When e27 visited TemanJalan‘s new office at the LINE Indonesia’s headquarters, the carpooling startup was just a week old in the new place. But its Co-founder Fauzan Helmi Sudaryanto feels they already have many things to learn from the instant messaging behemoth.
“As a startup we tend to be really scrappy, we like to find our own style [in doing our work] … But here we are being exposed to millions of users. We should try our best to reduce risks although we do enjoy taking risks. So it has to be a calculated one,” he says.
The carpooling platform recently scripted history when it got acquired by Japanese/South Korean messenger platform LINE.
Started off as a standalone mobile app for Android and iOS devices, TemanJalan later pivoted to a chatbot-based service for users on LINE. The startup’s relationship with the messenger began when it was staring at bleak future after it registered a stagnant growth. “We gathered users’ feedback and one of them said, ‘Everybody is on LINE these days. Nobody wants to download another app’,” Sudaryanto says.
Despite the merits in the feedback, TemanJalan was unable to do much here as LINE was yet to open its APIs for Indonesian startups to integrate their services. “I would call it a divine intervention, that a week later, LINE opened its APIs for developers. Without wasting much time, we grabbed the opportunity and built an MVP and a prototype, and launched the app on LINE within two weeks,” Sudaryanto says.
“Within just two months of the integration with LINE, we secured more transactions than what we got in seven months spending on other platforms. We then decided to close down the service on all the other platforms,” he adds. “Soon, TemanJalan drew the attention of LINE, and a few company executives approached us in July this year with a proposal to acquire.”
Sudaryanto says the exit process was rather quick, but he had never planned for it. In the initial days, the startup did not even want to raise external funding, let alone acquisition.
“We didn’t want to take someone’s money and not being able to return it,” he laughs.
After securing an investment from an angel investor, TemanJalan got a VC funding offer from Golden Gate Ventures but it turned down the offer, because they thought ‘too much money could be a problem’. But the VC firm convinced the startup about various benefits of taking VC investments, such as mentoring and networking, and they eventually went for it.
TemanJalan offers a carpool matchmaking service to university students. The platform connects students, travelling on the same route and schedule it through a chat feature. It also offers a gamification feature whereby it allows users to score points that can be exchanged with prizes.
“We enable students to meet new friends everyday…It’s not about going from A to B, but it’s all about [the people] they are going with,” Sudaryanto explains, emphasising the importance of networking for university students.
TemanJalan decision to target campus students came from the fact that its own journey started at a university. The entrepreneurship bug bit the three co-founders Sudaryanto, Caraka Nur Azmi, and Rasmunandar Rustam when they were pursuing a Computer Science degree at the University of Indonesia. They came up with the idea of TamanJalan just months before their graduation.
“We joined competitions together, built products together, and skipped classes together,” Sudaryanto laughs.
“We took the risk to build the startup because we had invested in each other’s time for the previous three years. If we decided to apply for jobs instead, then I am not sure if we could ever meet again,” he adds.
It is not that the startup had never tried to reach out to the other segments in the market. For a while, TemanJalan tried to reach out the professionals segment, but they found out that this segment had “too many constraints.” “We just couldn’t connect with their culture at all, and many users ended up complaining. So that’s when we put an end to it,” he says.
Building a platform that specifically targets students comes with its own unique challenge: sales tend to slow down during semester breaks when there are fewer number of students going to campus on a regular basis. To address thus challenge, the TemanJalan team uses school holidays as an opportunity to build and test out new features for the next semester.
“It’s a kind of a break that helps to balance it out, as we only get to do minor updates during the school season,” Sudaryanto explains.
In July, Rappler Indonesia, based on a survey conducted by LinkedIn Indonesia, reported that entrepreneurs and IT specialists are the top two “dream jobs” among local students. The results indicated the increasing popularity of tech entrepreneurship in the country as represented by the meteoric rise of unicorns, such as Go-Jek or Tokopedia.
Though building their own startup has become the new definition of “cool” among Indonesian students, things are not always as pleasant as it seems.
Sudaryanto speaks about a time when he suddenly lost the motivation to work hard on his startup. Strangely enough, this happened right after his startup closed a funding round with Golden Gate Ventures.
“Before we raised any funding, we used to work like crazy. But once we had an investor on board, we started to slow down as we thought, ‘Phew, we can finally have a monthly salary’,” he begins. “Then I thought, ‘Wait, how did it come to this?’ Eventually I decided to set up a KPI for myself. I had to be able to secure 100 trips per day, and if that didn’t happen, I was not going to receive my salary. And I ended up not getting paid for eight months,” he laughs.
This is when LINE opened its APIs, and this helped Sudaryanto to get his spirit back.
“It was a pressure that I made for myself. I need to constantly push myself,” he laughs.
Sudaryanto also has some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. “Don’t build a startup only to get acquired. Because if we don’t get to that point, we will be extremely exhausted. And I believe that startups that end up getting acquired actually don’t plan that in advance. It just happens.”
“Just focus on building the stuff that matter, as it is going to be tough,” he adds.
TemanJalan users regularly submit “wefie” pictures to the platform as a way for them to secure extra points, that can be exchanged for prizes. While this may seem trivial, seeing the pictures often makes Sudaryanto and his team feeling touched.
“This really makes us happy because we get to connect new people, so that they can even take photos together,” he ends.
Image Credit: LINE Indonesia