Utari Octavianty is no stranger to impostor syndrome.
The 28-year-old is the co-founder of Aruna, an Indonesian farm-to-table e-commerce start-up that gives fishermen direct access to global consumers, getting fair prices for their catch.
“When we were talking to others [start-up] founders, they were from Harvard, Stanford, and suddenly there’s us — from a local university in Indonesia,” she told CNBC Make It.
“But somehow it became the motivation, it’s not the education that matters. It’s how we create impact,” she said.
Indeed, the impact she and her co-founders, Farid Naufal Aslam and Indraka Fadhlillah, have created is significant – over 26,000 anglers across 150 fishing communities in Indonesia now use Aruna.
They were even praised by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo during the 2019 ASEAN Summit for their innovation and role in increasing fishermen’s incomes.
How did this multi-million dollar fishing startup get started? CNBC Make It finds out.
When Octavianty decided to start a fishing-related business, her mother was so angry she didn’t call for a month, she recalls.
“My parents didn’t allow me to join the fishing business because the economic value…is not good,” she said.
“That’s why my parents told me to study technology [in university]they expected me to get a good job in the tech industry.”
Her mother’s concerns were not without merit, however. Octavianty grew up in a fishing village and her mother sold fishing tools for a living. Money was still tight, she said.
“At university, I realized that other young people [who were not poor] could talk about dreams. But for me and my friends, we just talked about how to survive, how to get more money, how to pay for electricity for our houses.”
Indonesia is one of the biggest seafood in the world producers. In 2019, the fisheries sector in Indonesia contributed $27 billion to the national gross domestic product.
Yet the World Bank has reported high levels of poverty in the artisanal fisheries sector – the poverty rate in 2018 in coastal villages was 1.3 times higher than in non-coastal villages.
So when Octavianty found a way to marry technology and her personal experiences, she knew she couldn’t easily give it up despite her parents’ resistance.
“[My co-founders and I] created a timeline together. We said, let’s commit for at least a year and a half. If that fails, then find a job,” she said.
“At that time, we thought if it wasn’t us, maybe someone else would do it in a different way…so let’s get started.”
Removal of intermediaries
Aruna was founded in 2015, when the three co-founders were in their final year of college. Their goal was simple: to provide consumers with a steady supply of seafood.
But after spending time with the fishermen, they realized there were more problems they could help solve.
For example, a long supply chain was a major factor preventing fishermen from selling their catch at a fair price.
“Fishermen must sell to local intermediaries, and local intermediaries will sell to city intermediaries, city intermediaries will sell to provincial intermediaries and so on.”
“What happens most often is that the fishermen don’t get paid…the middlemen will say they’ll pay you tomorrow, but he won’t. That’s why the fishermen are becoming more and more poor. It’s happened to my family before,” Octavianty said. , whose uncle is also a fisherman.
In addition to shortening the supply chain, the digital auction also uses data mapping to ensure fair trade.
“We have real-time data on seafood seasonality all over Indonesia… [for example]when it’s lobster, crab and fish season,” Octavianty said.
“Most of the seafood retail industry needs a steady supply of seafood…so if something is out of season on an island, we can source it from local seafood. another island where she is.”
Today, Aruna is “one of the largest integrated fishing businesses in Indonesia,” Octavianty said. According to her, the fishing platform exported 44 million kilograms of seafood to seven countries last year, mostly to the United States and China.
Giving fishermen direct access to the market has also paid off.
“We’ve helped the fishermen increase their income by more than two to three times compared to before they joined Aruna,” Octavianty said.
“I’m more scared. I have so many questions to ask myself. Am I capable of doing this? If this company grows more and more, is my experience enough to handle all this?”
What drives her is her personal mission that she wrote in her diary 16 years ago: to lift families in fishing villages out of poverty.
“[But now] it is no longer to be proven [myself] to my friends. It’s more like, how can we keep [the business] sustainable, while improving people’s lives.”