Johan Surani

  • Seed/Surge
  • +
  • SEA
“It takes a whole ecosystem to help a founder build a great company.”

Much of my early adult life was shaped by family and a handful of mentors and friends. I grew up in Malaysia, and I was terrible at mathematics at school. When I was in the eleventh grade, I met a teacher who gamified the way I learned the subject, which changed the course of my life. By making learning mathematics fun and interactive, I went from consecutively failing to getting As. These grades eventually led to a scholarship to go to the US.

While in the US, a student counselor convinced me to apply for college at Stanford; I got in and ended up spending the next four years studying there. My first job out of college was as a management consultant at Bain & Company. There, I met a friend who later introduced me to the incubator that hired me to build the online fashion retailer Zalora. While at Zalora, I met the founder of Gojek (now GoTo) and eventually moved to Indonesia to join the company.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that the people you surround yourself with make all the difference. It’s a difference that is especially amplified when building a company. It takes a whole ecosystem to help a founder build a great company: a mission-driven team, a great market, a strong personal support structure, helpful thought partners and investors, and even healthy competition to push you to reach new heights.

It’s for this reason that I joined Peak XV (formerly Sequoia India & Southeast Asia) and Surge—I have always loved being a thought partner and supporter of founders. Surge is the seed platform I wish I had as an operator, and now I get to work directly with founders to help them achieve their ambitions.

I draw inspiration from listening to speeches from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr and Steve Jobs, and even watching the games of accomplished chess players like Mikhail Tal. While they all had different life journeys in very different arenas, they had one thing in common. They were the underdogs in their respective fields. They challenged conventional wisdom of what ought to be and dreamt what seemed like the impossible, yet had the determination and execution chops to bring their visions to life.

I am on the lookout for the underdogs in our part of the world, mission-driven founders who want to shape a better future. I have found that the best ideas are often the least predictable, yet solve massive problems. If you have one, reach out! I would love to hear from you.

Get in touch with Johan