People Innovation Excellence

William Tanuwijaya, Bringing Up Tokopedia as Status Quo Challenger

“In internet era everyone has a chance to create their own opportunity to challenge the status quo, somehow to fight and eventually win”

Which SME player would not recognize Tokopedia? Its ads plastered everywhere, on billboards in every point, TV, radio, its banners even shows on every website, social media, and mobile applications. Tokopedia carried on this massive marketing and promotion activities following a US$100 million funding back in October 2014 coughed up by venture giants Softbank Internet and Media Inc. (SIMI), joined by Sequoia Capital and, previously, SB Pan Asia Fund. It was arguably the biggest publicized injection throughout Indonesia’s startup technology. Its high frequency advertising delivers Tokopedia to top ten in biggest advertising spending on TV in 2015, with Rp559.9 billion expense in advertisement, the largest in e-commerce advertiser category outperforming Traveloka’s Rp553.2 billion.

Since its beginning in 2009, the journey started showing results in 2014. Back in 2010 and on, Tokopedia has obtained funding from various venture capital firms such as East Ventures (2010), CyberAgents Ventures (2011), and Beenos (2012). But the biggest came to Tokopedia only in 2014. During its founding days, Tokopedia was hadly trusted by investors, even jobseekers (talents). Now its flooded with work applications and funding. William Tanuwijaya, Tokopedia Co-Founder and CEO, talked about how hard it was to recruit new hires willing to work for his company during the founding years.

“I came to the campus to recruit BINUS graduates. By the time, BINUS Anggrek Campus was holding a job expo. I was one of the Job Expo participant and I decided to make serious efforts, taking two booths at once. I attended our booth with my co-founder for 2 days and no one would apply. Meanwhile, across our booth was one of Indonesia’s biggest banks’ booth. It was not even attended by the owner, it hired sales promotion girls, but they got a lot of applicants,” recounted William, on occasion of CEO Speaks on Leadership held at JWC Senayan Campus lobby, Thursday (28/1). However, since 2014, Tokopedia has hired 80 employees and now employs approximately 400. William admitted, every month sees 24,000 candidates applying to Tokopedia. “We are capable to recruit no more than 50 persons currently each month,” said William. Throughout 2015, William continued, Tokopedia, the technology startup company, has grown into the dream destination for Indonesia’s knowledge workers.

Approximately 500 thousand merchants across Indonesia are linked with Tokopedia by now and more or less 9 million transactions per month was recorded only in 2015. William wishes the number of his merchants double in 2016. Now how did William Tanuwijaya bring Tokopedia to life and raised it to its present level?

Like Spiked Bamboo

It started with a clear yet virtuous dream and vision. William begun with Tokopedia when it was very difficult to set up business in Indonesia. By the time, his dream was helping the majority of Indonesian people start business easily. “So in its core, Tokopedia must be the solution for setting up a business easily. Although it took Tokopedia 2 years to begin, we want it to serve as platform for people who are building their own businesses, in which they could start the business in 2 minutes. That’s our dream,” revealed William who, before setting up Tokopedia, had practical experience in building neither a business nor connections with investor.

William remains doubtless that his dream can come true, thus started spreading this optimism to many people so that they may work on it together. He plunged himself into job expo events to find and persuade talents to join Tokopedia so that they may together bring the vision alive. William compares the process of building Tokopedia with spiked bamboo (Bambu Runcing. A Bambu Runcing as used by some Indonesian revolutionaries is a well-known weapon in modern Indonesian history. Bambu Runcing symbolize courage and sacrifice in achieving independence) to signify a number of things. First is courage. “I was lucky to be in a point in which I decided taking the risk of trusting my dream, myself, when nobody else would,” described William.

However, he carried on, courage alone won’t suffice. So secondly, sharpened bamboo signifies perseverance. “Tokopedia’s whole journey is about that. It might have took years until 2009 to get me the chance to start Tokopedia. That opportunity allowed me a lesson learnt that everything is about perseverance,” revealed William. Lastly, sharpened bamboo signifies hope. “There is no way that our founding fathers seized the nation’s sovereignty by sheer guts or courage. Their courage was fueled with hope that one day, Indonesia is a free nation. That is Tokopedia’s spirit,” explained William.

The spread and advancement of internet adoption has changed the world’s way of life in many contexts, one of them being business. Internet, William admitted, has changed his life drastically. A boy from a small town, not speaking English at all, having zero overseas experience, he is now given trust to top a multi-million internet-based company. William also sees how Tokopedia brings good influence to its users. “Despite its small size, we realize Tokopedia’s impact to users. A housewife, starting a small businee, finally could create jobs. A cleaning service employee used Tokopedia, then as second income, but now can earn more from it than from his cleaning job, and finally employs a number of people. These stories made us believe we are on the right track,” asserted William.

He conveyed how important it is to adopt an underdog’s  humility over the internet era. “We are the luckiest generation because we live in internet era. In internet era everyone has a chance to create their own opportunity to challenge status quo, somehow to fight and eventually win. And it’s true not only for Tokopedia. Google was underdog when it was just begun. They believed that they were underdog that maintains good quaility. I think, when you build a business, whatever it may be, make the best effort to stick with an underdog’s humility. Keep in mind that this is an underdog era when humility makes a very significant factor,” he concluded.


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