Indonesian energy industry tycoon Garibaldi Thohir, also known as Boy Thohir, was appointed to the board of advisors in ride-hailing firm Gojek in July.
After Gojek founder Nadiem Makarim joined President Joko Widodo’s new cabinet, Thohir stepped up as president commissioner to lead the company’s non-executive board. Thohir had been Gojek’s independent commissioner since July.
Thohir belongs to a family of entrepreneurs that are internationally recognized for their success in the business world, and his father is the co-owner of Astra International, an investor in Gojek.
KrASIA recently interviewed Thohir about his role as president commissioner with Gojek, as well as his investments in digital businesses.
KrAsia (Kr): How familiar were you with Gojek prior to being appointed as its commissioner?
Garibaldi Thohir (GT): I knew Nadiem before he began to develop Gojek. I partnered with Northstar Pacific’s founders Patrick Walujo and Glenn Sugita [the early investors of Gojek] for years.
Six years ago, Patrick told me that Nadiem began expanding Gojek. He said he would support Nadiem’s business. Sometimes Nadiem would come to me for my advice. Gojek grew until it expanded to other countries in Southeast Asia. One day, Nadiem and other friends [in the company’s management] at Gojek officially asked me to be its commissioner. I was interested because I could contribute more to Gojek, an Indonesian creation.
During the past six years, I sometimes gave them advice concerning the management style and direction. Even though it is a startup, it is going to become a big company, like eBay or Amazon. Gojek does not need to change its DNA. It is going to become a publicly traded company one day.
Kr: Are you worried about Gojek’s loss-making status?
GT: I do not really know the details, because I’m not an active part of its day-to-day operations. But if we look at Gojek, there are other businesses such as GoFood, GoRide, and GoPay. We should not only look at individual parts of its business, but also its whole ecosystem.
GoFood is the most phenomenal. The other services that will boost the business are transportation and the payments space.
I think in the future, every part of Gojek’s business will be profitable. The goal is to reach a certain size. To achieve this, it has to spend money. When it achieves its growth targets, Gojek will become profitable. Ultimately, as investors, we expect our portfolios to be profitable.
Kr: Have you encouraged Gojek to become a publicly traded company?
GT: Yes, I think every startup company will evolve to become a publicly traded company. It is a way for investors to exit. I think there are still big tech companies in China that earn profits. We can learn from them.
In Gojek’s case, I believe Gojek has a viable business model. If it achieves scale, its costs will reduce.
Kr: Should Gojek pursue an IPO in Indonesia or other countries? If they choose Indonesia, is the market capable of absorbing the market valuation of Gojek?
GT: As the commissioner of the Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX), I encourage Gojek to have an IPO in Indonesia, as this will create a multiplier effect.
I have had discussions with the IDX directors; we definitely have to beat the market size of Singapore or Thailand. Many Indonesian companies have listed on Singapore’s SGX. So we have to rethink the value and attractiveness of IDX, so companies will prefer to carry out their IPOs in Indonesia. I encourage Gojek to have an IPO in Indonesia. IDX should be proactive in providing added value to startups. If Gojek succeeds, other industry players will follow suit.
Kr: How do you view Gojek’s expansion in Southeast Asia? Why has it gone smoothly in some countries?
GT: You need to view things from a growth perspective. Growth in Thailand and Vietnam has been extraordinary. Gojek is a potential champion. In Southeast Asia, Indonesia is currently the largest market. The player who can dominate the Indonesian market becomes the champion, because Indonesia represents half of the market in Southeast Asia.
I am sure that Gojek will be the champion in Southeast Asia. It should be and must be. Even as its competitors may have a lot of funding, I think money is not everything. Indonesian companies have to support Gojek.
KR : The World Bank has downgraded Indonesia’s growth outlook for 2019. What do you think the impact will be?
GT : Many economists predict there will be a recession in the United States. Money will flow out of the US. Europe is an old economy. Capital will not come from or flow into the European market. The Indian and Chinese economies are challenging.
However, in Indonesia, the elections went smoothly. Joko Widodo became president again for the second term. If the new cabinet and regulations are market-friendly and attract more foreign direct investment, I believe there will be a bigger chance for direct investments to flow into Indonesia, including its digital businesses, as Indonesia is the largest and most attractive market in Southeast Asia.
Kr: Do you think conglomerates have come to recognize the importance of digital transformation?
GT: Frankly, this is a big gamble. Indonesia is a big market. The tendency of large groups is to set up investment arms. For instance, Djarum Group has GDP Ventures, and Sinar Mas Group has Sinar Mas Digital Ventures, which has emulated people such as Masayoshi Son with his Vision Fund. Indonesian firms are headed that way, because they see the need to transform.
Kr: Why were you interested in investing in Umma, an Islamic community focused app?
GT: It’s simply because 80% of the total population of Indonesia is Muslim and this is a big market. I saw a need in the market, which if we could meet, would create a big opportunity.
Another reason why I was interested is because the Muslim population in Indonesia comprise the mid to mid-low income segments. Somehow, they might not get the right information, so they could be misled by religious propaganda. Therefore, we would like to offer legit products and services to these people.
My group and Erick [my brother] have already invested in Umma. We have some businesses that we will integrate into the app, such as Republika [Indonesian national daily newspaper, known as a publication for the Muslim community], umrah and hajj travel services, and sharia insurance. Umma has been downloaded by more than 26 million users; the daily user count currently stands at 200,000.
I realized that a religious app is sometimes too sensitive for some people. Therefore, the app is focused on creating a sharing community among Muslims. The app has several topics for the community, such as Muslim content, fashion, halal food, and lifestyle.
It is expected to generate revenue from advertisements. The plan is to offer services such as sharia financing, as well as umrah and hajj travel options once the app has garnered 20 to 30 million users.