Technology in Southeast Asia is booming. Venture capital is flowing. In a region flushed with cash, Founder and CEO of Wobe, Adrianna Tan has an elegant mobile phone solution for underprivileged women and underserved communities left behind in the hype.
“In order for exponential growth to happen, one must accept randomness and spontaneity. It is all about authenticity and the deep love for creating things of value.”
Google “Adrianna Tan” and you’ll get a string of search results detailing her accomplishments: founder of nonprofit organisations, endless social projects and stints at Uber and Silicon Straits. However, her latest labour of love, Wobe, tops her list of accomplishments.
Founded in 2014, Wobe is a micro-finance startup that has significant potential for profound social change. It aims to build technology that benefits underprivileged women in Indonesia. As long as they have a smartphone with mobile Internet access, they can sell daily necessities digitally, like airtime for a prepaid phone, electricity payment vouchers and train tickets.
As a champion for technology and finance, the hardworking achiever shares her secret sauce for doing good.
Doyenne: It’s tough to succeed in both tech and finance. What’s your secret?
Adrianna: The fashionable answer to this type of question is “wing it till you make it”. I was able to do that because I had the luxury of being in close proximity to both sectors.
Having worked with large startups including several “unicorns”, in the exciting Myanmar market and inadvertently specialising in Southeast Asia’s tech scene for most of my career, that privilege helped open doors at interesting intersections.
D: Tell us what goes on in your typical day.
A: I want to say “everything”.
I run a standup meeting with my engineers and designers who are located in Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand and India. I check in with my co-founders. We can read each other’s minds even though we are physically apart.
I answer emails, which I’d like to automate eventually. I talk to my investors, write updates and actively court future investors and commercial partners.
I’m on a flight, in a bus or riding the train. Travelling used to be the best part of my work, but now it gives me backaches. I track our Github repos obsessively, glimpsing future iterations of Wobe. I check in with people in my other projects, like The Gyanada Foundation team.
All of the above really exhausts my deeply introverted self, so I need a cup of coffee. I also grab a bit of exercise to keep my mind and body sharp!
More than anything else, it’s about staying on top of things. Making sure that I am not blocking anybody in my team. I used to be a control freak but now I am partial to massive collaboration.
No matter how busy I am, I always make it a point to seek out the best local food. It’s important to never eat bad food, and I seek out the same perfection in everything.
I also spend time with my dog, partner, and my PS4 — in that order. Then I start the next day trying to take over the world again.
D: What sparked your passion for technology?
A: My journey in my parent’s living room, where I learnt to fix computers, connect cables, install obscure operating systems and write lines of commands on black and green screens.
Both technology and connectivity have given me everything. From the skills I learnt to the people I date, these online experiences made me discover that there were people like me who were introverted and nerdy. Life hasn’t disappointed. We would be weird no more.
D: What was your earliest ambition?
A: To be James Bond. I wanted to travel to interesting places around the world, meet beautiful people and take a bet on the game of life. In those ways life hasn’t disappointed!
D: Dabbling in Singapore politics, founding a few NGOs and most recently, heading up an ambitious start-up in Indonesia… How do you succeed in these starkly diverse roles?
A: My yardsticks for success are: How much fun did I have? Did I learn something new? Did I help create something of value to somebody else?
I’ve learned to come to terms with the fact that not everything is connected in a linear fashion.
In order for exponential growth to happen, one must accept randomness and spontaneity. It is all about authenticity and the deep love for creating things of value. I enjoy applying my skills to things I care about.
D: Who are some of your mentors?
A: James Chan (ex-Neoteny, Silicon Straits) gave me the opportunity to find my space in the “emergiest” of emerging markets, Myanmar. I still count on him to give me no-holds-barred feedback on why things suck and how to fix them.
I also have a clutch of global A-list, much-older-women in tech who don’t know they are my secret mentors. I’ve met them maybe once or twice and sought their help.
D: What would you tell your current self?
A: Not bad! But sleep more. Faster make babies. Spend more time with Cookie – my dog – while you can.