Indonesian man, 28, turns $700 into multi-million dollar fishing business

As a young woman, Utari Octavianty often felt helpless because of her background.

His hometown is Kampung Bahru, a remote fishing village in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, where many have no access to education.

There was even a common saying: “If you come from a fishing village, you can’t win.”

This is why Octavianty considered herself “lucky” when her parents sent her to a high school in the city. But she quickly discovered that there was a “gap” between her and her schoolmates.

“I was harassed because I come from a seaside town… It wasn’t the same as people who already had a good education and weren’t struggling financially,” she told CNBC Make It.

The experience lit a fire in her and sparked a personal mission: to ensure that one day, her town is known not for its poverty, but for its potential.

“At the time, I didn’t know how I was going to pull that off, I just wrote this in my journal.”

Today, these are not just words on a page, but a reality.

We help fishermen to increase their income two to three times more than before they joined Aruna.

Utari Octavianty

Co-founder, Aruna

Now 28, Octavianty is a co-founder of Aruna. It is an Indonesian fishing e-commerce startup that functions 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 Aruna says is the largest Series A funding for Indonesian startups.

humble beginnings

His entrepreneurial journey began in 2015, with a craving for seafood that Octavianty had when he was in his final year of technology in the city of Bandung.

“It was not easy to find good seafood. My family serves seafood at home every day, but suddenly, it was so hard to find. I thought, how nice it would be if we could buy seafood directly from the fishermen.” [in coastal villages].”

He shared his idea with his classmates, Farid Naufal Aslam and Indraka Fadhlillah. Together, they created a website aimed at meeting consumers’ seafood demands and connecting them with fishermen.

The then 21-year-olds decided to join a competition called “Hackathon Merdeka” to raise capital.

To their surprise, they won.

Utari Octavianty with her co-founders Farid Naufal Aslam (right) and Indraka Fadhlillah.

Utari Octavianty


But the biggest surprise was the amount of interest Aruna aroused after the launch of the website.

“We received a demand for 1000 tons worth of seafood from customers… from restaurants and importing companies outside of Indonesia who need a continuous supply of seafood.”

The trio quickly got to work, using the two MacBook computers they won in the hackathon to continue building on the website and kicking off freelance work on website design.

Their first significant pool of capital came from another competition, from which they won a cash prize of around $700.

There are many investors in Indonesia, but finding the investor who understands our business is not easy.

Utari Octavianty

Co-founder, Aruna

Although it was a “very small” amount, Octavianty and his co-founders used it to run a pilot program in the port city of Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. They stayed with a fishing community for a month.

At the end of their stay, they made their first transaction with a local restaurant in Bandung. That was the moment when they realized that their idea was not something that only worked on paper.

“We can really make this happen,” Octavianty said.

Find the right investors

Over the years, Aruna expanded to more fishing villages in Indonesia. As demand for its seafood grew, so did the company. But one challenge Octavianty faced was finding the right investors.

“There are many investors in Indonesia, but finding the investor who understands our business is not easy,” he said.

“Some investors will be interested because they see the potential for this business to scale. But we were selective…we wanted investors who wanted to invest not because of the potential of the company, but also because of its impact.”

To date, the Aruna fishing company has exported 44 million kilograms of seafood to seven countries last year, most of them to the US and China.

Aruna

The fishing platform exported 44 million kilograms of seafood to seven countries last year, most of them to the United States and China, Octavianty said.

But he said his biggest achievement is giving fishermen direct access to the market and, in turn, giving them fair and better wages.

“We help fishermen to increase their income more than two to three times compared to before they joined Aruna,” he added.

It’s also about inspiring the industry. We see so many fishing companies in Indonesia, who don’t care about sustainability.

Utari Octavianty

Co-founder, Aruna

While Aruna was strict in selecting its investors, it was this approach that made the company more attractive, Octavianty said.

“We open up to investors about the challenges we face, but in return, we also expect them to, for example, help us with connections or troubleshooting.”

A sustainable future

In January, Aruna announced a $30 million Series A follow-on funding led by Vertex Ventures from Southeast Asia and India. With new funds on the stock, Octavianty is looking to expand to more fishing villages in Indonesia and invest in sustainable fishing practices.

To date, more than 26,000 fishermen from 150 fishing communities in Indonesia use Aruna.

Today, Aruna has more than 26,000 fishermen in its network. It has also provided more than 5,000 rural jobs and employed 1,000 coastal women processing seafood.

Utari Octavianty

“Now that we’ve opened up the market and we have more fishermen on board, we have to be very, very careful with the fish stock because…Indonesia is already overharvesting,” said Octavianty, who is also Aruna’s chief sustainability officer.

That is why Aruna requires all its fishermen to focus on the quality, rather than quantity, of the catch, and refrain from fishing in marine protected areas.

Aruna also advises fishermen not to use fishing gear, such as trawl nets and pumps, which will damage the natural habitat on the seabed.

“It’s also about inspiring the industry. We see so many fishing companies in Indonesia that don’t care about sustainability,” added Octavianty.

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Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect that Kampung Bahru is located in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.

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