A group photo of the new cabinet.

Now that the shock wave is over, it is time to start talking about what is next.

The Southeast Asian startup ecosystem started the week with a bang when gojek CEO and co-founder Nadiem Makarim showed up at Merdeka Palace on Monday and announced his resignation to join President Joko Widodo’s new cabinet.

Two days later, the entrepreneur’s new designation at the cabinet was revealed: He is to be the new Minister of Education and Culture.

The internet went crazy. On Twitter, there were at least 35,000 tweets with the keyword Mendikbud (“minister of education and culture”) by the time is feature was written. Discussions about Makarim’s new designation were also frequent in various Telegram groups.

Many of the discussions centred around whether Makarim is the right person for the job, considering his lack of background in education and culture. This discussion can go on for days, so here I would like to focus more on what his appointment meant for the startup ecosystem –in Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

What is the message that Makarim’s appointment is sending out to us, the startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia?

The message is that: We matter.

Also Read: [Updated] Breaking: Nadiem Makarim named Minister of Education and Culture of Indonesia

Startups used to be all about college dropouts tinkering in their’s parents garage, trying to come out with something groundbreaking. Five to ten years ago, if you tell your kaypoh aunties that you are a startup founder, at best they are going to arch their eyebrows before gossiping with fellow kaypoh aunties (“Kids these days …”). 

But as companies reached billions of dollars in valuation, as their names become a household brand, their founders may start to gain a voice beyond their community.

Once their achievements are acknowledged, the society will start looking up to these founders. They want to find out about their secret sauce: How they are doing this, how they are solving problems. Their insights and opinions will be heard once these founders reach a particular level in their career.

Even better: Everybody will expect the chef to cook his secret sauce for them. The big institution suddenly wants you to be part of the team so that you can help them improve things there.

It seems only fitting that next big move for a startup founder is to enter politics. In light of Makarim’s appointment, some had joked about becoming a minister as the next exit path for a founder. But there is some truth to the statement.

Startup founders entering politics is more than just a matter of a startup having a friend in high places. Though honestly, any startup can benefit from such a thing. Including gojek itself.

It is all about making a greater disruption, a more significant impact on society. No matter where you live, the public sector is always in need of disruption. And who is better to do that than startup founders? The very people with innovation in mind?

Also Read: Following Nadiem Makarim’s resignation, gojek names new leaders

Interestingly, Indonesia is not the only phenomenon where this has happened.

In the US, you may have been following the moves of Democrat presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who had a strong background in the startup community before his involvement in politics.

Much closer to home, we have also seen Pakornwut Udompipatskul, the former managing partner at StockRadars, who had won a local election in Thailand and is leaving the company to become an MP.

In Malaysia, three startup founders have also been appointed to the National Economic Action Council (NEAC). According to a Vulcan Post report, their presence in the council is to “provide insight on issues related to the cost of living, employment, poverty and homeownership.”

Of course, this does not mean that we want everybody to leave their company ASAP and start a campaign to become an MP. Really, the last thing we need is people who entered public service because it seems cool to do so.

But if you are a startup founder and public service is your calling, then remember that you have something unique to bring to the table. Beyond your understanding of how design sprint works or how to set up an OKR, you are coming with a mission: To never accept the status quo.

Image Credit: Wahyu Putro A., Antara Foto

The post Now that Nadiem Makarim is a minister, what is next for SEA startup ecosystem? appeared first on e27.
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