Aonic: Revolutionizing Dronetech in Southeast Asia

In an exclusive interview, Cheong Jin Xi (JX), the visionary founder of Aonic, formerly known as Poladrone shares insights into the company’s journey, challenges, competitive advantages, and future aspirations.

The agritech sector in Southeast Asia is undergoing a transformation, thanks to Aonic, formerly known as Poladrone. Founded in 2016 by Cheong Jin Xi (JX), the company recognized early on the potential in the agritech space and has remained steadfast in addressing its unique challenges.

Aonic secured a significant seed funding round from Wavemaker Partners, Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC), ZB Capital, Genesis Alternative Ventures, and others.

We sat down with JX to delve deeper into the company’s journey, drone technology, and its impact on the agricultural industry.

Can you tell us about the Aonic origin story?

My journey with drones began before the birth of Aonic when my passion for flying objects led me to pursue an aerospace engineering degree. Our initial goal was simple: to make drones accessible to everyone, hence the name ‘Poladrone,’ a playful blend of Polaroids and Drones. This ethos still defines our company today.

Initially, we offered basic photography services, but we quickly pivoted towards providing analytics services across various sectors, including agriculture, oil & gas, telecommunications, and surveying. We realized that the true value of drones lay in the data we could capture at scale. As our analytics solutions matured, we received feedback from customers highlighting a pressing issue: labor shortages, particularly in agriculture.

This insight drove us to develop two specialized agricultural spraying drones: Oryctes, designed for precise point-to-point spraying in oil palm plantations, and Mist Drone, tailored for blanket spraying in open field crops. These drones are complemented by our AI-assisted aerial mapping software, Airamap Desktop, and the Oryctes Flight App for seamless flight planning.

Over the years, we’ve sharpened our focus on the agricultural industry. While other segments like surveying and mapping remain lucrative, we see agriculture as our primary growth area. In Southeast Asia, farms continue to rely on slow, inefficient manual labor. The opportunity for impact is immense. Today, we’re dedicated to integrating ourselves into the agricultural value chain by establishing 3S (sales, service, and spare parts) centers across key agricultural areas.

What are some of the challenges you faced initially and how did you overcome them?

While drones are widely known, many still associate them primarily with photography and recreational use. Awareness regarding enterprise and agricultural drones is lacking. This lack of awareness is just the first hurdle; the subsequent customer journey involving affordability, usage, and support is also broken.

To address these concerns, we took an ecosystem approach. This led us to establish our 3S centers and, more recently, the Aonic App. Together, these elements form a physical and digital ecosystem, serving as our center of excellence, an information-sharing hub, and an after-sales support provider. In simpler terms, it’s where we educate our customers, provide financing options, offer training, and service their drones physically and digitally.

What competitive advantages does Aonic hold over other drone solution providers?

Aonic’s competitive edge is twofold:

Product: Our products are proprietary, backed by patents. We design and manufacture the electronics of our drones in-house. In contrast, many drone providers source components from China, leaving them vulnerable to supply chain disruptions and confined within distribution territories.

Strategy: As I mentioned earlier, we’re building an ecosystem. Beyond our 3S centers and Aonic App, having proprietary products enables us to seamlessly integrate our drones with our solutions. For example, we can link Airamap Desktop, Oryctes Flight App, and Oryctes Drone for a seamless flight experience. Many drone solution providers focus solely on hardware sales, neglecting the broader customer journey.

Can you share some specific examples of how Aonic has successfully helped enterprises enhance their operations?

Certainly, let’s consider Sime Darby Plantation as an example. Traditionally they relied on conventional pesticide spraying methods, which posed challenges in terms of consistency, productivity, and worker safety due to labor shortages and chemical exposure.

With our Oryctes drones, they witnessed significant improvements in efficiency, outperforming manual spraying methods by up to 8 times. Furthermore, they gained valuable insights into chemical usage, which brought them closer to their Sustainable Development Goals. This includes reducing deforestation by improving yield per hectare, upskilling local talents, and enhancing workers’ quality of life.

Now, let’s consider a smaller-scale success story featuring Encik Ab Rahim, a smallholder farmer managing a 5-hectare paddy field. While he had been aware of agricultural drones and their potential benefits for several years, it was the establishment of an Aonic 3S center nearby that prompted him to embrace this innovative technology.

The presence of the 3S center gave him the confidence that Aonic would provide the necessary long-term support, including spare parts, maintenance, and knowledge sharing. Furthermore, Encik Ab Rahim availed himself of Aonic’s financing program, a strategic initiative that substantially lowered the barriers to drone ownership. The added benefit of free maintenance served as a compelling incentive for him to make the leap towards drone-assisted farming.

The adoption of Aonic’s Mist Drone marked a pivotal moment in Encik Ab Rahim’s agricultural journey – introducing higher levels of consistency and precision to pesticide spraying, while effectively eliminating the irregularities associated with manual methods. This boost in efficiency translated directly into a significant increase in his income, from $2,000 to $3,000.

