Why We Invested: Khanh Lê, Founder & CEO of Inflow

Michelle Lin, Analyst (林亭㚬 / 分析師)

Michelle is an Analyst covering investments and community building under the Southeast Asia Arm. Before joining the team, she worked as an assistant manager at Deloitte Financial Advisory, where she helped close various cross-border and local M&A deals successfully. Michelle graduated with a Bachelor’s in Accounting from National Taiwan University and received a Master of Management Studies Degree from Duke University. During college, she was the minister of student activities at College of Management Student Association and was active at the Pop Dance Club. Outside the office, she enjoys hiking amongst many outdoor activities, as well as exploring new things in life.

These days, if you take a look at your clothing tags, you’ll often find the phrase “Made in Vietnam” printed all over them. Over the past decade, Vietnam has quietly become a powerhouse in garment manufacturing. With a vast network of over 6,000 ready-to-wear factories, Vietnam exported a whopping US$44 billion in garments in 2022, ranking the third worldwide after China and Bangladesh.

Vietnam’s rise as an apparel production powerhouse took place while the global fashion industry reached an inflection point. Fast fashion giants such as Shein, Zara, H&M and the likes are locked in both global and local competition to get the latest styles to market faster and more cost-effectively—pushing both brands and manufacturers to completely revamp their operations, especially adapting digital solutions, for this new era.

Khanh Lê, founder and CEO of Inflow, saw these massive paradigm shifts unfolding and set out to create a company that would take advantage of Vietnam’s garment production prowess and address the biggest pain points that brands and manufacturers face, especially with the rise of fast fashion. She eventually launched Inflow in 2022, a B2B fashion manufacturing platform that bridges the gap between international brands and local manufacturers. Inflow not only offers brands flexible order quantities but also helps them reduce average turnaround time from the traditional 120 days to as short as 45 days. 

A hustling founder with a relentless drive to create

Born and raised in central Vietnam, Khanh’s upbringing set a strong foundation for her entrepreneurship journey, driven by the high expectations her parents set for her as the firstborn child to be always “ahead of the curve” and independent. Witnessing her mother’s success operating her small tailor shop, Khanh fostered a deep passion for fashion at an early age. During her college years in the late 2000s, Khanh established a profitable online clothing brand at a time when launching online brands was a relatively novel concept in Vietnam.

However, this modest success couldn’t quench Khanh’s burning desire to create and prove to her parents. Drawn to the transformative potential of digital marketing in fostering the growth of brands in Vietnam, Khanh joined Sofresh Digital, a digital marketing agency, in 2010. As a founding member, she played a pivotal role in building the company from 0-to-1. She was always the one who took on the initiative to launch new product offerings and develop new divisions. For example, Khanh built the content team from the ground up and rapidly expanded it to manage the entire social channel for 12+ Pepsi brands and 4+ Unilever brands, creating an engine that accounted for 30% of all company revenue. Khanh then moved on to building another new division to expand the company’s presence across 360 integrated marketing channels, keeping the company ahead of the competition. 

This journey eventually led to Sofresh’s acquisition by British advertising giant WPP in 2014. Throughout this experience of building things from the ground up, Khanh recognized the strength of her entrepreneurial spirit and passion for creating startups. Driven by an insatiable desire to build and grow, Khanh decided to leave her cushy job at WPP and returned to square one. In 2017, she re-entered the arena and founded NextFit, a personal training booking app.

However, she made many common mistakes that founders often make, from failures in managing co-founder conflicts to premature scaling. Despite Khanh trying everything in the book, the company essentially went nowhere for 3.5 years. Moreover, Khanh had to contend with lockdowns during COVID, which ultimately became the final nail in the coffin. The toll on Khanh was significant, serving as a costly learning experience for her first startup endeavor. Through this experience, she learned two crucial lessons: (1) for a startup to scale, the product must address real pain points in a substantial market; and (2) for a startup to succeed, it’s all about moving fast. Thus, she realized she needed to find co-founders and core team members with a shared the same mindset and northstar in order to move fast and iterate. While the experience may have pushed her down a peg or two, it ultimately served to strengthen her resolve to get back up and try again, leading Khanh to build Inflow.

