When one thinks of unicorn and decacorn startups built in India, names like Oyo, Paytm*, and Byju’s spring to mind. One decacorn, however, usually goes under the radar—Gojek. The Indonesian super app startup has relied on an Indian tech backbone to build all its offerings, from payments to ride-hailing to foodtech. 

Gojek’s tryst with India began in 2015. It has since built a reputation within India’s engineering circles for its innovation, both in terms of work culture and product development. Over the years, many of its leaders like Ajey Gore, Sidu Ponnappa, Vikrama Dhiman, and Gokul NS have developed a fan following among developers and engineers. Discussions hosted by them on social media platform Clubhouse regularly attract hundreds of participants. They, among others, have made Gojek synonymous with a “cool nerd” culture. 

“The tenets of all other unicorns are very similar,” explains a former Gojek executive. “In a way, Swiggy, Ola, Flipkart, etc., all borrow their cultures from Western companies like Amazon and Uber. It is heavily borrowed from the American startup success story. Gojek is completely different.”

“A lot of it was inspired from the Agile Manifesto Agile Manifesto Agile Manifesto The Agile Manifesto is a document that sets out the key values and principles behind the Agile philosophy and serves to help development teams work more efficiently and sustainably. Known officially as 'The Manifesto for Agile Software Development', the manifesto detailing 4 Values and 12 Principles. ,” says Prasun Jain, referring to the document that enshrines key tenets of the agile school of software development. Jain, a former employee at Gojek, is presently the current head of product growth and experience at Bengaluru-based fintech unicorn Razorpay. At Gojek, explains Jain, the Agile Manifesto was applied in a product context. “Here was a thing which they believed in, and here was an opportunity at a massive scale. They all just went for it.”

This approach powered Gojek as it scaled its business from US$100 million to US$1 billion, and then beyond even the US$10 billion mark. Along the way, Gojek went from just ride-hailing to tacking on more than 20 different products—from logistics to news and even video streaming—while operating across five countries in Southeast Asia.

Gojek did all this with a tech team of just 300 engineers. These, too, were largely situated thousands of miles away from its headquarters in Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta. In stark contrast, Indian unicorns Swiggy, Paytm, Zomato, and Ola have a combined engineering strength of around 6,000 engineers. Gojek declined to participate in this story, and did not respond to detailed questions sent by The Ken.

Hiring for hires

Gojek’s focus on hiring engineers in India was such that it even acquired the startup behind tech recruitment platform AirCTO in June 2019.

AUTHOR

Pranav Balakrishnan

Pranav writes about the business of moving people and things around, i.e, mobility and e-commerce. Over the past two years, he has written about Ola, Tesla, Flipkart, Amazon, and the increasing role played by Reliance Industries in the Indian technology story. Pranav joined The Ken from Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, specialising in business journalism.

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