How two Southeast Asian superapps beat Uber at its own game

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In 2009, whereas Uber’s cofounders had been gearing as much as launch, a cadre of younger Asian entrepreneurs-to-be entered the MBA program at Harvard Enterprise Faculty. Out of that group got here two ride-sharing startups that will evolve fairly in a different way than their American cousins. The corporate now known as Seize was conceived by Malaysian college students Anthony Tan and Hooi Ling Tan (no relation) as their entry in a business-plan contest. They didn’t win—however later, they wound up out-Ubering Uber in burgeoning cities throughout the 10-country ASEAN area in Southeast Asia.

In the meantime, one other classmate took a zigzag path to the highest. Nadiem Makarim, working remotely with buddies again house in Indonesia, began Gojek as a aspect undertaking whereas ending his MBA. This ride-share app has branched into companies from therapeutic massage remedy to moviemaking. And simply this week Gojek introduced the most important enterprise deal in Indonesia’s historical past, its merger with e-commerce big Tokopedia. (Disclosure: Golden Gate Ventures is a small shareholder of Gojek by way of its acquisition of Ruma Mapan. We’ve additionally invested in Gojek’s spinout, GoPlay.)

Each Gojek and Seize at the moment are venture-funded decacorns. Every is headed for a twin IPO on New York and Asian exchanges. They usually’re racing to dominate way more than ride-hailing on Southeast Asians’ cell phone screens. Seize and Gojek every provide what hasn’t but been seen within the U.S. market: a superapp combo, that includes a cost app that’s a possible gateway to promoting something folks could want to purchase.

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Gojek’s Winding Street

Gojek started modestly in 2010. At first it was a “minimal viable product” enterprise—a neighborhood, low-tech operation led on a part-time foundation by its faraway founder. The nascent firm was only a phone-in/Twitter-in name heart for reserving rides with ojek (motorcycle) drivers in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. That mannequin didn’t promise excessive progress, however it gave the corporate precious expertise in working with drivers and prospects.

As smartphone penetration grew, Gojek relaunched as a cellular app platform, aiming to increase. Founder Makarim was by then a full-time CEO however didn’t have a lot of a tech workers. So he contracted out the writing of the app to a growth firm, Ice Home Indonesia. Regardless of this odd and considerably dubious-looking tactic, Gojek was in a position to increase enterprise capital on the energy of its on-the-ground expertise plus the dimensions of the rising Indonesian market. (It’s the world’s fourth-largest nation, with over 270 million folks.)

And at this level Gojek defied the usual playbook for constructing a web based platform firm. The conference is to begin with a deal with one kind of services or products, then add others regularly. Amazon spent 4 years as a web based bookstore earlier than it segued into music and movies. Uber was 5 years previous when it added Uber Eats. However Gojek, in a way, had already carried out its single-focus homework. When relaunching as a cellular app, the corporate accelerated swiftly from minimum-viable-product mode to maximizing the number of merchandise. Trip-sharing was complemented with the supply of ready meals, groceries, and prescription meds. A key piece, the cost app, was added quickly after, in April 2016. Drivers with vehicles and vans joined the motorcycle brigade. Then got here a blitz.

[Screenshot: Gojek]

Gojek partnered with native service suppliers so as to add a smorgasbord of choices. Want a therapeutic massage therapist? A home cleaner? Gojek drivers would deliver both, or each, to your private home. Truck rental, roadside auto restore, no drawback. The technique amounted to a type of speedy prototyping. Most of those providers at the moment are gone. Bolstered by VC funding and income progress, Gojek has constructed a extra substantial lineup as an alternative, with about 20 product traces clustered round three superapps. They embody some huge ones, and with the Tokopedia merger, there’s a whopper coming aboard.

  • GoPay, the cost app, has companion monetary merchandise reminiscent of insurance coverage, investing, and extra. The enterprise group has been spun out semi-separately, just like Alipay and Ant Monetary from Alibaba. GoPay buyers embody cost giants Paypal, Fb, and Google.
  • In a hanging transfer, Gojek branched into streaming leisure. The GoPlay app streams Asian function movies and video episodes plus custom-made GoPlay Originals, named in a nod to Netflix Originals. These vary from a Jakarta-themed remake of the U.S. teen collection Gossip Woman to Filosofi Kopi (Philosophy of Espresso): The Sequence, spun off from a preferred Indonesian film.
  • Gojek’s merger with Tokopedia will create a mega-company known as GoTo. Curiously, since Alibaba is an investor in Tokopedia whereas Tencent has a stake in Gojek, the brand new GoTo could have the dueling Chinese language giants as co-backers on its journey to a public itemizing.

