Gojek co-CEOs talk company strategy after Makarim’s departure (update)

The firm plans to strengthen its presence in overseas markets and increase its international user base.

Following Nadiem Makarim’s departure from Gojek, co-CEOs Kevin Aluwi and Andre Soelistyo said that the company is now entering an exciting period, and that it is making significant progress towards profitability.

Post-Makarim, there will not be much difference with the new leadership roles, Soelistyo said. “Both of us play significant roles in the organization. While I run most of the business and corporate functions including finance and partnerships, Kevin has been running the product data and engineering divisions. That will continue to be the case, nothing will change very much with the leadership,” said Soelistyo in a recent media roundtable session.

As a co-founder, Aluwi has been building Gojek by Makarim’s side since its inception, while Soelistyo joined the company a bit later in 2015 after he previously served as executive director in Northstar Group, one of Gojek’s investors.

However, this doesn’t mean that Makarim has completely left Gojek. According to Indonesian regulations, government officials are allowed to own shares in a company as long as they don’t have any special rights or ability to dictate and direct that particular company. Makarim still has a stake in Gojek and serves as a passive investor without any authority over the company’s daily operations.

Gojek chose the co-CEO model as its business is very diversified and complex today, given that the company is pushing for multiple different directions, businesses, and geographies. “In reality, even if we didn’t want to call it a co-CEO model, it would fundamentally operate according to that model,” said Aluwi.

“Andre and I have been in this (company) together for a long time and it is because we’re aligned on what the vision of the company is and how to get there. For our strategy going forward, we’re still focusing on product experience. We’re building features and capabilities to deliver better products, especially for our core services—mobility, payments and financial services, and food,” he continued.

As Gojek is entering a new chapter, the company is bound to face many challenges. “Firstly, the competition is very fierce so we’ll continue to build better products and features that will help our business grow further and become more sustainable. Secondly, the product vision that we have developed requires more coordination and collaboration with a larger ecosystem in order to encourage hockey stick growth,” said Soelistyo. [Hockey stick growth refers to a sudden and extremely rapid growth after a long period of linear growth.]

He cited digital payments as an example. Although the digital payment trend has really taken off in the past year, there are still issues surrounding adoption and acceptance in Indonesia. Widespread mobile payment adoption throughout the country requires more partnerships and collaborations with the government and private companies, which can be challenging. However, both Soelistyo and Aluwi are confident that the new government will continue showing its support for tech and innovation in order to create a better economic system in the country.

“Another challenge is finding and retaining the best talents. I do think that talent is probably one of the most important things in determining your success,” said Soelistyo.

Gojek currently handles 2 billion transactions per year with 2 million drivers and over 500,000 merchant partners, and aims to raise more than $2 billion in a funding round by end 2019, according to the co-founders. The firm’s series F investor list is currently growing, with recent participation from Pan-Asian insurer AIA Group and the Japanese state-backed Cool Japan Fund.

International expansion

Gojek began its international expansion in late 2018 when it launched an online taxi service in Singapore. The firm also operates in Thailand and Vietnam. However, it hasn’t been an easy ride for Gojek in foreign markets. Gojek’s subsidiary in Vietnam, Go-Viet, recently lost its CEO who resigned only five months after she took on the job. With only three basic services, Go-Bike, Go-Send, and Go-Food, Go-Viet still has much to prove in order to challenge incumbents such as Grab and local providers FastGo and Be.

Addressing this issue, Soelistyo said it is only a matter of finding the right person. While he admits that Gojek’s overseas expansion has been quite challenging so far, it has taught them lessons on how to build long-term strategies in foreign markets.

“In Vietnam, it is quite unfortunate that we had to change the leadership again. There are two things to remember here, firstly, it is not easy to find the right person and the right model. International operations are something new for us, so we’re still learning by doing because we previously kept our focus on one market only,” Soelistyo said.

“However, nothing major caused the leadership change in Vietnam and we’re still improving the coordination and creating better organization structures  for international markets,” he continued.

That being said, Gojek promises to continue accelerating development in international markets.

In Singapore, Gojek’s service is still limited to its Go-Car service but it aims to add more features sometime within the next quarter. Although Gojek has shown interest in launching its food delivery service in Singapore, Aluwi said that the company is still finding “the right approach” for this service in Singapore.

“There are already five other players, all competing with 30% or 40% discounts. That means the only thing we can do to compete is by offering a 50% discount, which is something we don’t want to pursue from a long-term strategic perspective,” he said.

The firm also plans to launch mobile payment services in foreign markets although it declined to share the exact timeline.

“A mobile payment service requires a license and as we want to play by the rules, we’re waiting for regulatory clearance before we roll out the payment products,” Soelistyo said.

Despite the challenges, Gojek is still confident about its international expansion. The company aims to increase its international user base. Overseas users currently comprise up to 20% of Gojek’s overall user base and the company aspires to increase this to 50% going forward.

(Corrections: Gojek has more than 500,000 merchant partners and not 400,000 as stated. The company will continue to grow its business in its existing four relatively new markets, instead of going into four new markets, as stated.)