A great founder-mission-fit for Khanh to take on the garment supply chain

Following a long-winded detour, she eventually returned to her roots and reignited her passion for the fashion industry. After interviewing multiple stakeholders in the space, she realized that SME brands were often struggling with an incessant issue: finding the right manufacturing partners and managing the supply chain efficiently. This problem impedes brand growth as inventory turnaround time is the deciding factor to brand profitability. Khanh then embarked on her next chapter and launched Inflow in 2022, with a vision to establish a platform that empowers brands to scale effectively. 

Paying one year’s worth of tuition in what would probably take the average founder three years, Khanh learned a handful of lessons the hard way, undergoing several painful pivots and iterations while also having only three months of runway left at one point. In late 2022, founders in Vietnam faced a particularly challenging market both in business operations and fundraising efforts. The high interest rate climate made fundraising difficult, and the economic downturn exacerbated the situation, leading to widespread layoffs and making it increasingly difficult for businesses to attract and onboard new clients. Khanh was not exempt from these circumstances. Despite these adversities, Khanh refused to surrender and demonstrated her strong determination to crack the market. 

With a three-month runway, Khanh quickly reached out to various industry stakeholders to collect feedback, including in-person visits with 100+ manufacturers and reaching out to hundreds of brands. These interviews allowed Khanh to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of both factories and brands. She identified that the most significant challenges for customers were the lack of real-time visibility into the production process, hindering decision-making and responsiveness to market demands. As a result, Khanh pivoted the company to become a supply chain management platform, while also introducing initiatives like ready-design catalogs to expedite decision-making for brands and live chats on the platform to facilitate better communication between brands and factories. 

Within only a year, Inflow has built strong traction, securing a network of over 150 suppliers and converting various international brands, spanning Singapore, Thailand, Russia, and beyond. But this is just the beginning. Khanh’s ambitions extend far beyond just garment production execution. She wants to create more value for brands and suppliers, ultimately becoming a truly full-stack digital solution for all stakeholders across the fashion industry. 

For Khanh, who has delved deep into the J-curve over her two-time founder journey, she is now all the wiser, equipped with battle-tested skills and earned insights while servicing an industry that she knows and loves deeply. Although it remains a bumpy road ahead, we believe Khanh’s vision and resilience will drive Inflow to great success. And that is why we have backed her.

At AppWorks, we are built by founders for founders, and our core mission is to support great entrepreneurs. We are excited to be backing Khanh and the Inflow team, including helping them tap into Taiwan’s robust textile R&D ecosystem as well as the broader Greater Southeast Asian markets through our regional footprint. Together with our ecosystem of 532 active startups, we look forward to supporting Khanh’s vision and accompanying her on the journey in becoming an even more seasoned founder.

Why We Invested: Hong Yea, Aaron, Matthew, The Three Great Minds Behind GRVT – The New Standard for Crypto Derivatives Exchanges

Johnny Chuang, Analyst (莊子揚 / 分析師)

Johnny is an Analyst covering web3 founders both in AppWorks Accelerator and AppWorks Funds portfolio. Before joining the team in 2023, he worked as a DeFi Strategist at Diamond Protocol, where he was responsible for portfolio management, protocol architecture design, and liquidity provision strategies backtesting. In this experience, Johnny successfully helped the protocol grow from zero to one.

Johnny graduated with a Bachelor’s in Finance from National Taiwan University. During this time, he interned at AppWorks and a hedge fund, and was the captain of the basketball team of the finance department. Outside the realm of work, he enjoys shooting hoops, working out, and losing himself in sci-fi novels and movies.

Since their inception, crypto derivatives exchanges have experienced robust growth and adoption. Bitmex, a standout among early platforms, revolutionized the industry by introducing the concept of the “perpetual contract.” This breakthrough dramatically simplified the use of leverage in crypto trading in eliminating expiries and rollovers, unleashing a surge in trading activities that has sustained its momentum to this day.

However, most trading activity has historically been confined to centralized exchanges. While platforms like dYdX aimed to be trailblazers in the decentralized derivatives exchange arena, their challenges in performance and complex user experiences, caused by the limitations of underlying blockchains and the need to sign every single transaction, has stymied the mainstream transition to decentralized platforms.

