When she was young, Utari Octavianty often felt like a failure because of where she came from.
Her hometown is Kampong Baru, a remote fishing village in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, where many people do not have access to education.
There is even a 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 middle school in the city. But she soon discovered that there was a “chasm” between her and her classmates.
“I was bullied because I came from a coastal village…I’m not like people who are already well educated and don’t have financial difficulties,” she told CNBC’s success.
The experience ignited her heart and inspired her personal mission – to ensure that one day her village is not known for its poverty, but for its potential.
“At the time, I didn’t know how I was going to achieve this, I just wrote this in my diary.”
Today, these are not just words on paper, but reality.
Now, Octavianty, 28, is the co-founder of Aruna. This is an Indonesian fisheries e-commerce startup that acts as an end-to-end supply chain aggregator, giving fishermen access to a global network.
So far, it has Raised $65 million in Series A fundingwhich is the largest Series A round for an Indonesian startup, according to Aruna.
Her entrepreneurial journey began in 2015, when Octavianty developed a craving for seafood during her final year of technical studies in Bandung.
“Good seafood is not easy. My family makes seafood at home every day, and suddenly it’s hard to find. I thought to myself, it would be great if I could buy seafood directly from fishermen! [in coastal villages]. ”
She shared her thoughts with her classmates Farid Naufal Aslam and Indraka Fadhillah. Together, they created a website designed to meet consumers’ seafood needs and connect them with fishermen.
The then 21-year-old decided to enter a competition called “Hackathon Merdeka” to get money.
To their surprise, they won.
But the bigger surprise was the huge interest in Aruna after the site launched.
“We have 1,000 tonnes worth of seafood demand from our customers…from restaurants and importing companies outside Indonesia who need a constant supply of seafood.”
The trio quickly got to work — continuing to build on the site using the two MacBooks they won at the hackathon, and guided by freelancers in site design.
Their first significant pool of funds came from another game, from which they received about $700 in cash prizes.
Although it was a “very small” amount, Octavianty and her co-founders used it to run a pilot project in Balikpapan, a seaport city in East Kalimantan. They lived in a fishing community for a month.
At the end of their stay, they made their first deal with a local restaurant in Bandung. At that moment, they realized that their idea was not just on paper.
“We can actually do that,” Octavianty said.
Over the years, Aruna expanded to more fishing villages in Indonesia. As demand for seafood has grown, so has the company. But one challenge for Octavianty is finding the right investors.
“Indonesia has a lot of investors, but it’s not easy to find investors who understand our business,” she said.
“Some investors will be interested because they see the potential to scale up this business. But we are selective… We want investors who want to invest not because of the company’s potential but its impact .”
Octavianty said the fishing platform exported 44 million kilograms of seafood to seven countries last year, most of it to the United States and China.
But she said her greatest achievement was giving fishermen direct access to the market, which in turn gave them fair and better wages.
“We have helped fishermen increase their income two to three times more than before joining Aruna,” she added.
Octavianty said that while Aruna was very strict in selecting investors, it was this approach that made the company more attractive.
“We disclose the challenges we face to investors, but in return we also expect them to help us connect or solve problems.”
In January, Aruna announced $30 million in Series A follow-on funding Led by Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India. With the new funding, Octavianty is looking to expand into more fishing villages in Indonesia and invest in sustainable fishing practices.
To date, Aruna is used by more than 26,000 fishermen in 150 fishing communities in Indonesia.
“Now that we’ve opened up the market and we have more fishermen on board, we need to be very, very careful with the fish because … Indonesia is overfished,” said Octavianty, who is also Aruna’s chief sustainability officer.
That’s why Aruna asks all their fishermen to focus on the quality of their catch rather than the quantity, and not to fish in marine protected areas.
Aruna also advises fishermen not to use fishing gear such as trawl nets and bombs that damage natural seabed habitats.
“It’s also about motivating the industry. We see so many fishing companies in Indonesia who don’t care about sustainability,” adds Octavianty.
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Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect that Kampong Baru is located in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.