Beyond the financial gains, the Mist Drone also offered intangible benefits. Given that Encik Ab Rahim is over 60 years old, he was no longer required to laboriously wade knee-deep into the paddy fields for extended periods. Thanks to the capabilities of the Mist Drone, he could now effortlessly cover his entire field, saving both time and energy.

The story of Encik Ab Rahim serves as a testament to the real-world impact of Aonic’s agricultural drone solutions, underscoring their capacity to not only drive financial growth but also enhance the quality of life for smallholder farmers.

Looking into the future, what are some of the key areas of growth and expansion that Aonic envisions beyond its current offerings?

We see our growth driven by two main aspects: providing more value add and expanding our 3S centers.

We aim to broaden our horizons by venturing into other agricultural products, offering more value along the agricultural value chain. Our ultimate goal is to become a one-stop platform for all agricultural needs.

Our relentless commitment to 3S center expansion will continue for the next 2-3 years. Agriculture is built on trust, and being closer to the community strengthens that trust. In the coming 1-2 years, we plan to focus on Thailand and Vietnam, two of the top three global rice exporters, while further fortifying our presence in Malaysia.

Can you share some insights into the team behind Aonic? What expertise do they bring to the table, and how does their collective experience contribute to the company’s success?

Our team operates on a fundamental principle: ensuring that our solutions offer sustainable value and sound unit economics, rather than pursuing unsustainable growth and burning through cash. Because of our financial prudence, we are already profitable.

We value team members with clear, logical thinking and a focus on execution, allowing each member to contribute according to their respective expertise. Moreover, we place a strong emphasis on past experience in traditional industries relevant to our services, such as agriculture and surveying. This enables our team to connect better with our customers.

We believe in internal training and development rather than hiring from competitors, as it helps foster the right approach and culture towards the technology.

With the rapid advancements in drone technology, how does Aonic stay ahead of the curve in terms of innovation and adapting to changing industry trends?

Maintaining a growth mindset is key to staying ahead in the ever-changing drone industry. Being young and dynamic, the industry is constantly evolving, and we must adapt continuously to remain relevant.

Our unique advantage lies in our ability to closely collaborate with some of the most advanced drone companies in China. Many of our team members are fluent in Mandarin and work collaboratively across various departments, from commercial to operations and research & development. This provides us with a front-row seat to upcoming technology trends before they are shared globally.


As Aonic continues to spread its wings, expanding its 3S centers and venturing into new horizons, they’re proving that the sky’s not the limit; it’s just the beginning. So, stay tuned, because in this drone-driven world, Aonic is the company that’s taking agriculture to new heights, one flight at a time.


Victor Sassoon is Executive Chairman, Rubina Watch Company, a luxury timepiece and fashion retail and distribution platform across Southeast Asia representing iconic global brands such as Berluti, Cartier, Chanel, Fendi, Fossil, Panerai, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Tory Burch, Valentino, among others.

He chairs Sassoon Investment Corporation (SassCorp), the family’s investment vehicle. With offices in Los Angeles, Jakarta, and Singapore, SassCorp invests across various sectors including real estate and high-growth technology companies in Israel, Southeast Asia, and the U.S. SassCorp is also an investor in both Genesis Funds I & II.

In 1990, Victor founded SunVic Productions, a media and entertainment company that organised over 100 large-scale events across Asian cities including live concerts by Metallica, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, and more recently, hosted Maestro Zubin Mehta with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 2014 as part of SG50 national celebrations and again in 2016 at the Esplanade Concert Hall. For his contributions, Victor was recognised by the Singapore Tourism Board as ‘Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2000.

Victor is probably best known for introducing second-wave coffee to Southeast Asia in 1996 with the launch of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Singapore and Malaysia. The Sassoon family acquired the US-based parent company in 1998 and built it into one of the world’s largest specialty coffee chains before divesting the business in 2019.

In this rare interview, Victor shares his views on building successful businesses, managing risks, investments, and his plans for the futures.


Can you share with us how you started in the luxury timepiece business?

Rubina Watch was started by my father in 1966 as a wholesale business with factories in Indonesia and Singapore to assemble mechanical watches. Unfortunately, the Singapore market was too small back then, so he closed the factory here and moved back to Indonesia. So I followed him back to Indonesia as a child.

My father would always take me around to meet with distributors in the suburbs of Indonesia, after school, during the weekends and holidays. And that was how I got started in the business and I learnt a lot from him. But over time, I had a different idea of where the business should go. I am forever grateful to him for guiding and mentoring me and later, giving me the independence and trust to run the business. He continued to advise me later on in my other ventures as well.

How we started in the luxury end of the business was through my brother who was based in Los Angeles, USA. He was friendly with the owners of the Gucci watch business, so we negotiated a deal to bring the brand to Indonesia. The first one is always the hardest and thereafter, we managed to persuade other brands like TAG Heuer, Cartier, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Hublot and even Rolex. We also started the first Cartier boutique in Indonesia, followed by multiple watch boutiques. Then we extended further into fashion brands like Fendi, Valentino and Chanel. We still represent these brands in Indonesia today.


