‘Pushing the boundaries of innovation’: how 9 Indonesian start-ups became unicorns during the pandemic

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JAKARTA: Life has never been the same for Vanessa Soetedja since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in March 2020.

The 29-year-old marketing manager said she now spends most of her time at home as she can work from anywhere, only coming to the office once a week for a meeting with her team. With more free time, she decided to pursue a master’s degree, the classes of which are conducted online.

“I do everything from home these days, work, school, even shopping for clothes, groceries and paying the bills. It’s so convenient. Everything can be done online,” Soetedja told CNA.

The pandemic and subsequent activity restrictions have forced millions of Indonesians to change their lifestyles and turn to technology to help them with their daily activities.

This means that some tech companies in the country are seeing phenomenal growth even as Indonesia faced a recession between mid-2020 and early 2021, when its economy shrank by up to 5%.

Indonesia has added nine unicorns (startup companies with a valuation of over $1 billion) throughout the pandemic, bringing the total number of unicorns in the country to 13, according to tech news portals.

The top five Indonesian e-commerce platforms: Gojek, Tokopedia, Traveloka, Bukalapak and OVO achieved unicorn status before the pandemic between 2016 and 2019. Gojek and Tokopedia then merged to form GoTo in 2021.

Among the list of new unicorns are payment gateway Xendit and investment firm Ajaib, which both achieved status in 2021, and lending firm Akulaku which became a unicorn in April..

Meanwhile, the JD.ID e-commerce platform officially became a unicorn in February 2020, just as the coronavirus was starting to spread from country to country.

Other new unicorns include e-commerce platform Blibli, ticket booking platform Tiket, lending company Kredivo, courier company J&T and coffee chain Kopi Kenangan.

Indonesia also saw the rise of a decacorn (companies valued at over US$10 billion) when super app Gojek merged with e-commerce giant Tokopedia.

With a population of 270 million, Indonesia has always been fertile ground for tech companies looking to solve everything from dismal transport services and high cost of logistics to lack of access to banks. conventional.

But with only 4% of the population having access to fixed broadband internet while the rest are connected to sometimes spotty mobile internet services, the adoption of digital technologies has been slow.

Everything changed when the pandemic hit, which forced everyone to do a lot of their daily activities at home.

According to a survey conducted by technology company Hootsuite and research firm We Are Social, between January 2020 and January 2021, there were 27 million new internet users in Indonesia.

“Restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 have led to faster adoption of digital technologies by consumers and businesses across many industries,” Adrian Li, founder and managing partner of the company, told CNA. venture capital AC Ventures.

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