koprol logoDuring my recent trip to Jakarta for the Yahoo Open Hack Day, I met a lot of budding young web startup founders with interesting yet practical ideas that were applicable to their local markets. Unlike Singapore, startups in Jakarta have to battle with issues like zero government funding and support and low Internet broadband penetration amongst others. Some of these startups were revenue generating but most were not, yet it was inspiring to understand how their startups were funded and how the founders intend to grow them. One startup that caught my eye was Koprol, a foursquare-like location based social networking application.

How Did Koprol Get Started?
Koprol, which was founded by Fajar Budiprasetyo, Daniel Armanto and Satya Witoelar, was initally a side project by a web development company called SkyEight, owned by Fajar and Daniel. SkyEight approached Tulakom Web Design, owned by Satya, as a partner for designing the perfect UI for a new location based social networking site. At the end of 2008, the SkyEight and Tulakom team had managed to launch the web and mobile site and invited a closed group of friends to test the service and provide feedback. What was to follow took the founders by storm. Local blogs started covering their service. Not before long, the mainstream media took notice and the founders were interviewed on a nation-wide TV channel. Due to the influx of new users and interest on their site, scaling was a constant issue for them and the founders decided to focus more on the mobile site and their native Java and Blackberry application (the iPhone application is still a work in progress for them). This is clearly an obvious move since Mobile internet is currently the norm in Indonesia, especially with Blackberry’s 500% sales growth in 2008.

Koprol vs brightkite
Koprol’s usage is very similar to brightkite. Users first find the place, check-in and then post their status or upload a photo. The social network concept is integrated with a “following/follower” method, so with Koprol you can monitor wherever your peers go or visit. It might be an area, a restaurant, anything. You are also allowed to leave comments on their status streams in a threaded conversation. Koprol also lets users suggests new places, restaurants, shopping centers, etc and the information suggested gets moderated by Koprol’s team.

Interestingly, though the concept of location based social networking in Indonesia is still relatively new, most early adopters are familiar with brightkite, a foursquare competitor. Though brightkite has been used in Indonesia, it did not cover most Indonesian locations. This is exactly how Koprol flanked brightkite to be the dominant location based social networking site today. The founders used their local knowledge as their as their networks to populate the platform with enough information, making it much more viable than brightkite.

The Advent of Foursquare
One big question on everyone’s minds right now is, what is going to happen to Koprol now that foursquare is in Asia? Currently, foursquare have expanded to several cities in Asia : Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, etc. And it is a matter of time when they will expand to Indonesia as well. Idealistically, one might argue that Koprol would have a far better advantage due to their local knowledge etc. but with foursquare’s deep pocket of funds and global appeal, it might be a sliding uphill battle in keeping their market share when foursquare does expand to Indonesia. I would reckon that if they still wanted to remain relevant, they should:

(1) Rapidly ramp up their users numbers quickly. This could be through relevant partnerships that can provide traffic leverage. One clear example they did recently was when they announced their partnership with Yahoo! at the recent Yahoo! Open Hack Day in Jakarta. This resulted in a 40% jump in sign ups for that day and an immediate server crash. Koprol will need more such partnerships to grow their user base to a critical level.

(2) Start incentivizing users for updating their information and uploading content. This has not been done yet but I believe it’s a work in progress for the Koprol team. Koprol should find ways to boost their user’s profiles through badges, leader boards, special promotions etc. that will make their users want to stay on the network and continually grow on it. This will greatly help in user retention when foursquare does expand to Indonesia.

(3) Get star names to start using and endorsing their service. This could be both celebrities as well as brands. Yahoo!’s a big proponent of their service. I am sure many more brands would be interested. Getting celebrities on the social networking bandwagon will greatly localize and boost the overall appeal of the service. What’s interesting is that they are currently preparing a “business account” which I am assuming is a paid account for business owners to put their business on Koprol. This could mean that in future, businesses and brands might be interested in giving out discounts for restaurants or shopping centers. Sounds amazing on paper, but I am still skeptical about businesses actually adopting it, considering that most businesses in Indonesia are small mom and pop shops.

Koprol looks like the rising star in the young and upcoming Indonesian startup ecosystem. While they do have a tough challenge ahead, their dedicated base of users seem to be helping them greatly in improving and growing the service. I met Fajar and Daniel personally and I have a lot of respect for them as startup founders. We are hoping they will join us for our e27 echelon event in May 2010, so do look out for them.

In the mean time, if you want to try Koprol, just go to Koprol.com and you can register using your Yahoo! ID or using Facebook Connect.

Note: This is a joint post between Rama Mamuaya and myself