How did you manage to retain these relationships with the principals over such a long period?

Our philosophy is a bit different because we are not traders. We believe in representing the brands well – from the in-store experience to the after-sales service and that is why the brand owners trust us. We invested in the brands by, for instance, opening a dedicated service center and regularly training our frontline staff so that they represent the brands well. The owners know that their brands are in good hands with us and that is how we built such strong relationships.


From the luxury timepiece business, how did you make the leap into the entertainment business?

How we got into the entertainment business was by chance. One day an acquaintance of mine came into the office and said, “I know this master illusionist David Copperfield and I can get him to tour Asia. But I don’t know how to set up and promote concerts.” Well, at that point, neither did I! But I took a calculated risk and decided to try.

David Copperfield was our first show in Singapore, and it was pretty much sold out. For me, it was a very good experience, but it was not easy. To pull together a show, you have to first cut the deal and then handle the operations from sound, lighting, ticketing, security, promotions, licensing, etc. and I learnt all the different aspects of the business by doing.

Every business has its own logic, you have to just understand it and then learn as you go and quickly course correct as needed. To make it work, we needed scale and I had the advantage of being able to buy for multiple countries like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. And that’s how we could produce about 60 to 80 shows over a ten-year period, with big names like Jon Bon Jovi, Janet Jackson, Metallica, Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul, Phil Collins, Sting and Whitney Houston, etc.

It sounds like a lot of fun. What was your most memorable concert?

Of the most memorable ones was the Metallica concert in Jakarta in 1993. In fact, there were more people outside the stadium than inside. A riot was unfolding before our eyes. The band asked me what they should do. And I advised them to at least play a few songs while I figured out a way to maintain safety. So we opened the main doors to let people in and for those who couldn’t get in, they could at least hear the music.

My next concern was to navigate the band safely out of the area through the crowd. Then with a moment of inspiration, I decided to call for some ambulances to the backstage area because I knew the crowd would never touch the ambulances. Not many people know this, but Metallica got out of the area in the safety of those ambulances. To be successful, you have to think and act fast!


From concerts to coffee, what sparked that?

Oh, there is a link between the concert and coffee businesses! While the entertainment side of the business was moving along nicely, we realized that in Singapore at that time if you wanted a coffee and a pastry, there was only Delifrance at a certain price range. It was either Delifrance or a hotel cafe. And Delifrance was doing a roaring business. So, we thought, maybe a specialty coffee lifestyle concept could work in Singapore. As we discussed it, my brother who lives in Los Angeles said, why not take a look at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf? There was one in Beverly Hills near his home and there was always a long queue.

At that time, singer-dancer Paula Abdul was performing in Singapore, so I asked her about The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. And she said to me, “Victor, it is the best brand. It has the best ice blended!” So that was it. Because we had no idea about the coffee and cafe business, we hired a consultant and went to the US to pitch for a franchise, which we got for Malaysia, Singapore, and a few other countries.

Our first Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cafe opened at Scotts Shopping Center in November 1997. Even though Delifrance was in the same building and across the road, the queues were just crazy.

I understand you grew The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98

Yes, it may seem contrary to expand an F&B business during an economic crisis, but we could get better rentals and better locations. And it really worked because people just loved the concept and the product.


Why do you think that is?

There was one requirement I was very particular about – consistent high-quality product. I even worked at a store for a few days so that I knew what would and would not work.

Our point of difference was that we were the only company that used good quality chocolate powder and vanilla powder, whereas the competition used syrup. We had our own unique and distinctive flavor and aftertaste.

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf became so successful in Asia that at one point, we were opening more stores in Asia than the franchisor was in the USA. Then we realized that for this to be a bigger and more sustainable business, we had to buy and own the brand.


What did not work so well?

In hindsight, if I am able to choose all over again, I would have chosen to open CBTL in Hong Kong, rather than Taiwan. At that time, Hong Kong had more shopping malls than Taiwan, which were mostly street shops. Furthermore, the rentals in Taiwan were very high. So while Taiwan had a strong market for the concept, they did not have the right environment for it. So at that time, if I had opted for Hong Kong, we would have done much better in the long run, also because it would have had a direct bearing on the China market eventually. But we made mistakes and learnt from them.

What did you learn from this experience?

You must have the instinct to understand when it is enough. You can’t chase the dragon. The most important thing is that you have limited time and capacity – what are the opportunity costs to what you’re doing? Are you missing any opportunities in the meantime?

And that is why we decided to stop the concert business as it got too expensive to bring in foreign acts with the devaluation of Asian currencies. And we have a few fashion lines in Singapore that did not work well which we also decided to pull the plug on.


Now that you are spending more time with SassCorp, your family office and investment vehicle, can you share what you look for before investing in any businesses?

In terms of portfolio, I look for tech-based opportunities in South-east Asia and Israel to invest in. I find this very exciting as the eco-system is evolving very quickly and I am learning new things every day.

