Tokopedia CEO defied critics to start multibillion dollar company
Today, William Tanuwijaya is a formidable force.
As CEO of e-commerce site Tokopedia, the 39-year-old represents a quarter of the leadership of the newly merged GoTo Group, Indonesia’s most valuable tech company.
But his company may never have seen the light of day without his determination in the face of criticism.
“Tokopedia’s story almost ended before we even started,” Tanuwijaya told CNBC Make It.
Inspired by American icons
Tanuwijaya was only in his twenties when he made it his mission to “democratize e-commerce” by creating a website for millions of Indonesian small business owners to sell their products online.
It was then in the mid-2000s and the Internet was taking off in the country. But in the absence of an established tech industry or local models from which to learn lessons, Tanuwijaya had to turn to the bigger ones.
“We don’t have a success story like Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs or Jack Ma. There hadn’t been such a story of Indonesian entrepreneurs building tech companies back then,” he said. -he declares.
Inspired by their stories, Tanuwijaya knew that he, like them, would have to raise private investments to get his idea off the ground. But as a young Indonesian from a rural background and humble beginnings, he soon realized that he didn’t fit the mold.
“They were asking me questions about my personal background (…) at which university I studied,” Tanuwijaya said, recalling his conversations with investors.
“I’m not from the Ivy League,” said Tanuwijaya, who studied at Binus University in Jakarta while working nights in an internet cafe to support her family. “I still think of myself as a graduate of an internet cafe.”
Then they would ask him about the larger market opportunity.
“They would ask me, William, can you name a person who has been successful in Indonesia because they are starting a technology company or an internet business?” ” he said.
Despite being home to the world’s fourth-largest population and a rapidly growing middle class, investors were unsure of Indonesia’s potential or if he was the man to realize it.
“Your idea is very simple,” he recalls, saying. “You want to build the Amazon of Indonesia or the Alibaba of Indonesia. And when will all these global giants hit the market? They have the technology, they have the capital, they have the know-how, they have the resources that you don’t have. How can you compete? “
Adopt the American dream
Then came the day he met a private investor who changed his life forever.
“He said: William, all your role models, these Silicon Valley founders, they were born special, you are not,” Tanuwijaya recalled. “Please stop dreaming, find something more realistic to do.”
For Tanuwijaya, this was the catalyst he needed.
“This is the day I found the purpose of my life because I realized that the reason I wanted to build Tokopedia was to build trust between strangers so that I could start a business anywhere,” did he declare.
Like his American idols, whom he says embody the American dream of self-determination, Tanuwijaya said he discovered a willingness not to be discouraged and to help fellow Indonesian business owners.
“That day, I remembered that Indonesia actually has an Indonesian dream concept,” Tanuwijaya said. “Our founding father, the country’s first president, once said…“ Dream as high as the sky. If you fall, you fall among the stars. “”
“I think it’s beautiful and it’s the Indonesian dream,” he said. “So I decided that whatever happened, I would try to build Tokopedia.”
After launching Tokopedia in 2009, Tanuwijaya and his co-founder Leontinus Alpha Edison quickly secured seed funding from Indonesian investment firm PT Indonusa Dwitama. It has since received membership from SoftBank, Sequoia Capital and Alibaba Group.
Over a decade later, under the GoTo Group, Tokopedia has a network of over 11 million merchants and 100 million active users, who last year contributed 1% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product. , which amounts to $ 1.1 trillion.
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