For its next trick, Bukalapak will get Indonesia’s rural population to shop online

You may think of Bukalapak – Indonesia’s most recently minted unicorn – as an ecommerce company.

But co-founder and CEO Achmad Zaky thinks it’s a lot more than that.

“Ecommerce is just one of our businesses,” he said while being interviewed on stage at Tech in Asia Tokyo 2018 today. “We also have finance, as well as logistics.”

Zaky says Bukalapak today is a small business ecosystem, serving offline merchants who want to enhance their online presence – from farmers to solo entrepreneurs and “mom-and-pop” stores – as well as online-only sellers.

“We help small businesses grow and empower them,” he said. “Online we have about 3 million [merchants]. Offline, we have 1 million small businesses using us.” Most of those are individuals running their own businesses, he added.

In the past couple of years, Bukalapak has begun to move into financial services, providing loans, credit, and insurance options, as well as mutual fund and gold investment products, for both users and merchants.

“I come from a rural area in Indonesia,” he said. “My co-founder has the same profile. We felt like Indonesia has so many small businesses. There are big corporations – a few hundred of them – then very little in the middle, then small and micro-businesses that number in the tens of millions. That’s why we came up with the idea – how can we build tech or software to give them a weapon, to get up to the middle?”

Zaky’s co-founder and Bukalapak’s president, Muhamad Fajrin Rasyid, revealed earlier today that the company has signed up over 300,000 warung(roadside kiosk-cum-general store) owners as agents over the past year.

Shoppers without internet access – or who don’t feel comfortable making purchases online – visit their local agent, place an order, and pay for it in cash. Agents then use an online app provided by Bukalapak to buy from the company’s site, and earn a commission for each order they make. “The warungs allow a majority of Indonesian customers to transact on the online marketplace through people that they know,” Rasyid told Bloomberg.

It also helps these types of small businesses to see the upside of online selling, and can encourage them to participate more in Bukalapak’s platform.

Ecommerce penetration remains low in Indonesia, with a majority of the population lacking internet access. Only about 10 percent of Indonesians regularly shop online at the moment. The Bukalapak team is hoping that, with several hundred thousands of warungs on board, they can tap the remaining 90 percent.

Zaky told the audience in Tokyo that Bukalapak’s overheads are low, since the company is only providing software to handle orders rather than physical assets. What’s more is that he and his team have several years of experience under their belts; they’ve been convincing traditional mom-and-pop stores of getting online and selling through Bukalapak since they launched the company in 2010.

“After we launched, I visited some small businesses and asked them to join,” he said. “It was a very hard process. If I visited 20 small businesses in a day, maybe one joined.”

Many of the micro-entrepreneurs he managed to win over didn’t even have an email address to sign up with, so he helped them set up email accounts.


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