Beforehand, Gojek and Seize seemed like potential merger mates till these talks broke down. Quickly to go public on its own, Seize is much less diversified product-wise than Gojek however has a a lot bigger ASEAN-wide presence, having used a unique kind of strategy to drive Uber from Southeast Asia.

Seize’s Profitable Formulation

Whereas Gojek’s foremost benefit over Uber was its motorcycle fleet—the nimble ojeks can weave by visitors jams and are low-cost to hail—Seize prevailed with a technique that mixed speedy multinational progress with native sensitivity to every market. Seize used that mixture to crack open some of the precious, but nuanced and extremely regulated areas in every nation—funds and monetary providers. Not solely is that product suite a pleasant potential income supply—the cost app alone is super-valuable as an ever-flowing supply of information on prospects and their spending patterns. Mining the info may also help goal the advertising of any services or products conceivable.

[Screenshot: Grab]

Seize debuted in 2012 within the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. App-based and scale-minded from day one, the corporate hopped into Manila and Singapore inside its first 12 months and stored including city markets. Presently Seize operates in virtually 300 metro areas in eight of the ten ASEAN international locations. The metros vary from enormous (for example, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh Metropolis) to regional hubs with populations within the 100,000 to 500,000 bracket, reminiscent of Ben Tre in Vietnam and Tawau in Malaysia.


In every new market, Seize offered itself as a accomplice to native taxi drivers and fleet homeowners moderately than a international competitor, providing a platform that would assist them discover fares extra effectively. Seize catered to prospects by accepting money funds when Uber didn’t, and by emphasizing security and reliability in cities the place many individuals had been as soon as cautious of even getting right into a taxi. Whereas Uber adopted its U.S. payroll mannequin of paying drivers biweekly, Seize realized many drivers in Asia required money each day, even when prospects paid by bank card. Seize first provided weekly payouts, then switched the drivers onto its GrabPay app, permitting them to be paid instantly after a experience.

Furthermore, in every market Seize courted native buyers and employed native tech and admin workers. This contrasted sharply with Uber’s reliance on American funding and imported American staffers. Native buyers have been useful to Seize in some ways, together with securing hard-to-obtain ride-sharing and cost licenses. Native buyers ensured that Seize prospered within the Philippines, whereas Gojek was denied a Philippines ride-sharing license a number of years later in 2019. In Singapore, the government-linked fund Vertex supplied Seize with vital early capital and entry to the affluent city-state’s market. Seize additionally relocated its HQ from Malaysia to Singapore, gaining a wealthy expertise pool. And in lots of locations, Seize sought funding from and generally employed members of rich conglomerate households. One instance of a return perk: By means of a relationship with homeowners of the luxurious Shangri-La Lodge chain, Seize secured prime pickup lanes at the lodges.

Trying Forward

Seize isn’t missing huge world backers both. Key buyers embody SoftBank and Uber itself, which swapped its ASEAN belongings for shares of Seize when exiting the area. As soon as Seize and the Gojek-Tokopedia entity each get IPO money, their rivalry shall be one thing to look at. Maybe most notably, the way forward for these two up-and-comers will function a check case for the way forward for the superapp enterprise mannequin.

Seize’s superapp cluster is leaner than Gojek’s however nonetheless potent, simply by advantage of getting the pivotal payment-and-finance core. However Gojek’s streaming leisure might be a robust trump card. What it buys is consideration—participating folks to place your stuff on their screens to start with, and conserving them engaged. And when the GoTo merger provides on-line purchasing to the Gojek portfolio, that’ll create a drive to be reckoned with.

With their superapp performs, each Seize and GoTo are aiming for territory far past Uber’s gambit of providing ride-sharing plus different types of transport with a number of burgeoning supply providers. This trajectory appears to make sense. Trip-sharing, wherever it’s been tried, appears greatest suited as a loss chief for constructing a person base to which to promote merchandise. These two Asian giants have out-innovated their American counterparts by bundling providers that drive monetary efficiency greater, leaving conventional ride-sharing apps ready at the taxi stand.

Vinnie Lauria is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur turned investor. He’s a managing accomplice at Golden Gate Ventures, a Singapore-based VC fund.