The limitations of centralized systems didn’t fully register as a pressing concern until the watershed FTX event of November 2022. This incident served as an industry-wide wake-up call, highlighting the perils of over-centralization and reviving the old adage once ubiquitous in the crypto community: “Not your keys, not your coins.” It became abundantly clear that the industry requires a more advanced form of derivatives exchange—one that mitigates the high counterparty risks associated with centralized finance (CeFi) while delivering a seamless user experience.

It is against this backdrop that we are elated to extend our support to Hong Gyu Yea, Matthew Quek, and Aaron Ong, the visionary trio behind GRVT. The GRVT team is pioneering a next-generation hybrid derivatives exchange built on zkSync technology, promising to offer the best of both worlds: the high-performance capabilities of a centralized trading engine, paired with the security of self-custody for users’ funds. This innovative approach positions GRVT as a game-changer, poised to redefine the future landscape of crypto derivatives trading. 

The Mechanism of GRVT

The prevailing challenge confronting derivatives exchanges today is the difficult trade-off between low performance and high counterparty risk. Existing platforms often fall into one of four quadrants based on these criteria. However, GRVT disrupts this paradigm by implementing a hybrid model fortified with a comprehensive array of innovative features designed to elevate user experience. Let’s delve into how GRVT is poised to be a transformative force in the industry.

High-Performance Off-Chain Orderbook and Secure On-Chain Settlement

GRVT employs a cutting-edge off-chain orderbook matching system capable of processing an astounding 600,000 transactions per second, all while maintaining a latency of under two milliseconds. This high-performance engine is complemented by a secure on-chain settlement process facilitated by smart contracts deployed on zkSnyc Era. Users retain self-custody of their funds in their own wallets, significantly mitigating the risks associated with potential exchange failures. This dual-layer approach allows traders to operate with unparalleled speed and security, granting them peace of mind.

Comprehensive Financial Instruments in a One-Stop Shop

GRVT is not merely a derivatives exchange, but rather a comprehensive trading platform offering both options and futures contracts. Additionally, the platform supports Request for Quote (RFQ) trading for complex derivatives combinations and structures. Traders can now bypass the cumbersome experience of managing margins across separate options and futures platforms. Instead, they are able to execute a wide array of intricate trading strategies directly within the GRVT ecosystem.

Capital-Efficient Cross Margin Model

GRVT introduces a finely-tuned cross margin model that calculates the overall delta of a user’s positions across both options and futures. This innovative approach significantly enhances capital efficiency, making the platform particularly well-suited to meet the sophisticated needs of institutional traders.

Robust Transaction Privacy

Leveraging Validium technology on the zkSync appchain, GRVT ensures that each transaction is encapsulated and shielded from visibility to other traders. This feature adds an extra layer of security and privacy, allowing users to trade with confidence.

In summary, GRVT’s groundbreaking hybrid model and suite of advanced features positions it as a game-changer in the derivatives exchange landscape, offering a balanced solution for the industry’s most pressing challenges.

Bringing expertise into crypto space 

The trio at the helm of GRVT brings a wealth of experience and expertise, uniquely positioning them to address the pressing challenges in the industry. Matthew, serving as the COO of GRVT, previously spearheaded the Blockchain & Payment team at DBS in Singapore, where he explored various blockchain initiatives in traditional finance (TradFi). His background equips him with the acumen needed to bridge the gap between conventional and digital asset trading.

Aaron, the CTO of GRVT, formerly held the role of tech lead for two data privacy frameworks at Meta. His transition to GRVT is strategic as he continues to tackle complex issues surrounding transaction privacy and trading efficiency. His deep-rooted expertise in technology and data privacy is invaluable in creating a secure and efficient trading environment.

Hong Yea, the CEO of GRVT, is a seasoned trading veteran with an impressive nine-year tenure at Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong. Known for his relentless ambition and determination, Hong Yea has consistently pushed himself to achieve greater goals throughout his career. With GRVT, he is seizing the opportunity presented by the industry’s current challenges, aiming to revolutionize the way trading is conducted.

Together, these three founders have assembled a team of crypto-native professionals over the past year, each bringing their own specialized skills and backgrounds to the table. We believe this collective expertise makes them exceptionally well-suited to address long-standing issues in the crypto space. Armed with their combined knowledge and experience, the GRVT team is poised to navigate the complexities ahead and bring their visionary concept to fruition.