One of the first things I look for is discipline in the founding team and partners. Do they have the passion and execution to bring their ideas to life? I will look at project sales numbers and see how they hit it. If they miss it by ten, fifteen per cent for instance, then I’d look at other financials, salespeople, and the team themself. Because I came from the operating side, I have that advantage of knowing instinctively if the brand can still be relevant in five, ten years’ time. Do the founders have the discipline to innovate so as extend their runway? Discipline is always at the back of my mind when I assess companies and their founders.

What are your plans for the next five years?

I would like to spend more time with my wife, five children, and eight grandkids. I would like to continue to give back to the community. I was the President of the Jewish Community in Singapore for over ten years and I am still on the Advisory Board. I foresee more philanthropic projects too. I also sit on a few advisory boards of venture capital funds and it’s my passion to engage with entrepreneurs and share my experience – but only if they want it!

I want to add that I would not have gotten to where I am today without my very talented wife, Michelle, who was with me from day one, building our family and these businesses.


This conversation was originally held on February 16th, 2022. Reproduced with kind permission from SNAPP by Silverhorn. Snapp is an invite-only thought leadership community of like-minded individuals vested in the Asian growth story.



An internship is a great way for undergraduates to gain real-world experience and develop new skills while still in university. However, getting an internship can be competitive, and the interview process can be daunting. 

We asked our Communications and HR Manager, Michelle Low, to share some tips to help you ace your internship interview:


#1: Research, research, research

Before your interview, it is crucial to research the company you are applying to. This will help you understand their mission, values, and culture. Look at their website, social media accounts, and recent news articles to get a sense of what they do, who their customers are, and what their goals are. 

You can also check employee reviews on websites like Glassdoor or better yet, reach out to their current and past interns for front-seat review. This will help you tailor your responses during the interview and show that you are genuinely interested in the company.


#2 Prepare for the predictable

Most internship interviews will include common questions such as “Tell me about yourself,” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” and “Why do you want to intern with us?”

The best way to prepare responses to these questions is to understand yourself and what you can bring to the table. So list out your strengths (e.g. “advanced Excel skills” or “willingness to learn”) with examples of how you applied these strengths in other situations. It’s always best if your strengths match up to what’s stated in the job description. 

In terms of areas of development, do not be shy about admitting them. In fact, the interviewer will appreciate your honesty and self-awareness. But always add what you are to mitigate your weaknesses. For example, “I am weak at proofreading my own work so I try to finish it ahead of time and ask someone to help me with proofreading.”


#3 Show enthusiasm and energy

During the interview, show your interviewer that you’re excited about the opportunity to intern with their company. Smile, make eye contact, and speak with energy and enthusiasm. This will demonstrate that you’re passionate about the work you’ll be doing and will help you stand out from other candidates. 


#4 Ask thoughtful questions

At the end of your interview, you will likely be asked if you have any questions. Use this opportunity to ask thoughtful questions about the company, the internship program, or the interviewer’s experience. This will show that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in the company. 

For instance, “I read on your website that venture debt is not the same as revenue-based financing but I am not clear as when startups should pick one over the other.”


#5 Dress for success

First impressions matter, even in online interviews. Dress appropriately for the company culture and industry. If you are unsure of the dress code, it’s better to be overdressed. Don’t forget to check your lighting, background, and internet stability.


#6 Follow up with a thank-you

Send a thank-you email within 24 hours of the interview, reiterating your interest in the internship and thanking the interviewer for their time. And don’t forget to attach any documents as PDFs – viruses are a big no-no.

With these tips, you’re sure to ace your internship interview and take the first step toward an exciting and fulfilling career. Good luck!



In a wide-ranging interview with Olivier Raussin, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of FEBE Ventures, we explore his career and experience working in the Southeast Asian tech ecosystem.

Olivier talks about his career in big tech, his own startups, and how he found his passion for venture capital. He shares insights into the challenges faced by startups and his thoughts on exciting trends in Southeast Asia, the future of venture capital, and offers advice for young professionals considering a career in VC

FEBE Ventures (“For Entrepreneurs, By Entrepreneurs”) is an early-stage Venture Capital fund supporting outstanding entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia.


Can you tell us how you ended up in Vietnam from France via Brazil?

I started my career in VC in Europe before having the opportunity to move to Brazil to lead the Latin American practice of my fund at the time, Project A Ventures. During the seven years I spent in Brazil, I had the privilege of working with many talented entrepreneurs and witnessing the incredible growth of the tech ecosystem there, including the emergence of several unicorns.

As I gained more experience investing in the region, I began to see many similarities between the tech landscapes in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Both regions have rapidly expanding economies (like Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia & Vietnam) that are ripe for digital transformation.

So, I decided to move to Singapore in order to immerse myself in the SEA startup scene and build relationships with entrepreneurs and investors in the region.


You pivoted a few times in your career. What prompted the move into VC?

I spent almost a decade of my career working in Big Tech, holding C-level positions at companies like Microsoft and Google in Europe. In between these stints, I had always felt an entrepreneurial itch and spent six years bootstrapping two startups. 

