Last week, Indonesia started the weekend with a bang when Minister of Transportation Ignasius Jonan released a notification letter that bans all forms of transportation using ride-hailing apps, including superstar startup Go-Jek.
Netizens responded with fury, and, in less than 24 hours, President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo intervened (via Twitter and Facebook). The ban has officially been lifted and customers, business owners and drivers breathed a collective sigh of relief.
On Saturday, I went to a year-end party at a co-working space in Jakarta. As expected, the conversation steered towards the whole fiasco. Basically, almost everybody in the party agreed that the government is showing its absurd side again. “Yeah, our government does have its own share of inconsistencies, but last week was a new low,” party-goers said. Uh-huh.
However, as far as absurd goes, they also agreed that even for the Indonesian government, this is just too weird. Blasting off bans and creating a panic, then taking it away just like that?
The conversation immediately shifted into conspiracy theorists’ territory, with people whispering excitedly, “I believe this is a publicity stunt.”
Go-Jek seems to be the center of this attention. In his Twitter statement – he really is a man of a millennial’s heart— President Jokowi specifically mentioned ‘ojek’, even though Uber and GrabTaxi were also affected by the ban.
He has been known to be friendly with Go-Jek. He was once photographed by the media having lunch with Go-Jek drivers at Merdeka Palace and Nadiem Makarim was one of the startup founders with him on his official visit to Sillicon Valley.
But, until an anonymous source from a certain PR agency speaks up, we can only assume.
But there are two things that we are certain of:
1. 2015 has not always been a smooth year for Go-Jek
Yes, the company is one of the three top trending searches in Google Indonesia, signifying how the startup’s fame has skyrocketed since it was founded in 2011. But, if you head over to Google now and start searching, you might find that not all of the coverage in national media is positive.
2. The fiasco has given Go-Jek its hero status back
Hours after the ban was lifted, Go-Jek sent a newsletter to its customers, thanking them for their continuous support. The company used the hashtag #GoRakyat (#GoThePeople) to stress that this is the victory of ‘ekonomi kerakyatan’ (‘the people’s economy’), a victory for the drivers of Go-Jek.
If Go-Jek really wants to use this momentum to let drivers –informal sector workers who make less than US$30 per day before the creation of ride-hailing apps— win, then improving its public persona is less than half of what needs to be done.
Of all the controversies surrounding Go-Jek this year, I believe that extra focus should be given on the company’s relationship with the drivers themselves.
In June, Go-Jek launched a promo for customers to travel to any destination for less than US$1. This is the promo that launched the startup’s fame – scoring 2.5 million new downloads within two months and growing its roster of drivers until it reached 100,000 by October in Jakarta alone.
But are promos enough to sustain customers?
Seeing how Go-Jek decided to cut off its per-kilometre rate, apparently it is not. The decision led to drivers protesting the decision in November, with the company claiming that the income was cut was due to an existing bug in its system.
Originally seen as a way to improve their financial conditions, Go-Jek drivers also began to speak on local media about how their income decreased as competition got tougher with more drivers on board.
Then, also in November, 1,400 drivers across Jakarta, Bandung and Denpasar were suspended and fined for allegedly creating fake orders. Drivers flocked to Go-Jek offices in the cities to protest the decision, which they deemed unfair and unclear.
The company definitely needs to figure out how to ensure the welfare of its drivers. As a service business, the drivers are the face of Go-Jek, and no, please never use the excuse of “but we’re a startup!” for lousy human resource management because this is people’s livelihood that we are talking about.
I would end this piece with a story of my latest encounter with a Go-Jek driver. On Sunday, I ordered dinner via the startup’s food delivery service Go-Food. When the driver arrived, I was shocked to find two Go-Jek drivers outside of my door.
Was I seeing double?
Apparently not. Ibnu Anshori, the Go-Jek driver who took my order, had a flat tire when he was on the way to deliver the food. Determined to deliver the food on time, he received help from a fellow Go-Jek driver who happened to be nearby.
The second driver then took his colleague to my house, for free, just to help him finish his task.
Such dedication and teamwork.
For the sake of these people, let’s keep an eye on Go-Jek so it will not miss its second chance to be a hero not just for customers, bit for its drivers as well.
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