The ultimate form of derivatives exchange is GRVT

We are thrilled to hereby announce our support for Hong, Matthew, and Aaron as they embark on their journey to break new grounds in establishing a state-of-the-art derivatives exchange. We firmly believe that through their efforts, the future standard of trading platforms will be set. In an industry currently plagued by the opacity and credibility gap of centralized systems, they are in a unique position to reintroduce time-honored yardsticks of transparency and integrity, thanks to the innovative value proposition that GRVT brings to the table. 

At AppWorks, our mission is to identify and collaborate with exceptional founders who are driven to make a transformative impact in their respective domains. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Hong Yea, Matthew, and Aaron. Their relentless pursuit of greater solutions is not only pushing the boundaries of what a derivatives exchange can be but will also redefine the future landscape of trading in the web3 ecosystem.

If you are a founder working on a startup in SEA, or working with web3 and AI / IoT, apply to AppWorks Accelerator to join the largest founder community in Greater Southeast Asia.

Why We Invested: Muhammed “Didit” Indraputra, Co-founder & CEO of PrimaKu


Jun Wakabayashi, Principal (若林純 / 協理)

Jun is a Principal leading the Beacon Funds Arm, that is in charge of meeting, helping, collaborating with, and investing in emerging venture capital GPs to grow the startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia and web3. By immersing himself in local markets and engaging with both founder and investor communities across SEA, Jun has been able to establish an extensive network that keeps AppWorks top of mind for startups seeking funding, community, and support. Prior to AppWorks, Jun attended NYU Stern where he received a B.S. in Finance, and spent the following years conducting sector-based market research at Focus Reports. Outside of work, Jun is an avid meditator and invests an inordinate amount of time maintaining both his physical and spiritual wellness.

Children are often said to be our future. In emerging economies like Indonesia, however, the healthy growth and development of a child is actually not a given. Things like malnutrition, poor hygiene, and overall lack of education have led to some of the highest rates of childhood stunting worldwide, thereby significantly throttling the economy’s inherent potential.

That’s why we were incredibly excited to back Didit, the co-founder and CEO of PrimaKu, an Indonesian community-based parenting app providing services to improve childhood growth and development. The company was initially set up as a CSR initiative led by a few well-meaning doctors, providing an app-based tool to help parents track the growth and nutrition of their babies in line with recommended standards. Didit later joined PrimaKu in 2021 to help scale the organization and create a one-stop solution for all parenting needs across every stage of child development. 

Second time at bat

We’re big fans of repeat founders, especially those that were not successful the first time around. Building a startup is like navigating one long, complex, ever-shifting maze. Having tried navigating it once before, you’ll have at least some baseline familiarity with routes that could and do work, versus those that absolutely don’t—granted the context is different every time. 

Didit took his first pass at the maze in 2019 with a company called AgenKan, a collateral-based lending platform targeting unbanked Indonesians. This was after 6 years of working as an esteemed private equity investor at Saratoga, after which point Didit finally decided to take a leap of faith and transition to the other side of the negotiation table. He put together a co-founding team, raised a bit of money from VCs, and then it was off to the races.

It was certainly a promising value proposition at first glance. The company issued small-ticket loans for more underprivileged citizens while securing their mobile phones as collateral. At its peak, AgenKan and its vast network of agents were disbursing roughly US$ 30K a month, with a 60% loan-to-asset ratio and < 15% default rate (< 3% credit loss due to collateral). Unluckily, COVID swept the world by storm not even a year after they started, with lockdowns effectivelybringing their business to a standstill. 

The following 5 months would put Didit’s conviction as an entrepreneur through the wringer. Multiple iterations would be tried and tested. A bridge round would then be raised from existing investors, putting Didit’s credibility as a founder and his personal capital on the line, all just to keep the company afloat. Unfortunately, given their largely offline-centric model, no amount of iteration could overcome the severity and stringency of lockdowns, despite Didit’s incessant willingness to press forward and dutifully generate a return for his shareholders. Towards the end of 2020, at the encouragement of his investors, a consensus was eventually made to shutter the company and move on to bigger and better things.