However, it wasn’t until an old friend from university invited me to join his new $100M, operationally focused fund, that I realized that venture capital was a natural next step for my career. VC allowed me to combine my experience in Big Tech with my passion for entrepreneurship, and gave me the opportunity to work with talented entrepreneurs to help them build and grow innovative businesses. 

You spoke about how startups don’t grow in a linear manner. Can you share with our readers about the wine business that nearly died many times but eventually did well.

When we were building an ecommerce business in Brazil, we faced many challenges that nearly brought us close to “be short cash” several times. These issues included a lack of capital, long working capital cycles. On top of that, we made mistakes in scaling too quickly and making the wrong hires. Through perseverance, we were able to turn it around. Today, the company is healthy.

This experience taught me important lessons about operating a business and gave me insights into the challenges that founders face. As a VC, I try to bring this empathy to my interactions with founders to help them overcome the hurdles that come their way. 


How do you prioritize and manage your tasks and responsibilities on a daily basis?

In the morning, I spend time reading and working on mid-term strategic topics, as well as engaging in reflection and deep work. 

My afternoons are reserved for calls and meetings. This is when I engage with founders to discuss potential investments and provide support to our portfolio companies.

Overall, I find it helpful to block out specific times of the day for certain types of work and prioritize my tasks based on their level of importance. This allows me to focus my energy on the most critical areas and maximize my productivity throughout the day. 


What are some trends or developments in Southeast Asia that you find particularly exciting or interesting?

Among the trends that I find exciting in Southeast Asia, there are two in particular that I would like to highlight. The first is the emergence of Southeast Asia as a hub for SaaS startups that are building global solutions for the rest of the world. 

Secondly, I’m impressed by the increased innovation and unique business models being developed in the region, as opposed to simply copying successful models from other markets. Startups in Southeast Asia are now leveraging their specific local and domain expertise to create businesses that are new and unique, which is great to see.


How do you see our industry evolving in the next 5-10 years, and how are you preparing for those changes

In the next 5-10 years, I see a few key trends emerging in the VC space. One is a consolidation of the various VCs & PEs in the ecosystem, which will likely result in the emergence of multi-stage platforms as well as ultra-niche plays (vertical, countries, technology) that cater to specific segments. 

In addition, we will see the startup exit market maturing, with more opportunities for private equity exits. 


How do you maintain a work-life balance and avoid burnout in a demanding and absorbing role?

I make sure to go for a run or go to the gym, practice yoga every day, and take my Golden Retriever, Samba, for a long walk once a day. I try to maintain a healthy diet by limiting sugar and carb intake. I also find it helpful to step away from work by disconnecting from Whatsapp and emails a few days a year to enjoy a full digital detox. 


What advice do you have for young professionals who are considering a career in VC?

For those considering a career in VC, my advice is simple: join only if you truly love the work. This is not a job for those looking to climb the traditional career ladder of consulting or MBA programs. It requires a deep passion for technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship, as well as a willingness to work hard and commit for the long haul. VC is not a career with immediate rewards, and it can take years of hard work and persistence before seeing the fruits of your labor. 

However, if you are willing to put in the time and effort, the rewards can be significant, both personally and professionally.


Finally, any advice for startup founders amid the current difficult macro-economic environment?

Growth-at-all-costs is over. Profitability is the new mantra. In today’s market, investors are looking for companies that can demonstrate a clear path to profitability and sustainable growth.

To achieve this, it’s important to be disciplined about controlling your burn rate and tracking your cash flow. This means being strategic about how you invest your resources, and being willing to make tough decisions when necessary. 

In addition, investors like to see high margins, high repeatability, and high capital efficiency. These are key metrics that demonstrate a company’s ability to generate sustainable returns over the long term. On the other hand, we prefer to see low levels of capital expenditure and working capital. 

The current environment is challenging for everyone, but with the right mindset and strategy, you can weather the storm and emerge stronger on the other side.


Who is SVB?

In 1983, Bill Biggerstaff and Robert Medearis, former Bank of America managers, founded Silicon Valley Bank to cater to the specific needs of startup companies. The banking industry at the time had little understanding of startups, particularly those without immediate revenue streams. SVB recognized this gap and developed loan structures that accounted for the unique challenges faced by these companies, managing risk based on their business models.

At the end of 2022, SVB was the 16th largest bank in the United States and the largest by deposits in Silicon Valley, solidifying its position as go-to bank for venture-backed tech startups. Legendary venture capitalist, Michael Moritz, longtime partner at Sequoia Capital calls SVB “the most important business partner” in Silicon Valley over the past 40 years.


What happened?

The collapse of SVB, a trusted banking partner and venture lender to many tech companies and known as the “bank for private equity”, was a sobering event. With over 40 years of experience, SVB had developed a comprehensive product suite tailored to the needs of the tech industry, offering mortgages to executives, credit lines to VC funds to keep capital flowing, and venture debt to startups that larger lenders deemed uncreditworthy. Its global offices enabled it to serve VCs and startups worldwide, not just in the US, where it was a banker for 50% of tech and life sciences startups.

