28-year-old Indonesian turns $700 into a multi-million dollar fishing business
When she was young, Utari Octavianty often felt like the underdog because of her background.
Her hometown is Kampung Bahru, a remote fishing village in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, where many lack access to education.
There was even a common saying: “If you come from a fishing village, you can’t win.”
That’s why Octavianty considered herself “lucky” when her parents sent her to a high school in the city. But she soon discovered that there was a “gap” between her and her classmates.
“I was bullied because I come from a coastal village… I was not the same as people who already had a good education and had no economic difficulties,” she said. told CNBC Make It.
The experience lit a fire within her and ignited a personal mission – to ensure that one day her village would be known not for its poverty, but for its potential.
“At the time, I didn’t know how I was going to achieve this, I just wrote it down in my diary.”
Today, these are no longer just words on a page, but a reality.
Now, at 28, Octavianty is the co-founder of Aruna. It is an Indonesian fishing e-commerce start-up that operates as an end-to-end supply chain aggregator, giving anglers access to a global network.
To date, he has raised $65 million in Series A fundingwhich, according to Aruna, is the largest Series A funding for Indonesian start-ups.
Her entrepreneurial journey began in 2015, with a craving for seafood that Octavianty had when she was in her final year of a tech undergraduate 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 it would be good if we could buy seafood directly from the fishermen. [in coastal villages].”
She shared her idea with her classmates, Farid Naufal Aslam and Indraka Fadhlillah. Together, they created a website aimed at meeting consumer demands for seafood products and connecting them with anglers.
The 21-year-olds then decided to participate in a competition called “Hackathon Merdeka” to obtain capital.
To their surprise, they won.
But the biggest surprise was the level of interest in Aruna following the launch of the website.
“We have received a request for 1,000 tons of seafood from customers… restaurants and import 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 developing the website and getting started through freelance web design jobs.
Their first major pool of capital came from another competition, in which they won a cash prize of around $700.
Although it’s a “very small” amount, Octavianty and its co-founders used it to run a pilot program in the port town of Balikpapan in 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’s when they realized their idea wasn’t something that only worked on paper.
“We can actually make it happen,” Octavianty said.
Over the years, Aruna has spread to other fishing villages in Indonesia. As the demand for their seafood grew, so did the business. 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,” she said.
“Some investors will be interested because they see the potential for this business to grow. But we were selective…we wanted investors who wanted to invest not because of the potential of the business, but because of its impact.”
The fishing platform exported 44 million kilograms of seafood to seven countries last year, most of it to the United States and China, Octavianty said.
But she said her biggest achievement is giving fishermen direct market access and, in return, giving them fair and better wages.
“We have helped the fishermen to increase their income more than two to three times more than before they joined Aruna,” she added.
Although Aruna was strict in selecting its investors, it was this approach that made the company more attractive, Octavianty said.
“We open up the challenges we face to investors, but in return we also expect them, for example, to help us make connections or solve problems.”
In January, Aruna announced $30 million follow-on Series A funding led by Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India. With new funding in the bag, Octavianty is looking to expand into even more fishing villages in Indonesia and invest in sustainable fishing practices.
To date, more than 26,000 anglers across 150 fishing communities in Indonesia use Aruna.
“Now that we have opened the market and have more fishermen on board, we have to be very, very careful with fish stocks because … Indonesia is already overfishing,” said Octavianty, who is also the director of the sustainable development of Aruna.
That is why Aruna asks all its fishermen to focus on the quality rather than the quantity of catches and to refrain from fishing in marine protected areas.
Aruna also advises fishermen not to use fishing gear, such as trawls and bombs, which will harm the natural habitat on the seabed.
“It’s also about inspiring the industry. We see so many fishing companies in Indonesia, who don’t care about sustainability,” Octavianty added.
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Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect that Kampung Bahru is in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.