If you ask Didit today, he’ll still pinpoint this as his biggest failure, and one that characterizes the lowest point in his life. So much of his self-worth had been tied to the success of AgenKan, but the pandemic had brought the global economy to a halt and unfortunately his startup was not spared. Most sentient beings have a tendency to pursue pleasure and avoid pain; it is simply wired in our mammalian brains. But for Didit, although the proceeding few years would certainly include a brief period of healing and introspection, the majority of his time would be spent rebuilding his skill sets as an operator and in turn reinvigorating his passion for startups—eventually leading to part two of Didit’s founder journey as the co-founder and CEO PrimaKu. 

Everything app for parenting needs

Indonesia is a country that we’ve been covering for many years now, and for several reasons. Chief of which is its sheer size and more specifically the number of lives that can be positively impacted through technology. The Indonesian archipelago is not only home to the world’s 4th largest population but also ranks among the top 5 countries in terms of the number of babies born per year.

Healthcare outcomes, however, are still far from ideal. We were quite surprised to learn that the rate of stunting among babies under the age of 5 years old stood at 31% back in 2018—substantially higher than the average of 13% seen among middle-income countries. It’s actually been a significant public health concern for several decades now, largely brought on by malnutrition, poor sanitation, infectious diseases, and undereducation. Although this rate has since come down to 22% as of 2022, latent fears around the healthy growth and development of babies still deeply permeate the minds of recent mothers and caregivers alike. 

A father of three himself, Didit understands full well the challenges of raising healthy children and the accompanying anxiety shared among parents. That is what largely drove him to join PrimaKu in 2021, which was originally established a few years prior to help parents track the growth of their newborns and create some peace of mind. Since assuming the CEO role, Didit has helped PrimaKu cement widespread visibility among pediatricians and parents, thanks in large part to the establishment of an exclusive partnership with the Indonesia Pediatric Society (IPS). The app has been downloaded by millions of parents now, and has become the de facto parenting companion for many with just the growth tracking tool alone. 

Limitless potential for mom and babies

PrimaKu currently has an ecosystem of several hundred thousand highly engaged parents using their app every month, with several thousand more organically becoming new users every day. Consequently, the company has many potential avenues to drive early monetization efforts. 

The first of which came about from one of PrimaKu’s earliest users, Didit’s wife. She had complained about the hassle of booking vaccinations and tracking their babies’ vaccination schedules, which would often require up to 30 shots, in some cases at US$ 70 per jab, by the time they reached 2 years old. And so the good founder and husband that he is, Didit listened to his users and got to work. He spoke to a few clinics that were interested in driving up vaccination revenue and then sent out a simple google form to PrimaKu users to see who might be interested in booking an appointment. Turns out his wife’s pain pains were shared among many other users. 

But this is just the beginning. Didit’s ambitions extend far beyond vaccinations to also include things like teleconsultations, health records, and e-commerce—ultimately becoming a truly full-stack digital solution for all stakeholders across the board. 

Throughout the course of our many conversations, it was clear that Didit brought forth a unique blend of investor and operational experiences, underpinned by natural levels of empathy which have allowed him to more deeply connect with counterparties—a particularly crucial asset when tackling an industry as traditional and relationship-driven as healthcare. His resiliency, passion, and judgment as a founder have been self-evident, and collectively made our decision to invest all the easier. We look forward to helping him become an even more seasoned founder and accompanying him on this journey of transforming early childhood growth and development in Indonesia. 

Why We Invested: Harshet Lunani and Tommy Martin, the dual-core behind Qoala

Sophie Chiu, Principal (邱敬媛 / 協理)

Sophie is a Principal leading the Southeast Asia Arm, that is responsible for meeting, helping and investing in great founders in the region. She joined AppWorks as an Associate in 2020 and was subsequently promoted as a Principal in 2023. Prior to AppWorks, Sophie had 10 years of public equity experience. She was part of the portfolio management team at Neuberger Berman, focusing on emerging market opportunities. Prior to that she served as a research analyst at Credit Suisse, JPMorgan, and London-based Autonomous Research. Sophie holds a Master of Finance with distinction from Warwick Business School and BS Finance from National Taiwan University. Her passion and expertise, however, extend far beyond just researching companies and industries. She is also an author of two published poetry books and holds a keen interest in human psychology and human behavior.