However, the bank’s downfall resulted from a fundamental mistake: investing in longer-term mortgage securities with over 10 years to maturity, rather than shorter-term treasuries or mortgages. During a period of historic lows in interest rates, SVB invested depositors’ funds in long-term treasury bonds. And as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates to combat inflation, the value of those bonds plummeted, causing an asset/liability mismatch and leading to the bank’s collapse.

SVB with a loan book worth $74 billion as of December 31, 2022, had a diverse portfolio of loans. About 56% of its loan portfolio was dedicated to loans to venture capital and private equity firms, which were secured by their limited partner commitments and used to make investments in private companies. Mortgages to high-net-worth individuals accounted for 14% of its loans, while 24% were to technology and health care companies, including 9% to early and growth-stage startup companies. According to Bloomberg, SVB’s loan portfolio included many lower-risk and lower-yield loans. The bank’s non-performing loans in 2022 represented only 0.18% of its total loans, suggesting overall good credit performance. 


So what happens now that SVB is no longer available to serve the startup community in the US?

SVB’s absence in the startup community in the US is likely to have significant consequences. While Silicon Valley Bridge Bank has stepped in as a temporary successor, encouraging its clients to diversify their deposits and operations between banks, it appears that the damage is already done and most of SVB’s clients have already withdrawn their funds and switched to larger banks.

VC and PE funds that relied on SVB’s subscription lines of credit to bridge capital calls will face challenges. These lines of credit allow General Partners of a fund to delay the funding commitment from their Limited Partners for up to a few months. These funds will now have to establish new banking relationships to channel their capital call funding, which could cause delays in funding new investments and have downstream impacts on startups that require funding.

The rise of venture lending in recent years has been fueled by startups’ need to diversify their funding sources and reduce reliance on equity raises. According to PitchBook data, the second quarter of 2022 saw the second-largest total venture debt value in the past decade. 

In 2022, more than $30 billion in loans were provided to US-based VC-backed companies, which showed an appetite for debt despite rising interest rates. As one of the largest venture lenders, SVB’s exit will create a gap in the market for technology companies seeking to raise debt. It is unclear if other venture lenders will step forward to cover this gap, especially for companies with undrawn SVB lines.


The Venture Debt Outlook Going Forward

The consequence of SVB’s demise may include higher capital costs and tighter cash flows for startups, leading to more distressed companies. SVB, which has been the largest venture debt lender and has offered attractive rates to startups, may face challenges in the future as it is likely to be sold to another bank. This could potentially make it more difficult and expensive for startups to secure debt capital. While there are over 170 active venture debt funds in the US, according to PitchBook, these debt funds may need to step up to gain a bigger share of the venture loan market.


A version of this article appeared on Genesis’ LinkedIn page on 21 March 2023.


From Parking Pandemonium To Soulful Serenity: Soul Parking’s Journey To Success

Kenneth Darmansjah is one of founders and CEO of Soul Parking, a technology-enabled parking solutions provider based in Indonesia. With his expertise in finance and business strategy, Kenneth has been instrumental in leading Soul Parking towards its mission of revolutionizing the parking industry in Indonesia.

Genesis talks to Kenneth about his journey and plans for Soul Parking.


Please share with us the origin story of Soul Parking.  How did you come up with this ingenious solution to tackle the nightmare of motorcycle parking in Indonesia?

Picture this: you’ve just driven through Jakarta’s chaotic traffic, and your stress levels are already through the roof. You finally arrive at your destination, but finding a parking spot seems like an impossible task. And the population of motorized vehicles still rising in this hot and humid metropolis!

Having lived in Australia for six years, I asked myself, why is parking such a nightmare in Jakarta and yet more manageable elsewhere? What was even worse is that vehicle emissions are responsible for a whopping 70% of the city’s air pollution. To me, it became clear that the conventional parking business was no longer sufficient to meet the needs of Indonesia’s rapidly growing cities and was ripe for disruption. I was determined that there is a better and safer way for motorists.

That’s where Soul Parking comes in – with our innovative Compact Motorcycle Storage (CMS) and Soul Operating System (OS), providing hassle-free parking solutions. CMS is a multi-level portable parking solution for two-wheelers, while OS is a cloud-based software that digitizes existing parking buildings through data transparency provided for clients.


How did you come up with the interesting name, Soul Parking?

Soul Parking was hatched from the word “Soul” – where we wanted to convey a sense of comfort for drivers to experience hassle-free and stress-free parking amidst the chaos of the city. Interestingly enough, it also rhymes with the word “Solution”, both in English and Indonesian, and that reflects what we are trying to achieve through our innovative solutions.


What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

2020 was a turbulent ride for Soul Parking. Just one month after launching our first-ever Compact Motorcycle Storage in Central Jakarta, the global pandemic hit, resulting in stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions that heavily impacted our key target users: daily parkers.

