What a Difference a Decade Makes: The Rise of Indonesia’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
An interview with Aldi Haryopratomo by Jackie Carmel, Managing Director, Endeavor Catalyst
With recent investments from Google, Facebook, and Microsoft making headlines, Indonesia’s tech scene has exploded onto the world stage in 2020. Meanwhile, the country’s digital economy is taking off with 40 million new internet users last year alone, leading many — including us — to predict that international attraction to Southeast Asia’s largest economy is only just getting started.
Whether or not the rumors of an $18B Gojek and Tokopedia merger become reality, we believe 2021 is the year that more US investors “discover” what is happening in Southeast Asia’s digital economy — and particularly in Indonesia. Following in the footsteps of SEA Group (NYSE:SE) — currently the only Southeast Asian tech company listed on a US exchange — we predict at least 2–3 Indonesian tech companies will seek to go public in the US within the next 12 months, including the first dual-listing IPOs between the US and Indonesia.
That “something big” is underway in Indonesia’s tech ecosystem is not surprising; but it is a remarkably different reality than only ten years ago.
One entrepreneur who has been there every step of Indonesia’s tech transformation is Aldi Haryopratomo, who was among the first Endeavor Entrepreneurs in Indonesia. Aldi built his first startup, Mapan, in 2009. In 2017, Mapan was acquired by Gojek, where he became the CEO of Gopay, and built Indonesia’s leading fintech unicorn.
Aldi left Gopay earlier this year, and is now on sabbatical mentoring a new breed of entrepreneurs. We had a chance to talk to him about his experiences.
“Unlike today, venture capital was non-existent in Indonesia in 2009,” says Aldi Haryopratomo, founder and CEO of Gopay, and a serial entrepreneur in Indonesia. “Trying to get advice on how to build a startup was impossible.” It makes sense — only 7% of the population in Indonesia was online in 2009, compared to the 70% internet penetration today. This 10x growth has opened up a world of possibilities for hopeful entrepreneurs and technology investors alike.
Despite Indonesia’s nascent entrepreneurship ecosystem at the time, Aldi’s is a success story. Aldi’s first venture, Mapan, focused on providing lower income communities better access to valuable products and services through technology and the power of networks.
We first met Aldi in 2009, the same year he founded Mapan, when he cold-emailed Endeavor’s expansion team to inquire about opening an office in Indonesia — looking for support. As a graduate student at Harvard, he had read a case study about Endeavor’s success in Latin America, where entrepreneurs such as Wences Casares, Marcos Galperin, and others had spurred the growth of an entrepreneurial ecosystem beginning to rival that of Silicon Valley.
“My curiosity spiked,” said Aldi. “I was jealous of the startup support system my fellow founders had in San Francisco. I assumed that most founders in Nigeria, Argentina, or Brazil faced a similar problem.”
Aldi graduated with a degree in computer engineering in 2004 from Purdue University, and worked two years as an IT security consultant for Ernst & Young in San Francisco before joining the star microfinance organization, Kiva. Aldi left Kiva to work at BCG where he had an opportunity to create the initial design for a mobile banking system in Pakistan, ultimately realizing the vast commercial potential of enabling a network of rural shopkeepers with the ability to accept mobile payments.
In late 2008, inspired by this revelation, Aldi created the pilot project that would ultimately become Mapan. Mapan was founded on the belief that in any village or community, there is a natural community leader, who is best positioned to provide goods and services for his or her neighbors. The company started by offering prepaid cell phone minutes and bill payment services. Since then, Mapan’s main product line has evolved to be Arisan Mapan (“mapan” means financially self-sufficient in Bahasa Indonesian), which utilizes the traditional rotation-based savings and loan model at the village level to offer affordable goods — ranging from clothing to refrigerators — to its members. Mapan has helped over three million families finance goods using the arisan model.
When asked about his greatest role models over the years, Aldi mentioned his father, who built roads and bridges all through Indonesia and often took his children to work with him. This exposure motivated Aldi to pursue building companies that gave access to basic services to those who need them the most.
As Mapan scaled, Aldi looked for mentors in the ecosystem who could give him advice. He continued to email Endeavor, asking when an office in Indonesia might open.
“I would call every month or so just to check in,” Aldi said.
In 2012, to his excitement, Endeavor Indonesia launched and began a proactive search for potential Endeavor Entrepreneurs. Aldi immediately put his name in the ring, and became the first Indonesian entrepreneur to go through Endeavor’s selection process.