Qoala is an InsurTech company that has experienced remarkable growth, now boasting a presence across three Southeast Asian markets: Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. Harshet Lunani and Tommy Martin, Qoala’s co-founders, possess strong insights and a deep understanding of the pain points found throughout the insurance industry value chain. Although this industry seems mature and proven in developed markets, its complexity and strict regulation have made it challenging for technology adoption. Meanwhile, the correlation between insurance penetration and economic growth is not guaranteed, which presents an inherent risk. However, it is precisely this challenging path that attracts committed and insightful founders like Harshet and Tommy. Their dedication to making a difference is a key reason why we are placing faith in them and Qoala to continue growing and transforming the insurance landscape in Southeast Asia.  

Dedicated builders driven by ambition and unwavering vision

For some people, life is full of hero’s journeys. They will always end up on a challenging path. At first, it may seem to be deemed by fate. Eventually, it becomes a deliberate choice as a less traveled or seemingly impossible path usually bestows the richest life experiences and most fruitful outcome or even profoundly impacts the world. This is what Harshet has been through and shaped his experience as a founder. 

Hailing from a small town in India without much privilege, Harshet learned the lesson of survival from a young age. He left home to study in a (non-privileged) boarding school from age 8 to 17, where he became ‘battle-tested’: rigorous daily routines, necessary social skills to survive among teenagers living 24/7 together, being a top player in cricket, and remarkable academic performance. His grit and determination eventually secured him a sponsored master’s degree in math at University of Oxford and job offer in London, working at Merrill Lynch and then Lehman Brothers. However, Harshet joined these two banks during the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-2008. So, he soon witnessed how a seemingly large and impregnable financial institution could collapse overnight, and how it had an impact on so many individuals losing their life savings. This seeded a deep-down entrepreneurial desire for Harshet to build something that could make the world a more secure place. After working in finance, Harshet joined BCG and later Endeavor, where he gained access to large corporations and startups to learn about business models and entrepreneurship. When he had the chance to help BIMA, an InsurTech startup from Ghana, launch in Indonesia, Harshet immediately jumped on the opportunity. 

As the General Manager of BIMA for four years, he set up the entire business from scratch, growing the business to US$1.5M scale with 80 employees in Indonesia. Unlike when he started his career in finance, this time, Harshet experienced the storm face-first. Smartphones were experiencing massive penetration in Indonesia and Gojek had just reached unicorn status. Harshet foresaw the inevitable dead-end of BIMA’s business model based on selling insurance products from phone balances. Unable to convince the Ghana headquarters, Harshet remained resolute to continue his journey on InsurTech but instead building something on his own. This is a field where he built tremendous expertise and track record, and recognized the potential to create significant value for stakeholders and individuals alike, resonating with the vision of the world he wanted to build. However he knew he had to take the lead role in creating such a business, and ultimately left to launch Qoala in 2018.

Before Qoala, there was actually a first attempt that fell short called Kelola. Undeterred, he met with Tommy Martin, the investor behind Kelola, who has a strong background in fintech. Tommy’s experience as an engineer at Nokia, business consultant at Accenture and EY, and product and marketing lead at Traveloka offered a holistic perspective that complemented Harshet’s skills. They quickly found that they had great compatibility and set sail to start Qoala together. Tommy’s expertise in product development and business strategy has been crucial in enabling Qoala to build products that cater to the intertwined interests of all users and stakeholders in the industry. Tommy, like Harshet, had witnessed the transformative power of a successful business firsthand through his parents, who turned their family’s fortunes around through entrepreneurship. So that Tommy could be the first generation in his family to live a comfortable life and even study abroad. However, watching his parents conquer their life ambitions helped Tommy form a deep-down desire to build something on his own too. Tapping into his entrepreneurial DNA, Tommy felt compelled to take an 80% pay cut and go against his parents’ wishes by returning to Indonesia. This unwavering determination serves as his guiding light, and he is committed to building a business that can change people’s lives and create his own path. 

