Indonesian President Joko Widodo has offered the 35-year-old co-founder of the country’s biggest startup, Gojek, a position in his new cabinet, affirming the importance of the internet sector in propelling Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
Nadiem Makarim on Monday told reporters he has accepted a cabinet post after resigning with immediate effect as chief executive officer of the ride-hailing giant he started nine years ago. That leaves the RP 10 billion startup, one of Southeast Asia’s largest, without its most visible leader at a time it’s pursuing funding to compete with arch-rival Grab Holdings Inc. Gojek said President Andre Soelistyo and co-founder Kevin Aluwi will take the helm as co-CEOs. The company will outline its next steps in the coming days, Gojek said in an emailed statement.
Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, will specify the role to be taken up by Makarim in a later announcement. Makarim’s appointment — in line with the Indonesian president’s stated desire to include professionals and millennials in his second-term team — shouldn’t disrupt operations at Gojek given its deep bench of experienced managers.
“This means President Jokowi’s new cabinet will be filled with young people with ability to execute,” said Willson Cuaca, managing partner of East Ventures, one of the most active Indonesian-focused venture capital firms. “It shows that Indonesia appreciates what they’ve done for the country. For Gojek, it’s reached a point that even if Nadiem resigns, it’s business as usual.”
The Gojek co-founder hails from a prominent Indonesian family. His grandfather was part of the delegation that won the country’s independence from the Netherlands in a 1949 conference at The Hague.
“Since the beginning, my mission in Gojek has been to display Indonesia on the world’s stage,” Makarim told reporters when he announced his resignation in Jakarta on Monday. “So, this is a continuation of that mission, but this is certainly for the state and within a bigger scale.”
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Gojek is the largest player in an Indonesian internet industry that’s booming as smartphone adoption there explodes. The world’s fourth most populous country with 264 million people has produced other unicorns including Tokopedia and Bukalapak, which are driving e-commerce and the digital economy more generally.
Makarim started Gojek in 2010 as a call center arranging couriers in Jakarta. At that early stage, everything was done manually — employees called motorbike drivers one by one until someone accepted an order — and Makarim had to work at other startups in order to sustain Gojek.
It was only in 2014 that the Gojek chief decided to introduce a mobile app, with backing from private equity investor Northstar Group. When that debuted in January 2015, the service was so popular that Gojek couldn’t cope with demand, Makarim said in an interview in 2016.
Gojek today has more than 2 million drivers and 400,000 merchants, while its apps have been downloaded more than 155 million times in Southeast Asia. The company counts Google, JD.com Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. among its investors and is seen as an icon for aspiring Indonesian entrepreneurs.
Makarim was selected as one of 50 people who defined global business in 2018 by Bloomberg Businessweek.
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