In line with our mission to shed light on the many investment opportunities popping up across Asia and Australasia, FinanceAsia is showcasing the entrepreneurs who are leading the wave of technological disruption in different countries and across a range of sectors.
Their companies range in size and maturity, but these people share a common drive and vision to compete against established institutions, whether in financial services, retail, energy, robotics, or logistics, to name just a few of the industries featured.
Following our methodology, we have selected five entrepreneurs from each of Asia Pacific's largest economies. Today we look at Indonesia.
Startups across the archipelago are thriving as Indonesians rapidly adopt tech solutions for finance, entertainment, shopping, travel and more.
Indonesia is already home to four unicorns and this figure is set to rise as a new generation of entrepreneurs – some listed below – join the ecosystem.
Year founded: 2009
Industry: E-Commerce, Technology
Prominent backers: Alibaba, Softbank Vision Fund
When Tanuwijaya co-founded Tokopedia with a close friend in 2009, he set out to revolutionise Indonesia’s online shopping sector. As he spearheads digital economic and social equality, the entrepreneur has also transformed the e-commerce site into a household name.
Tanuwijaya has humble origins as the son of a factory worker. He moved to Jakarta for university, where he worked part-time in an internet cafe to pay for his tuition. After graduation, he flitted between software and game developer jobs before going into business for himself.
“I consider myself an entrepreneur by accident, by necessity,” Tanuwijaya, who is from a small village in Northern Sumatra, told audiences at the 2017 World Economic Forum. “I created Tokopedia because I see the inequality of opportunity. People in small towns don’t have access [to the internet] like people in big towns.”
Tokopedia is now a regional ecosystem, but Tanuwijaya remains focused on Indonesia’s domestic market and has no plans to expand into neighbouring countries for the time being.
This is understandable, and the entrepreneur has his hands full given the company’s recent push to expand its range of offerings within the country. In addition to the online marketplace, Tokopedia operates a range of financial services including payment platforms, a digital wallet, virtual credit cards and business loans.
The entrepreneur has come a long way. He was Indonesia’s Young Global Leader representative at the 2016 World Economic Forum and today, a third of Indonesians use Tokopedia on a monthly basis.
Year founded: 2010
Backers: Google, Tencent
Marakim is the founder of transportation startup Gojek. He also co-founded the Indonesian branch of Singapore online retailer Zalora and was the first Indonesian to receive The Straits Times’ Asian of the Year award in 2016. More recently, he won the 2019 Nikkei Asia Prize for Business and Economic Innovation.
“[We] do ride-hailing, food delivery, payments, and even on-demand massages,” the founder said in an episode of the company’s podcast. “You name it, we do it.”
The etymology of Gojek’s name is closely linked to Makarim’s own experiences living and working in Indonesia; ojeks are motorcycle taxis used nationwide and inspired Makarim to call his startup Gojek.
On Jakarta’s congested streets, ojeks can often be the most effective form of travel. And yet, he noticed as he spotted an opportunity, end-users could often encounter problems.
“Pricing was not transparent, I couldn’t find [bike taxis] during rush hour and there was generally a reliability issue,” Makarim told CNBC last year. “What if we could take the fastest mode of vehicle and have them perform not only human mobility operations but also move stuff around?”
Gojek launched in 2010 as a motorcycle taxi call centre. Within five years it had expanded operations to include a ride-hailing app, a delivery programme, and a short-lived grocery shopping platform. The company recently unveiled a new logo, which symbolises Gojek’s transformation from transportation service to the self-declared super app.
After resigning as chief executive officer of Gojek in October, Makarim is Indonesia's latest Minister for Education and Culture.
Company: Blue Bird Group
Year founded: 1965
Prominent backers: None
Founded in 1965 as Chandra Taxi by Purnomo’s grandmother, today Blue Bird Group commands a fleet of approximately 39,000 vehicles operated by more than 50,000 drivers across Indonesia.
Purnomo became involved in the company from a young age and continued to work part-time for the family business even as she explored a career in marketing. The entrepreneur studied engineering in Australia but returned to the fold and is now Blue Bird’s president director.
In 2015, Purnomo featured on Forbes’ Power Women in Asia list and appeared on the Globe Asia’s 99 Most Powerful Women compilation two years later.
Year founded: 2011
Prominent backers: 500 Startups, Emtek Group
Zaky is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Indonesian online marketplace Bukalapak. The concept is similar to that of market rival Tokopedia, but Zaky has targeted local street vendors, “warungs”, in a bid to reach a different clientele.
The entrepreneur is a computer science graduate of the West Java Institut Teknologi Bandung. After finishing school Zaky started media consulting group Suitmedia in 2009 before launching Bukalapak three years later.
Bukalpak means “to open a store” in the Bahasa language. Initially servicing small businesses looking to sell their products over the internet, the website has expanded to include a digital banking platform.
The unicorn recently set up Mitra Bukalapak to resell used goods.
Year founded: 2012
Prominent backers: Expedia, East Ventures
As the chief executive officer and co-founder of unicorn-status booking site Traveloka, Unardi is a great example of innovating to overcome a problem.
The entrepreneur conceived the idea for Traveloka while studying for an MBA at Harvard; travelling frequently between the US and Indonesia, he found it difficult to book flights and accommodation.
Indonesia didn’t have a travel aggregator platform comparable to ones available abroad, so Unardi dropped out of school to create one. The travel aggregator launched to Indonesian markets in 2012 and has since expanded across Southeast Asia and Australia.