Strategic approach to innovation and staying ahead of the curve

The partnership between Harshet and Tommy has proven to be a powerful combination. Harshet’s experience building BIMA allowed him to identify the tremendous potential of the next paradigm shift, while Tommy’s insights into major digital platforms enabled Qoala to establish its initial product-market fit through a collaboration with Traveloka. This success was no mere coincidence; the duo had devised a methodical roadmap for expanding Qoala’s presence within the existing value chain. They first targeted areas with high traffic and data concentration, which allowed Qoala to develop unique products. With these products in hand, they focused on building critical distribution channels, eventually becoming vital partners for insurers. This entire process has been tech-enabled, and as the momentum grew, Qoala expanded into Thailand, a larger market essential for a VC-backed company’s growth.

Today, the rest is history. Qoala achieved fourfold growth in gross written premium over the past two years, with a primary footprint spanning three markets. However, the ambitious founders show no signs of stopping. They are now exploring an additional step in the growth flywheel by testing direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels with the data and know-how accumulated over the past four years. Although still in early stages, Qoala possesses all the necessary elements to capture the market quickly as consumers become more mature and educated. It is hard not to be inspired by visionary founders who always stay ahead of the curve. 

SEA a nascent landscape for InsurTech to make their mark

While advanced APAC countries boast an average insurance penetration rate of 9%, Southeast Asia’s figures have remained relatively low at 1-3% for Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. In comparison, India demonstrates a higher penetration rate of 4-5%, despite having a lower Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. While the mandatory auto insurance requirement in India is one primary driver of adoption, there’s also an intrinsic hidden risk: The correlation between insurance penetration and economic growth is not guaranteed. Or we should say, the correlation depends on many external factors such as money supply and stock market capitalization as demonstrated by several academic studies (Chang et al., 2012, Pradhan et al., 2016, Dash et al., 2018).

The insurance sector is a tough space. A green field like Southeast Asia has huge uncertainties, while mature markets have left limited room for startups to disrupt. In high penetration countries such as the US, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Africa, market structures are relatively unshakeable due to stringent regulations and high barriers to entry. Drawing from our experience in Taiwan, we have observed that most digital players face challenges in scaling their businesses. For consumer-focused ideas, the market size often has an actually lower ceiling than expected, limiting growth potential. Meanwhile, enterprise-focused initiatives struggle to expand as enterprise customers possess substantial bargaining power and resources, which enable customers to implement digital solutions independently.

That silver-lining is the digital-native mindset of Southeast Asia. From Qoala, we’ve seen that insurance companies in the region are increasingly open to collaborating with digital solutions, while digital platforms (such as Shopee, Traveloka, Tiki, etc.) are motivated to monetize their traffic through financial products. Additionally, individual consumers in the region have also embraced digital technologies, making them more receptive to innovative insurance offerings. 

AppWorks is here to support great entrepreneurs in the region

Success in this market requires visionary founders with a deep care for users across the entire value chain. Harshet and Tommy, the founders of Qoala, have demonstrated this through their exponential growth. Their methodical approach, combined with their complementary founder qualities resulted in amazing growth traction and market expansion. Most importantly, they are both ambitious and driven by their ultimate north star. As a firm believer in supporting great entrepreneurs, AppWorks is proud to back Harshet, Tommy, and the Qoala team, and we look forward to contributing to their journey with our ecosystem of 400 active startups and over 1,400 likeminded founders.

If you are a founder working on a startup in SEA, or working with AI and web3, apply to AppWorks Accelerator to join the largest founder community in Greater Southeast Asia.

Why We Invested: TeleportDAO – the Cross-chain Musketeers

Jack An, Associate (安良方 / 投資經理)

Jack became an Associate in 2023 and focuses on meeting, helping and investing in promising web3 founders. Before joining AppWorks in 2019 as an Analyst, he co-founded an InsurTech startup and through the experience, he developed a deep interest in product design and user experience, and has since been passionate about these areas. During his time as a founder, he purchased his first BTC as well as ETH, yet subsequently paid dear tuition to the 2017 go-go ICO era. Prior to embarking on the entrepreneurial path, he worked as an underwriter at Chubb Insurance in New Zealand. Jack earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Waikato University, where he studied classical piano and developed a deep appreciation for Mozart. He loves to cook, read, and is a practicing stoic. He’s on the hunt for the next web3 application that will onboard millions of users and make the world more open, permissionless, censorship-resistant, and trustless.