However, we persevered and listened to feedback from our early users who appreciated the safety and convenience of our smart elevated parking system. To pivot our business strategy, we explored new revenue streams and partnerships, such as partnering with healthcare services to facilitate PCR tests, logistics companies, cloud kitchens, and automotive workshops.

Additionally, we invested in new technology that enabled automated parking systems, contactless payments, and real-time monitoring through our parking management dashboard. These initiatives have allowed us to weather the storm, successfully turning around our traffic volume to reach full capacity and broaden our services to cater to a wider range of vehicles and partners. Because of the challenges, we emerged stronger and more resilient than ever.

Let’s shift the focus to some of Soul Parking’s impressive achievements in the past two years. What are you particularly proud of? 

Despite the challenging circumstances, we are proud to have secured over 30 locations in six highly saturated provinces across Indonesia, including some of the most congested areas like DKI Jakarta and Bali. Our partnerships with business owners and property developers in these areas have enabled us to cater to the high demand for parking and provide hassle-free solutions for millions of vehicles.

We are also thrilled that our innovative mobile app has been well-received by a diverse range of users. Our tech team works tirelessly to optimize its features, providing an intuitive interface and user-friendly design that allows for paperless ticketing, cashless payments, and monthly memberships. As a result, our mobile app has seen significant growth in users and high retention rates over time.

And in the face of economic uncertainty, we’re proud to prioritize healthy and positive unit economics, ensuring profitability across all sites. We’re pleased to report that we’ve been able to post a positive bottom-line at all sites, proving that our business model is resilient and not cash-burning. This is a humbling achievement for us and demonstrates our commitment to sustainable growth.


What and whom do you attribute your success to?

As an early-stage company, Soul Parking has only just started and we have a long way to go to achieve our ultimate goal of pioneering a leading tech-enabled parking solution in Indonesia. However, we have already accomplished some important milestones along the way.

Every day, I attribute our success to two groups of people. Firstly, I am grateful for the collective effort of each team member in Soul Parking who has contributed and played a crucial role in getting us where we are today. They are truly the backbone of our company, and without their support, we would not be where we are. I am grateful for our soulful talents who continue to push us beyond our limits and help us achieve greater success.

Secondly, the partners who believed in us and our mission to bring hassle-free, tech-enabled parking solutions to the chaotic streets across Indonesia. Our existing backers, such as Genesis Alternative Ventures, continue to provide strategic advice with key introductions that were instrumental in enabling us to achieve our milestones. All in all, we value all stakeholders’ support and are committed to ensuring that your trust in us continues to be well-placed.


What is your leadership style like?

As a leader, I believe that my role is to inspire and empower my team to achieve our collective goals. Drawing from my experience in the finance industry, I understand the importance of achieving results while maintaining a positive team culture. Rather than micromanaging, I take an empathetic approach to leadership, actively listening to my team’s concerns and providing the necessary support to help them succeed.

At Soul Parking, we have developed a set of founding principles that guide our team’s work: Simplicity, Openness, Unity, and Learn. By embracing these values, we strive for efficiency, encourage open communication, and foster a growth mindset. I encourage my team to share their ideas and celebrate diversity of thought, which I believe will lead to endless innovations and drive us towards our mission of revolutionizing parking.

Ultimately, I am committed to building a culture where every team member feels valued and supported, empowering us to reach our full potential together.


Do you have any advice for other founders of early-stage startups?

We know startups are a wild ride, but with the right mix of hustle, grit, and determination, you can make it happen. As a founder, it’s essential to have a clear and compelling vision that is grounded in a deep understanding of your target market. From there, focus on building a consumer-centric product and iterate until you find the perfect solution to solve your customers’ pain points.

Remember, your team is your greatest asset, so invest in building a strong foundation and the right culture from day one. Encourage open communication and empower your team to share their ideas and concerns. Together, you can overcome any challenges and achieve success. There are no shortcuts, but if you remain resilient, determined, and passionate, you will find your way to success. Keep pushing forward, and don’t forget to celebrate the small wins along the way.


Chris first joined Genesis in June 2022 as an analyst intern for six months. Upon successful completion of his internship and graduation, he joined Genesis as a full-time investment analyst in January 2023.

We welcome Chris back and asked him a few questions about this experience so far.


Genesis [G]: Hi Chris, please tell us more about yourself.

Chris [C]: I possess a keen interest in finance, investments and entrepreneurship, and recently completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management at Singapore Management University (SMU), majoring in Finance (Banking). My ultimate goal is to be an entrepreneur, starting a company and growing it whilst helping to improve the lives of others.

Outside of work, I am an avid basketball fan, watching the latest games or classic match-ups of the 1990s. I also enjoy football, golf, hanging out with friends, reading and watching movies, or trying out new experiences and challenges. 


[G] At university, you majored in Finance. What prompted you to choose Finance?

[C] I’ve always been interested in Finance from a young age. I first started investing in stocks in secondary school, and I enjoyed figuring out the story behind the numbers, such as why did sales of a company improve, how would the macroeconomic environment affect the company, what is their value proposition against competitors, etc, and forming my own thesis based on the information gathered. 

