It is not easy for solo women founders to raise funds, says Sara Dhewanto of Duithape

Sara Dhewanto is a social entrepreneur with 18 years of experience in business and finance. In 2015, she founded Duithape, a fintech app in Indonesia that facilitates e-payments for the unbanked.

The company’s platform facilitates mobile payments and remittances without a bank account. Its system facilitates users to make cash deposits and withdrawals, transfers, installment payments, and social security.

In January 2021, Duithape raised an undisclosed amount of funding from 500 Startups.

Sara Dhewanto was among the 12 women (co-)founders interviewed for our latest report Women in Startups: The SE Asia Edition. She shared her experience as a woman entrepreneur in Southeast Asia. Edited excerpts:

Do you think it’s hard to get external funding as a solo woman founder and what do VCs say about you being in a husband-and-wife team?

It is definitely not easy despite the fact that research has shown women-led teams generate a 35% higher return on investment than male-founded companies. It’s easier when you have a co-founder. In my case, my husband is my co-founder. For husband-and-wife teams, I heard from VCs that this is not seen as favourable, but on our side, it works. In terms of raising funds, this does not necessarily sit well.

Have you and your co-founder pitched for external funding? How long did it take you?

It took us about 1.5 years of bootstrapping until we got funding. Had we not gotten that funding, we would have possibly closed down. At one point, I called for a meeting with all my employees and told them: “If we do not get funding after this month, we will need to close.”

The amazing thing is that the next day they pleaded with me to not close the company and to pay them a minimum amount so we can extend the runway for another 4-5 months until we get funding. One employee said he can restart his T-shirt business on the side to help cover family expenses, but urged me not to close the company. It was the most heart-warming moment for me and my team. I am really lucky that they believe in what we are doing, so that was a great moment. Fortunately, we did get funding that month.

The share of startups with women founders has increased in SE Asia over the last decade. Does it reflect what you are observing?

I have seen more and more women founders. I’m referring to tech companies and tech startups. For mom-and-pop shops, the majority are women founders.

Do you think that participating in ecosystems has helped?

It helped a lot. The reason it took us so long to fundraise was that we were not connected to startup ecosystems previously and we talked to traditional investors. Once we got into the startup ecosystem, things were very different. The ecosystem in Jakarta is very vibrant already.

How did COVID-19 impact your firm?

We grew 13 times in 2020 in terms of gross transaction value versus 2019. COVID-19 brought a huge opportunity for growth.

To read more such interviews and access data like the share of capital that flowed to women-led startups in SE Asia, refer to our Research & Analytics report.

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.