even when things were going well for crypto, we invested in getting the right licences and technology for US stocks, and we were able to exceed our all-time high crypto volumes by replacing them with US stock volumes. So one of the things we’re realising in investments where underlying demand for the product is cyclical, is that diversification is a very important part of maintaining product market fit. 

TR: What do you think that people understand or realise the least about founders trying to scale companies?

WL: I think most people think founders look good when they’re scaling their business. The honest truth is that scaling a business is not easy. I’ll give you an example. During the pandemic, we were expected to do really well. Overnight, we had 5x the volume of patients going onto our platform to try and get a doctor. Theoretically, it was really good for the business, but we were really struggling as well. Why? Because, when there was a huge surge in volume, we couldn’t find enough doctors to fill the demand. What’s worse is that some of our doctors, from being the supply became the demand, because they fell sick as well. So we had a huge shortage of supply when there was overwhelming demand, but for us, we focused a lot on user experience. 

We’ve always been quite afraid that word of mouth could break us rather than make us. So I was nervous that there were a lot of complaints coming in at one point. So it was quite a difficult journey when it was perceived that we were scaling up significantly. 

It all comes back to having very good investors on your board. And it’s not just about the money. How can you find a good partner is more important for us. 

RC: The challenges that come at you as a founder seem to change with every quarter in a way that isn’t as predictable. As you scale up, it’s very different to manage 10 to 50 to 300 people, and all the things that go along with it. So part of that is being able to adapt your own style to the constantly changing needs.