When Krishnan Menon ran into a problem with his startup’s Facebook services, the former Freecharge and Lazada executive knew who to turn to. Facebook pages and ads are a major part of the business for BukuKas, the Indonesian digital bookkeeping app that Menon is founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of. Regular support staff couldn’t fix the urgent issue so he made a call to a well-placed angel investor who works at the social media company.

“It was fixed within 14 hours, of which 12 were at night,” Menon tells The Ken. But it wasn’t just speed, it was the level of attention that stood out. The Facebook executive was actually at a hospital at the time, as his wife was giving birth. He made sure the issue was relayed back to headquarters. “I was genuinely impressed.”

Big tech executives on speed dial is a dream for most early-stage startup founders. BukuKas has a reputation as a startup to watch, having rapidly raised over US$22 million since its founding in December 2019. But this level of access is still unprecedented in Southeast Asia.

That is slowly beginning to change. The executive who helped Menon out is part of an angel group in Southeast Asia called XA Network. It’s a collective of 86 executives from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Microsoft, Media Corp and beyond who collectively make early-stage investments in startups in Southeast Asia. It began as a Google-only affair in 2018—XA stands for Xoogler Xoogler Xoogler is a term that refers to former Google employees Angels—but its membership has expanded to include executives from other firms and local startup founders.

BukuKas is one of 25 startups to have raised money from XA, which has deployed over US$4.5 million to date, according to its website. The group is fast building a reputation as a source of smart capital—investors who offer companies benefits beyond just money. While XA’s investments are small, its presence can complement professional investors in a deal.

“It’s a really useful network,” Zachary Wang, CEO and co-founder of Neuron Mobility says. “We brought them into our round for smart capital. Their help is valuable on the operational side of our business.” Neuron is also backed by XA.

The group’s existence and growing efforts are a sign that Southeast Asia’s venture capital network is maturing, according to Wang. Founders are increasingly able to pick investors that offer strategy help and unfair advantages.

Fund of funds

XA Network has even invested in a venture capital firm. It backed Singapore-headquartered Vertex Ventures’ new US$305 million in June 2020. Vertex managing partner Chua Joo Hock says XA’s involvement will bring deal flow and help for its portfolio companies—there may even be co-investment opportunities for XA members.

AUTHOR

Jon Russell

Jon Russell is Southeast Asia editor for The Ken based in Bangkok. Originally from the UK, Jon moved to Thailand in 2008. He’s passionate about telling thoughtful business stories, and tracking the impact of the internet in his adopted home of Southeast Asia.

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