Do you believe in luck? Here’s the incredible story of 34-year old William Tanuwijaya, who has created Indonesia’s first Billion dollar ‘Unicorn’, and the lucky set of coincidences that led to him raising $100 million when he most needed it…
When he became a teenager, Williams’ father sent him on a one way ticket from Sumatra to Jakarta with the family’s savings, hoping he’d end up with a better life.
William enrolled in a college and for three years worked 12 hour night shifts in an Internet cafe to pay for his tuition. Using his nights exploring the Internet, he got inspired to start his company, Tokopedia, as the first online marketplace for Indonesia in 2009.
The good news? From day one, Tokopedia started growing. The bad news? There was no startup funding scene in Indonesia at the time.
William remembers the struggle as he visited potential investors: “I was told ’William, don’t waste your time. The guys who started Amazon, Facebook and Google, they are special people. Unfortunately, you are not.’”
William said, “I decided right then that I will never give up on myself.”
He picked up a small investment from a company that invested in mining companies, giving him time to look for more. Then, five long years after launch, in 2014, luck struck. Within less than a week, he raised $100 million by a series of chance events.
As William recalls:
“I’d been in a 7 years relationship, a long distance one with my girlfriend. She studied medicine, and on her graduation, she wanted to go to visit Japan, and asked me to go for holiday with her.”
“But I said no to her, that I can’t take a holiday, as Tokopedia needs me, and Tokopedia was almost running out of cash by November.”
“Secretly, I bought a ticket, filled out a leave form for the first time in 5 years, asked her parent’s approval, and planned for my secret proposal to her on 1st of October in Osaka.”
“At the end of September, I got a call from SoftBank, that Son-san (Masayoshi Son, one of the first tech investors in Asia and one of Japan’s richest men) requested a meeting in early October. Living in Indonesia, you need 5 working days to arrange a VISA. That request was less than 5 working days.”
“But, I already had the VISA, ticket in hand!”
“Then, on the 31st of September, one of my shareholders asked me to meet with Sequoia Capital. The Sequoia venture partner called me and ask for a meeting the day after. I told him that I am on the way to airport going to Osaka. When I arrived at Osaka, the venture partner was also there, took the same flight with me, and ended up chatting with me the whole day. I almost skipped my proposal.”
Then, the proposal. She said yes.
“The day after my proposal, I flew to Tokyo to met with Son-san.”
“That week, 3 proposals happened. And the rest is history.”
William got married, and raised $100 million from Softbank and Sequoia – the first company in South East Asia to raise that amount. That event sparked the beginning of the investing wave into Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, with Tokopedia being the first investment by Sequoia Capital into Asia.
In April this year, William raised another $147 million, and today Tokopedia is worth over a billion dollars.
Some people think luck is completely random. Others think it’s “what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. I see it as the same four things that make a great footballer ‘lucky’ enough to keep being at the right place, at the right time, to score the goals:
LOCATION – Be at the right place, at the right time, and the universe will reward you. Most of us are too busy being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
UNDERSTANDING – Understand the game is on, which means looking out for the ball – the opportunities – coming your way, and take action when they arrive.
CONNECTIONS – No matter how good a player you are, you won’t get any balls passed to you if there’s no one on the pitch. Surround yourself with the right people on your team.
KNOWLEDGE – Keep practicing. You only score the goals if you know how to kick the ball when it shows up.
Location, Understanding, Connections, Knowledge = L.U.C.K.
Follow these principles, and you’ll get more lucky. Maybe not happy marriage lucky. Maybe not $100 million lucky. Maybe different lucky. And maybe better lucky.
“Synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see.” ~ Carl Jung