In the home city of Go-jek, Indonesia's start-up miracle

As Go-jek prepares for its debut in Vietnam, VIR’s Nam Phuong recently visited its home city Jakarta and witnessed first-hand the soaring popularity of Indonesia’s biggest startup.

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A green Jakarta

Anywhere in Jakarta, visitors find a sea of Go-jek jackets and helmets on motorbikes. In front of any shopping mall or office tower, drivers cluster up in groups, chatting with each other as they wait for passengers.

Visitors to Jakarta often wonder what Go-jek is and why its signature green colour pervades this 10-million city. After a bit of research, it becomes clear that Go-jek is Indonesia’s most successful startup, offering a wide range of ride-sharing and delivery services across 50 cities in the country.

Jazzy Refadebby, a 30-year-old marketing manager, told VIR that everyone uses Go-jek because it is reliable, cheap, and convenient. The Jakarta resident herself uses Go-jek almost every day for transportation and delivery.

More than a ride-hailing app

Go-jek’s success story is quite a fairy tale. In merely seven years of operation, the startup has grown into a $3-billion business backed by high-profile investors like BlackRock, Tencent, and Google.

It is noteworthy that while competitors Grab and Uber offer mostly passenger transport, Go-jek has expanded its services to goods transport, food delivery, and even massage or beauty services, making it an indispensable part of daily life in Jakarta.

To Jakarta residents, Go-jek provides much needed relief to commuting in the bustling capitol. And it is not just any city—Jakarta is internationally known for traffic jams. Statistics show that drivers here can only go at 8.3 kilometre per hour, half of the figure for New York City.

Apparently, Jakarta residents know that hailing a Go-jek motorbike is faster and more convenient than being stuck in their own car during a traffic gridlock. According to Refadebby, most people in Jakarta live far from their office, making daily commute a nightmare.

“There are just too many traffic jams, everyone is tired of driving on their own so ride-hailing is a great option,” she said.

According to Go-jek, its smartphone app has been downloaded 22 million times in Indonesia, and about 400,000 Go-jek drivers ride motorbikes, cars, and trucks to pick up passengers or goods for delivery on a daily basis.

Debut in Vietnam

A week ago, it was reported that the Indonesian firm is prepping its debut in Vietnam as part of the plan to go regional. Go-jek is also eyeing the Philippines, having said that it will launch in the country this year.

It is interesting to see how Go-jek will fare in Vietnam. Unlike in Jakarta, where it has the local and early-bird advantage, Go-jek will have to face the challenge of being a late-comer in the fast-growing market of more than 93 million people.

In particular, residents in big Vietnamese cities are already frequent customers of Grab and Uber, two of the world’s largest ride-hailing apps with networks in various countries. Other domestic players such as 123xevivu, Gonow or Mai Linh Bike are also trying to break into the scene, making Vietnam a tough battlefield for Go-jek.

That said, the Indonesian firm has good money under its belt:as it raised $1.5 billion (or 25 per cent more than it intended) last year and recently secured another $150 million from Indonesian conglomerate Astra International.

Go-jek is also planning to list on the Indonesian Stock Exchange to raise capital.

With such ample funds, it looks like the Indonesian startup is ready for the battle in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam.

But no matter how Go-jek does in international markets, every day in Jakarta, thousands of its drivers will still continue to zip through the city, helping to solve the city’s traffic issues in their green armor. In this city, Go-jek may have become a landmark itself.


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