The diverse and dynamic nature of Finance was very engaging and exciting to me, allowing me to tap on different skill sets and see the interlink between business, finance and economics. 


[G] Please describe your typical workday, if there is such a thing!

[C] There is no such thing as a typical workday! The amount of innovation out there is amazing, especially in the tech industry. It is dynamic and constantly evolving, and there is always something new to learn every day! 

The fast-paced environment keeps me constantly engaged, while on slower days, I research emerging industries and technologies, or topics which I am particularly intrigued by, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, Crypto, Metaverse, or Mixed Reality (XR).


[G]: What was your internship experience like at Genesis and what prompted you to accept the offer of a full-time analyst role?

[C]  I initially joined Genesis with no experience in the venture debt/capital industry; however, the team was very open and willing to guide and mentor me. 

Being an intern at Genesis is great, if you are inquisitive and enjoy working in a dynamic and fast-paced environment. As long as you take initiative and ask, the seniors, including the Partners, are more than willing to teach you. 

Interns are also given the opportunity to take on more responsibilities, such as being involved in a deal from origination to execution, including attending networking events, talking to startup founders, analysing the deal and culminating with a presentation to the Investment Committee (IC) for approval. 

Genesis places a strong emphasis on learning and development, whereby the team are ever-willing to share about their experiences, be it during weekly discussions or through masterclasses. 

Besides working hard, the team knows how to have fun too! For our bonding day, we went for a short hike, raced each other in the Luge at Sentosa, and ended off with a durian buffet!

The dynamic and challenging nature of venture debt investing, coupled with the positive culture at Genesis and the opportunity to further develop myself prompted me to accept the conversion offer and continue my journey with Genesis as a full-time analyst.


[G]: Any memorable experiences at Genesis you’d like to share? What did you learn from it?

[C]  One memorable experience would be that I was fortunate enough to be involved in a deal that went to the IC stage, whereby I analysed and presented it together with my senior, Josias Goh. 

Throughout the process, we held many discussions with the Partners, and it was exciting to pick their brains and gain insights from the feedback given by them. Besides that, the Partners and the team were also very supportive, and constantly checked in with me and shared their experiences, or gave tips for my own personal development, which is testament to the positive learning environment at Genesis.


[G]: You shared about web3 and crypto during your internship interview. Can you tell us what sparked your interest in this area?

[C] I first came across Crypto when talking to my friends, and started dabbling in it just for the fun of it. 

As I researched further, I found the underlying Blockchain technology particularly intriguing, as it has many potential use cases which could help make our lives more convenient and productive.  I was further piqued by Blockchain when I took a module in SMU called Financial Innovation, where I learnt more about how it works, and did a project on Stablecoins. Blockchain’s potential to change our lives truly fascinated me, and there is still so much more for me to learn about it!


Martin Tang is the reading champion in Genesis – he is an avid reader and believes that reading of the experiences of people that have gone before is one of the best ways to learn.

If you aspire to a career in financial services, especially in the venture capital space, Martin recommends the following books to help you hit the ground running.


  1. The King of Capital: The remarkable rise, fall and rise again of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone by David Carey and John E. Morris

Blackstone is one of the world’s largest asset managers. Like everyone else, their founders struggled initially. What is interesting is how they transformed themselves into disciplined investors and challenged the financial establishment. I enjoyed the deep dive into some of their signature deals.


  1. What it takes: Lessons in the pursuit of excellence by Steve Schwarzman (co-founder of Blackstone)

As you can tell, I am a big fan of Blackstone! Steve Schwarzman is the grand daddy of the investment industry. He took US$400,000 and co-founded Blackstone – a firm which manages US$684 billion (as of Q2 2021). He generously shares his expertise and insights on what it takes to achieve excellence. I am always re-reading this book because I find new wisdom every time.


  1. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins

This is an excellent book – backed by tons of deep data and research and is well-written. It is full of insights about why some companies go from good to great, while others fail for the same reasons. What intrigued me is the “curse of competence” that hinders companies from achieving greatness. I will not spoil it for you; read the book and find out!


  1. Laughing at Wall Street: How I beat the pros at investing (by reading tabloids, shopping at the mall and connecting on Facebook) by Chris Camillo

Investment success is not mystical. It comes from being very observant of your surroundings and identifying trends. This book is full of engaging anecdotes and common-sense explanations.


  1. David & Goliath: Underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants by Malcolm Gladwell

This is a classic Malcom Gladwell book where he sheds light on how we think about disadvantages and obstacles. We all know the story of how a shepherd boy, David, felled the mighty Goliath with a sling and a stone. The author challenges us to re-think about the “Goliaths” in our lives and what successes can arise out of adversity.


  1. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Another classic by Malcom Gladwell. Backed by data, he traces the reasons for the success of some overachievers. What do Bill Gates and top football professionals have in common? Are they really that much more different from us normal folks? This book changed the way I looked at success.

We hope this list will help you become a more successful version of yourself.