Traveloka is Likely an Undercover Tech Unicorn of Indonesia

Although CEO Ferry Unardi stays out of the media limelight, tech experts aren’t shy about calling his company one of Indonesia’s most valuable firms to date.    

With more than 250 million people – the majority of whom are under the age of 30 and tech savvy – there is no doubt that Indonesia is a huge internet market. As such, companies worth more than US$1 billion are expected to crop up from time to time. For those of you who don’t speak tech, these companies are often referred to as ‘unicorns’, as they are nearly impossible to capture and super rare. You may be familiar with names like Tokopedia, Bukalapak, MatahariMall, Go-Jek, Blibli, and Elevenia.

To date, Go-Jek is the only confirmed unicorn of the bunch, having raised more than US$400 million in 2016 alone. Many suspect Tokopedia is worth north of US$1 billion, having raised US$240 million this year, although CEO William Tanuwijaya has not released the valuation of his company to the public, and has gone on record saying that he doesn’t care about the unicorn moniker. Most people know that Lazada, which has a large chunk of its business in Jakarta, was recently acquired to the tune of US$1 billion by Alibaba. However, it’s worth noting that Lazada is a regional company, present in markets across Southeast Asia.

That said, many tech stakeholders believe there is yet another unicorn roaming free in Indonesia’s pasture. Traveloka is famous for its secrecy, and has never disclosed any of its funding numbers to the public. Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs alike can’t help but wonder: Is Indonesia’s Traveloka a one-horned mythical creature worth more than US$1 billion?

In 2012, a young entrepreneur named Ferry Unardi returned to Jakarta after dropping out of Harvard to build his own company. Today, Unardi’s firm Traveloka (which began merely as a travel metasearch site) is one of the largest and most reliable online ticketing agencies (OTAs) in the archipelago. In the beginning, Unardi wanted to make the process of purchasing plane tickets and booking hotels hassle-free for Indonesians. It didn’t take very long for the rogue coder to build his startup and overtake local incumbent Tiket.com.

Data from comScore says Traveloka is the number one flight booking site in the nation, not counting official airline websites. In June, Traveloka racked up 11.8 million visits via mobile and desktop, according to web traffic measurement tool SimilarWeb. Back in 2012, there weren’t many other travel booking sites to compete with Unardi’s startup. One year later, however, the market boomed and Traveloka found itself enjoying an early-mover advantage over most other players in the space. The firm also benefitted from a flourishing economy, with the nation’s GDP reaching US$867 billion, and growing at around six percent annually.

To date, Traveloka has only disclosed two of its funding rounds to the public (although it did not publish the amount of capital invested). The first round came from local venture capital firm East Ventures in Traveloka’s first year. The second came a year later from Global Founders Capital (GFC), an investment arm of the famous German company builder Rocket Internet, which is responsible for now-big names like Lazada, Zalora, and Foodpanda in Indonesia. Traveloka was GFC’s first investment in Asia, although previously the firm garnered experience funding other travel metasearch sites like TravelBird, Voopter, and hotel comparison engine Trivago.

Few will dispute that Traveloka is the dominant OTA in Indonesia, but it’s still not without competitors. Tiket.com is still very much a contender, and other players like Pergi, Wego, and PegiPegi are also in the game. All of these firms offer their own versions of online flight and hotel bookings.

That said, Traveloka is clearly in a league of its own, but what keeps the firm on top?

There seems to be no other explanation apart from the site’s ease-of-use and simple booking experience.

Dannis Muhammad, Traveloka’s head of marketing recently said in an interview, “Enabling a reliable and complete online booking service for high mobility lifestyle has become the key […] for our brand to thrive in a fast-changing industry.”

Traveloka’s latest mobile app and user experience does make booking a flight pretty comfy. The site also offers a feature called “Easy Reschedule”, which lets users change the times of their flights directly through the app. Traveloka eliminates the need to get on the phone with an airlines service agent, and that is a priceless asset.

Unardi doesn’t do many interviews, but Traveloka’s marketing activities are ubiquitous. Traveloka’s ads appear in print, online, and on TV. Due to the firm’s relentless advertising and methodical grooming of its product, Indonesians are far and away more familiar with Traveloka than any other local OTA.

Company culture could also play a role. According to data from Jobplanet (a site that can determine the popularity of local businesses in terms of page views from job seekers), Traveloka is so far one of the top ten most desirable tech companies to work at in Indonesia in 2016. Sites like Tokopedia, Bukalapak, Go-Jek, Blibli, and Lazada also top the chart. In mid-2015, Unardi told Tech in Asia that Traveloka employed more than 270 employees.

Unardi also said that he gets inspiration from famous startup veteran Ben Horowitz, the author of best-selling book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Unardi believes the book helped him significantly in building Traveloka. From it, he was able to learn the lesson that people will only pay attention to your business once you have a high number of users and achieve growth. If you want to get public recognition as an entrepreneur, it is the only way.

Last month, Traveloka received the BrandZ award in the “One to Watch” category, released by WPP and Millward Brown. The firm also garnered the highest “Brand Potential” score among all the other private online companies in Indonesia, with a staggering 33 percent of the vote. Tokopedia followed with 22 percent, and Bukalapak grabbed 15 percent.

Millward Brown also revealed that in the last two years, the number of digital commerce brands in Indonesia has skyrocketed. For many otherwise traditional businesses like brick-and-mortar shops, e-commerce has meant a complete overhaul of their public image. Traveloka pulled in 60 percent of the brand strength vote to make it the perceived strongest name in Indonesia’s online sector.

Millward Brown was right to label Traveloka “one to watch”. While the public may never know whether the OTA is truly worth more than US$1 billion, industry stakeholders around the world would do well to watch this likely undercover tech unicorn of Indonesia.

Photo by: Traveloka

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