The blockchain industry is rapidly expanding, and new theories on how to build blockchains arise virtually every day. These ideas frequently cross-pollinate, resulting in new competition that benefits the sector as a whole. As a result, a multi-chain environment has emerged, necessitating the use of cross-chain solutions to mitigate excessive fragmentation.

Layer 1 blockchains share fundamental characteristics such as record decentralization and the capacity to securely reach consensus on those records. Nevertheless, the underlying technology used to accomplish this differs greatly, making it difficult for users and apps built on top of different chains to efficiently communicate and connect with one another. 

Many have attempted to cut corners in order to reap short-term benefits by developing primarily notary-based cross-chain solutions. This approach, however, has proven to be an exceedingly costly problem for the industry as they suffer from a single point of failure. The sector lost US$1.3 billion in cross-chain hacks in 2022 alone. As a result, it is essential to invest in proper cross-chain bridges that can maintain security and prevent catastrophic losses.

That is why we are delighted to support TeleportDAO creators Niusha Moshrefi, Mahyar Daneshpajooh, and Ali Saheli. Who are dedicated to constructing a decentralized, trustless, and lightweight cross-chain bridge that is capable of truly facilitating the next generation of multichain applications. 

From blockchain labs to building a cross-chain bridge

Niusha and Mahyar, the co-founders of TeleportDAO, have been fascinated by blockchain technology since their undergraduate days. They both studied electrical engineering at Iran’s leading institution, Sharif University of Technology, and participated in the university’s blockchain labs. Niusha was particularly interested in decentralized systems because they can provide more transparency in decision making and direct control back to system participants. The majority of Niusha’s academic work focused on light clients for Proof of Work blockchains.

Mahyar has also been immersed in blockchain development, having contributed to the creation of CarChain, a decentralized carpooling protocol that sought to lessen the footprint that platforms have in carpooling. Ali, the third co-founder, is a serial entrepreneur who established Foro Technologies in 2013 before selling it to Fundamental Applications Corp. The trio joined together with the purpose of creating a decentralized and safe cross-chain bridge, and left their former roles to focus solely on TeleportDAO.

Although they have their work cut out for them, the founders are determined to seize the opportunity presented by the blockchain industry’s growth and build a successful cross-chain solution. With their combined knowledge and experience, the team is well-poised to navigate challenges ahead and realize their vision. 

The future of multichain is trustless

TeleportDAO allows participants to move data between different blockchains in a secure and decentralized manner. Teleporter nodes collect user requests from the source chain and offer proof on the target chain to do this. The request is fulfilled after the proof is validated by the smart contract on the target chain. The system is completely decentralized, and anyone can become a node. Furthermore, the underlying cost of sending requests discourages bad actors from making invalid requests because they would not earn a reward to pay their costs. This enables the system to function as long as there is one honest Teleporter.

Currently, cross-chain is largely used for asset swaps. Yet, more crucially, the future of multichain is to enable apps to connect with one another in an efficient and secure manner. This is where TeleportDAO comes into play. Their solution is a lightweight and trustless approach that can accommodate the complexity of blockchain interoperability by leveraging Teleporters.

As more money is invested in various chains and more dApps are created specifically for each ecosystem, the necessity for a decentralized and trustless bridge will grow. TeleportDAO will seek to bridge liquidity into new ecosystems before expanding to bridge applications to provide customers with the best multichain experience possible.

Interoperability made easy

We are excited to be supporting Niusha, Mahyar, and Ali as they launch next-generation cross-chain bridges with TeleportDAO. In the high-value and fast-moving cryptocurrency market, having a secure-by-designed underlying infrastructure is critical to avoiding potential asset loss. We are certain that TeleportDAO will make an important contribution to the development of a free, open, trustless and permissionless multichain future.

At AppWorks, we search for talented founders who want to make a huge difference in their respective verticals. We are thrilled to work with Niusha, Mahyar, and Ali as they continue to push the boundaries of decentralized cross-chain bridges and the fast evolving web3 landscape.

If you are a founder working on a startup in SEA, or working with web3 and AI / IoT, apply to AppWorks Accelerator to join the largest founder community in Greater Southeast Asia.