Tessa Wijaya describes herself as “the unicorn among unicorns.”
As an Indonesian woman who runs a $1 billion fintech startup in Southeast Asia, she is a fairly rare breed.
Female leaders in technology are not common. This is especially true in the financial technology sector, where they occupy 7% of leadership positions. But Wijaya said she hopes to change this situation by showing more women and girls that they can take a path with fewer people.
“I really want to encourage more women to work in the technology industry,” the millennial entrepreneur told CNBC Make It.
A $1 billion female founder
Wijaya is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Xendit, an Indonesian fintech platform that processes digital payments for Southeast Asian companies such as Grab, Wise, and Traveloka.
Since its launch in 2015, Xendit has developed rapidly. Today, it processes more than 65 million transactions each year, valued at $6.5 billion. It reached a $1 billion “unicorn” status in September.
However, for Wijaya, success still feels strange.
“The possibility of someone like me-a woman born and raised in a small town in Indonesia-becoming a co-founder of a technology company invested in billions of dollars did not let me escape,” she said. .
Find your feet in the financial sector
As a young girl who grew up in Indonesia, Wijaya said she was “strange” and preferred to play with GI Joe dolls instead of dolls.
But she is also very ambitious, inspired by the grandmother who raised her and her cousins, while running a small food business.
When she was in her early 20s, Wijaya interviewed for an analyst position in a new private equity fund in Jakarta. Although she has no traditional financial experience, her critical thinking and determination left a deep impression on the company, and she finally got the job. She studies the industry outside of working hours to accumulate knowledge.
Nevertheless, the journey was not easy.
As one of the few women on the team, Wijaya is hard to hear. Like many of her colleagues, she does not have a degree from Harvard or MIT. She said that the general manager of one of the fund companies would simply ignore her when she spoke.
“For me, this is a huge challenge… How do I keep up with these people? I don’t have an Ivy League degree,” Vijaya said. “I also look young. When you look young and you are a woman, it’s really hard to be taken seriously.”
Identify rising trends
However, she was not deterred. Wijaya is eager to play a role in the evolving business environment in Southeast Asia.
She worked closely with emerging startups in the private equity field and witnessed the rapid rise of technology in the region in the early 2010s. But she also noticed a missing link.
“You have ride-hailing services, and you have e-commerce,” Wijaya said. “Without payment, they are nothing.”
Fortunately, through the entrepreneurial accelerator Y Combinator, Wijaya met a group of students from the University of California, Berkeley, who are working on similar projects.
“It’s love at first sight at work,” Wijaya said.
The team immediately began to develop a new payment platform, which later became Xendit.
Encourage more women to participate in financial technology
Six years later, the founders and their 600-person team handle online payments, operate markets, and manage finances for businesses in Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and other regions.
According to Wijaya, approximately 40% of Xendit’s employees are women. She said she believes that helping women make progress in their careers is a personal responsibility.
She said: “I have had a great opportunity to change the way I behave in the workplace so that more women can be promoted and become the next generation of leaders.”
Xendit achieves this goal by launching a “women in technology” mentoring program for young women and girls, a return to work program for new mothers, and a meal delivery service for working parents during the pandemic.
Wijaya stated that she hopes that additional support can play a role in encouraging the next generation of female fintech professionals to believe that they can also become leaders.
“Sometimes I think, if my grandmother has a chance to give me, where will she be,” she said. “I think she will be here too. The chief operating officer and co-founder… the unicorn of the unicorns.”
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