“I stumbled through the local selection panel,” recounted Aldi. “The panelists were people who I had only seen in magazines. They grilled me for hours about my revenue, team, and growth.”
But he passed unanimously and soon after boarded a plane to Dubai for an International Selection Panel (ISP), the final step in Endeavor’s selection process. The ISP was equally as challenging — and exhilarating. Stakes were high since, if selected, he would become Indonesia’s first Endeavor Entrepreneur.
“The grilling continued in Dubai. Panelists paired together to assault me with questions and shower me with wisdom. I walked out of the three sessions exhausted,” he said.
But, when it came time for the decision, Aldi was ultimately rejected. He was crushed.
The following year, Sati Rasuanto, the Managing Director of Endeavor Indonesia, invited him to go through the process again. This time, it was Sati’s turn to be persistent. Despite initial hesitation, Aldi agreed to attend another ISP, and this time he was selected.
Once in the Endeavor network, Aldi had access to the mentorship and guidance he had only dreamed of years prior. One of Aldi’s early mentors was Pak Husodo, the founding Chairman of Endeavor Indonesia, and a well-respected entrepreneur in the country. Pak Husodo helped Aldi navigate doing business in Jakarta, and became an early investor in Mapan. Another important mentor for Aldi was the Argentinian serial entrepreneur Wences Casares, who was part of Aldi’s first selection panel.
“I made a point to meet Wences every time I traveled to California,” said Aldi. “I sought his counsel on every career-changing moment I had.”
In addition to his cherished mentors, Aldi forged strong relationships with Endeavor’s staff. Over the years, he felt immensely supported by Allen Taylor who oversaw Endeavor Catalyst, Endeavor’s investment fund. Aldi recalls Allen guiding him through the “obscure terms and pitfalls he had seen many entrepreneurs face.” In 2014, Endeavor Catalyst joined Mapan’s Series B financing round alongside Omidyar Network.
Two years later, Mapan, along with two other Indonesian fintech companies, was acquired by Gojek, an Indonesian ride hailing unicorn. Gojek was on its way to becoming a superapp, and wanted to build a payments and financial services arm. As part of the acquisition, Aldi became CEO of Gopay.
“When we started, Gopay was mainly known as a payment method for Gojek; there were only a few thousand transactions happening outside of Gojek each day. We launched our QR payments offline, and within less than a year, we were processing over a million transactions per day,” Aldi shared.
Under Aldi’s leadership, Gopay continued to grow exponentially. In 2019, Gopay was reported to have processed $6.3 billion dollars of transactions, and expanded from a purely domestic business to establishing a regional presence. Gopay’s rise helped attract strategic investments from global tech companies into Gojek including Paypal, Facebook, Google, and Tencent.
“I feel privileged to have had a team that, in such a short time, was able to change how millions of people accessed payments and financial services. We learned so many lessons along the way, and I wanted to find ways to share them with other entrepreneurs in the region,” Aldi recalled.
Aldi embodied the Endeavor spirit of “paying it forward” and began mentoring entrepreneurs himself, devoting much of his time to cultivating the ecosystem he didn’t have as an aspiring entrepreneur. For years, Aldi has served as a mentor to Gibran Huzaifah, Founder of eFishery, where he has recently been appointed to the board. Aldi recounts, “When it was about fish, Gibran was the teacher, and I was the student. Learning about fish, my favorite protein, was a reprieve from the world of fintech.” Aldi further noted, “Often, I learned more from mentoring other entrepreneurs than when I was a mentee. Gibran was one such example.”
After informally advising the company for six years, Aldi also formally joined the board of Halodoc, a fast-growing health technology company in Indonesia. Kitabisa, Indonesia’s largest donations app, also counts Aldi as one of its board members.
As internet penetration grows, and capital and geography continue to decouple, the once nearly insurmountable barriers to entrepreneurship in places like Indonesia are beginning to come down. It has been over a decade since Aldi first learned of Endeavor as a graduate student and aspiring entrepreneur in Indonesia. In many ways, Aldi’s journey as an entrepreneur parallels that of the Indonesia ecosystem itself. What began as an aspiring entrepreneur in a fledgling entrepreneurial ecosystem, became an entrepreneur to aspire to in a thriving one. And we think Indonesia is a market to watch.
Organizations like Endeavor are helping to establish the support systems globally that Aldi craved back in 2009. Today, Aldi encourages every entrepreneur he meets to join Endeavor — “if only for the friendships you will make along the journey,” he says.