“The person who succeeds me in the role will be an Indonesian,” says Danan Christadoss, country head of bus-ticketing platform RedBus Indonesia, in a virtual interview with The Ken. Speaking from his brightly lit office in Jakarta, he adds: “I also make sure I let my staff know that from time to time.”

Danan arrived in Jakarta from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru in 2018 to set up the company’s operations. He says they built the business like a local company would. All 32 members of his team are from Indonesia, he points out, adding: “We are an Indonesian company.”

His statements might seem like an image-building attempt. But projecting that the company’s goal is, first and foremost, to serve Indonesians and Indonesian interests is, indeed, the reality for Indian business leaders operating in the archipelagic state. 

Over the last decade, Indonesia being the largest economy in Southeast Asia (SEA) has drawn many Indian startups to its shores. Foodtech platform Zomato was one of the earliest Indian startups that set up shop here in 2013. Then an ad-driven restaurant listing platform, Zomato was impressed by Indonesia’s thriving dining out culture, a large market, and through-the-roof smartphone penetration, says Karthik Shetty, general manager at restaurant-reservation booking platform Chope Indonesia and former country manager for Zomato Indonesia.

Then came an inflection point in the country’s startup ecosystem. In 2014, Indonesian e-commerce platform Tokopedia raised US$100 million. The Sequoia and Softbank-led funding round—the first of this size—opened the floodgates of venture-capital money. Three years later, Sequoia India’s managing director Shailendra Singh moved to the Singapore office, signalling the rising importance importance The Ken Sequoia’s Singapore Sling Read more  of SEA.

Meanwhile, more Indian businesses, such as search and e-commerce platform for new and used cars CarDekho and healthcare app Practo, followed suit, heralding the first wave wave The Ken Strait Up: The rest–Tumultuous ties between India and Southeast Asia’s tech scenes Read more  of Indian entrepreneurship in the country.

The second wave brought an influx of Indian talent in areas like product development, engineering, and growth as the fledgling Indonesian tech market lacked an experienced workforce. For instance, nearly 40% of Indonesian on-demand multi-service platform Gojek’s (now GoTo) senior leadership team is of Indian origin, second only to Indonesians.

Conquering the SEA

Since 2015, Indonesia’s gross merchandise value has expanded at an annual rate of 40%. In comparison, the digital economies of Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore are growing by 20-30%.