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5 thoughts from Telkomsel Mitra Inovasi CEO Marlin Siahaan

Written by Khamila Mulia Published on   4 mins read

The VC firm is looking at startups that can support Telkomsel’s digital transformation ambitions.

Started as a wireless network provider in 1995, Indonesia’s Telkomsel is now transforming into a digital telco company offering an array of services such as mobile gaming, digital entertainment, digital advertising, fintech, internet-of-things, and enterprise solutions. Telkomsel was also the first telco to introduce commercial 5G services in Indonesia, currently available in nine provinces.

With over 170 million customers, Telkomsel is the largest cellular operator in the country. The firm is owned by state telco conglomerate Telkom Indonesia, while Singapore-based telecom firm Singtel also retains a 35% share.

In 2019, Telkomsel, in collaboration with Telkom’s MDI Ventures and Singtel Innov8, the corporate venture capital division of Singtel, invested USD 40 million to launch an investment arm named Telkomsel Mitra Inovasi (TMI).

TMI has so far invested in 12 companies to support Telkomsel’s digital ambitions. Backed companies include buy-now, pay-later startup Kredivo, smart city solution provider Qlue, and agritech startup TaniHub. In June, TMI appointed Marlin Siahaan as its new CEO.

KrASIA spoke to Siahaan to learn more about TMI and Telkomsel’s digital transformation.

The interview has been consolidated and edited for brevity and clarity.

KrASIA (Kr): How did you land your role as CEO at TMI?

Marlin Siahaan (MS): I have more than 20 years of experience in the media and tech industry, where my roles were related to building new business units and development. I was one of the first employees at Yahoo Indonesia in 2010, and that’s where I learned about the tech business, how machine learning works in the content aggregator platforms, and how to read data to understand user habits. After Yahoo, I joined Telkomsel as part of the planning and transformation team—the division responsible for building Telkomsel’s future businesses like digital advertising, fintech, and IoT. After Telkomsel, I worked for Google as country manager of Waze Indonesia for over three years.

Armed with my experience and knowledge in building a new business in a corporate, TMI trusted me to lead the firm and support local startups. My main role as CEO is to build synergies between portfolio startups and Telkomsel, so we can grow together and build a strong digital ecosystem for the nation.

Kr: What is TMI’s investment strategy? What makes it different from other venture capital firms?

MS: When making investments, TMI considers long-term collaborations where we can share values, assets, networks, and resources with our portfolio companies. This is done in the form of strategic partnerships, new products, or joint ventures that can become new revenue streams for both Telkomsel and startups. We invest in seed, Series A, B, and C startups with ticket sizes ranging from USD 500,000 to USD 5 million. As part of Telkomsel’s ecosystem, we also connect startups with other investors and partners that can help in their next fundraising rounds.

Kr: Can you give us some examples of those partnerships? How is TMI supporting Telkomsel’s 5G projects?

MS: We are working with Kredivo on credit scoring so they can use Telkomsel’s big data. We have also established Kredivo as a payment option in various Telkomsel products and services.

Other examples include fintech firm PrivyID and agritech company TaniHub. Telkomsel adopted PrivyID’s digital verification system in our electronic know-your-customer process, while with TaniHub, we provide better network connections for farmers in rural areas.

We’re also looking at potential startups that can support Telkomsel’s 5G ecosystem, from the cloud computing sector, blockchain, and so forth. The main goal of building the 5G ecosystem is to provide high-speed connectivity, but 5G technology can be used for many industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, autonomous vehicles, and more. Telkomsel is currently increasing its 5G use cases and exploring opportunities for new frontier technology in this space. We’re also continuously exploring potential collaborations with existing portfolio companies and new startups for this purpose.

Kr: What is TMI’s exit strategy?

MS: As Telkomsel’s investment arm, we have consistent access to capital, which allows our team to focus on partnership developments, not only on fundraising. We see many potential exits, either through IPOs or trade sales and internal corporate actions in the form of acquisitions or joint ventures. We are currently assessing one company for a potential joint venture to collaborate on big data, but we cannot share the details yet.

Kr: What is your personal ambition for TMI?

MS: I hope that TMI can grow into a big global VC one day like Sequoia and SoftBank to advance the local tech industry and have a meaningful impact on society.

I’m also very passionate about women’s empowerment issues. I want to support more female tech founders, which are rare, including those in the TMI portfolio. Outside of TMI, I’m also active as a content creator on my podcast Eurukawomen and YouTube channel Curhatkantoran, with a mission to inspire Indonesian women to pursue their dreams.

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