Attaining ‘unicorn’ status is no easy feat for a business.
A common definition for a ‘unicorn’ in the business world is a privately held start-up company valued at over USD1 billion. Given its rarity, there aren’t too many people who can say that they co-founded a unicorn start-up.
One such person who can say so, however, is Fajrin Rasyid, the Co-Founder and President of Bukalapak, an e-commerce company headquartered in Indonesia.
Fajrin was in Brunei Darussalam recently, featured as an invited speaker at the Youth Entrepreneurship Plenary 2019 held at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Berakas in conjunction with the 14th National Youth Day celebration.
Bukalapak was founded by three people – Fajrin and fellow tech enthusiasts Achmad Zaky and Nugroho Herucahyono.
“We were actually classmates back in college at Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB),” said Fajrin during a session at the Youth Entrepreneurship Plenary.
“The three of us were computer science majors and when we graduated from ITB in 2009, we were thinking of creating a business, and the business that we were thinking of was in IT.
“So we started as an IT consultant, developing websites for clients and essentially a project-based company, but then we thought, ‘maybe it’s also good for us to create our own products, our own websites and applications’.
“And we saw what happened with e-commerce markets at the time in 2009. We saw what happened with Amazon, Alibaba and other leading e-commerce players around the world. We thought that maybe it’s good to create a similar thing in Indonesia, because at the time there was no such thing.”
“That’s why we created an e-commerce marketplace platform. We named it Bukalapak. Buka means open and Lapak in Indonesia means informal stores or stalls, so meaning that we wanted to create a platform where everyone can open the stores in the online platform that we created.”
Fast forward to the present, and Bukalapak has a valuation of over USD1 billion and empowers more than 3.5 million small and medium enterprise (SME) sellers with almost 70 million users.
The company helps traditional mom-and-pop stores be on the same playing field as modern retailers. There are over two million warungs across Indonesia connected to Mitra Bukalapak app, which makes Bukalapak the biggest warung network in Indonesia.
Bukalapak is now also the first Indonesian homegrown marketplace to be available for international market. Millions of Indonesian SMEs can export goods to the consumers from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Brunei Darussalam through Bukalapak.
During the plenary session, Fajrin shared some advice for the local youth and entrepreneurs in attendance with regards to getting support from investors.
He highlighted that it is key to prove that your business actually works, and that you need to have a good plan to convince investors to invest in your company.
“Some people say things like ‘I want to start a business but I don’t have investors and things like that,” he said.
“The good thing about a start-up is you actually don’t need to have a big amount of capital. It’s actually good if you start the business bootstrap, meaning that you fund it by yourself first, up to the point that you can actually show good traction – proof that this is actually working. That’s when if you go to the investors you will have more negotiating power.”
Speaking to the Bulletin, Fajrin shared the motivation and thinking process he and his co-founders had when they started their journey with Bukalapak.
“One was the inspiration from global market – Amazon and the rest. That to some extent made us a bit confident that there might be some truth that something similar to that is potentially going to be successful as well in Indonesia.”
He highlighted, however, that when developing something, it needs to be tailored to the local market.
“The second thing is from the market itself. We came from a modest background. We came not from Jakarta, but essentially from second-tier cities in Java, so we also saw how the typical SMEs in Indonesia look like – their limited presence, only selling to their neighbourhood.
“We thought that maybe there is a potential for them to be scalable if we can provide the technology so that they can actually sell to other cities across Indonesia.
“So combine those two, obviously that’s a hypothesis, but to us it’s a hypothesis that we thought was worth it to try to develop.”
When asked for his thoughts on how one finds the right people to work with, the first tip he shared was to do with capability.
“The team needs to be able to solve the problems and the ideas you want to implement,” he said. “If you’re looking into food business, then you need to become a chef or have a partner who is a chef.”
Just as important as capability is character, he said. “You know the character – what kind of people can be suitable with your character as well. In terms of the personality, it’s something that’s not rocket science, but something you can feel by yourself.”
Continuing the food business example, he said, “If you know that someone is a very good chef but the character is not suitable to you, then don’t.”
Sharing some more advice for budding entrepreneurs in Brunei, he said, “I think that you need to focus on your customers, whether it’s a problem that you want to solve and how can your products actually solve them.”
“So instead of creating products because you think it may work, find a problem that Bruneians find as a pain point and invent a product to solve that.”
Lastly, when asked whether there are any specific plans for Bukalapak to create more of a presence in Brunei, he said, “We like to keep experimenting. Experimenting means we like to try the idea on a small scale first and then see how it goes. If it turns out well, then we increase the investment.”
He noted BukaGlobal, the feature that allows buyers from outside of Indonesia to shop at Bukalapak. The feature is available for shipping to various countries, including Brunei.
“So BukaGlobal right now is the first step,” he said, adding that they are now assessing and evaluating these features. “Going forward, if it turns out to be very good, then it’s possible for us to increase the investment here.”