ST Asians of the Year

Nadiem Makarim: Going places with 'ojeks'

Go-Jek founder Nadiem Makarim wants to focus his business on Indonesia first. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG NEWS

When Mr Nadiem Makarim returned to Jakarta after graduating from Harvard in 2011, he took motorcycle-taxis to get around the city but found them unreliable.

Still, Indonesia's biggest headaches - inadequate infrastructure and massive traffic jams - turned out to be big opportunities for him.

The 32-year-old, who has a master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School, was born in Singapore. He has had a hand in several tech firms, including online retailer Zalora Indonesia, where he was managing director.

He had the idea of creating his own network of "ojeks" - as these two-wheeled cabs are known locally - and allowing commuters to book them with a smartphone app. With borrowed money as well as his own savings totalling US$100,000 (S$142,000), he launched the Go-Jek ride-hailing app in January last year with a pool of 700 motorbike riders.

In barely two years, the start-up is already going places, valued at more than US$1.4 billion and boasting the country's largest network of motorcycle-taxis, with more than 250,000 riders in 15 cities.

To go one up over direct rivals Uber and Grab, which also operate motorbike cabs, it has tied up with more than 35,000 food merchants and 2,500 service providers to provide delivery services for food, groceries and even medicine.

Go-Jek has "evolved into a much bigger animal", said Mr Nadiem, the company's founder and chief executive."Go-Jek is a perfect fit for Indonesia. The worse the infrastructure, the more Go-Jek becomes valuable as a service."

The company's pool of investors has also expanded - in August, it raised more than US$550 million.

While Mr Nadiem does not rule out expansion to other countries, the company will first focus on Indonesia, where it has "barely scratched the surface of what it can do". It has acquired four Indian tech firms to improve operations in areas such as security and payment.

"The sky's the limit for Go-Jek," said Mr Nadiem. "We want to be the one app to rule them all."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2016, with the headline Nadiem Makarim: Going places with 'ojeks'. Subscribe