Departure from Traveloka and starting a new chapter
It’s been a while since the last time I published updates about my journey (See also: Jakartaglobe.id, originally from Quora). Ferry and I decided to drop out from school and quit job respectively to return to Indonesia and start Traveloka in February 2012, close to 7 years ago, and soon after Albert joined as the third co-founder. While my goal was to build a technology company in Indonesia with Silicon Valley quality bar, Ferry wants more to build a business empire, and these two driving factors proved to be a productive combination, which not many startups in the region can claim to have.
Traveloka’s initial years weren’t easy, involving many pivots and exploring different business models, and breaking through various technical and partnership roadblocks especially given how immature the industry and infrastructure were back then, with no earlier examples to follow. Year 1–2 was primarily about breaking zero-to-one technological and partnership barriers on our primary offerings, flight and hotel reservations, through various technological innovations on payment, supplier integration, business processes, apps development. A couple years was all it took for us to be a market leader in Indonesia, starting from zero. Year 3–4 was the period of growing pains and when I ensured we invest on refactoring and rearchitecting, beefing up technology & organizational infrastructure, people processes and policies, and clarifying cultures and values, to support fast growth and market expansion of our products to multiple markets. Year 5–6 was the period of reorientation, where platform/superapp and payment/fintech battles gained attention from investor and media standpoint, and the company broadened its focus and started to change its orientation. Though I’m increasingly at odds with many company decisions during this period, I ensured we invest in deeper tech capabilities like various data science & machine learning domains, economics, content & discovery platform, and other carved-out common domains and streamlined core business processes, aside of further beefing up our organizational design, to ensure we are prepared for an increasingly challenging and fast-paced future. We also expanded our tech offices into Singapore and Bangalore and expanded our tech talent base into more than 12 nationalities during this period, solidifying our reputation as a talent magnet across multiple countries.
As was my original goal, I have tried to bring the company as close as possible to Silicon Valley tech company ideals that is still possible within the constraints of the battles and landscape dynamics in Southeast Asia. However, starting a few years ago, the battle starts to show trends towards being more commercially-driven than innovation-driven, predatory than productive, perception-oriented than fundamentals-oriented. While one can argue it might be a necessary stage (debatable) in SE Asia tech landscape, I gradually realized that this game is no longer for me, and among other reasons, the consideration for an out-of-band exit becomes more appealing.
With the full support of my co-founders and investors, after a long negotiation process finally we agreed in all aspects on my clean break from Traveloka, and the end of 2018 turns out to be the perfect time for this. First, Traveloka has been undergoing a gear change for a while to focus more on business and commercial expansion, and the technological transformation job and charter setting for new capabilities are pretty much done. Second, starting almost 2 years ago I have ensured Traveloka has strong technological, organizational foundations built for scale and sustainability, and put in place a solid senior team that can take them forward, although I haven’t successfully hired my own successor (but it’s less of a worry). Third, Traveloka’s future runway is secured with a concurrent financing round from a mix of old and new investors. Fourth, I have reached a level of conviction and readiness to start my next chapter in career and life.
A solid transition plan is in place where the current engineering and data organization is restructured to allow for continuity under a small committee of existing senior tech leaders, at least initially in the current absence of a successor to CTO role. Given the strong infrastructure and institutions we have, there shouldn’t be much risk to the company’s continuity. By end of December, I will no longer represent Traveloka in any way and I will be indifferent and detached from any future company directions, strategies, company culture. I still care about improving lives in Southeast Asia in general, but I have my own theory on how to best do that.
This almost 7-year journey in Indonesia taught me a few things. I learned that complex landscape dynamics and incentives shape the games we play, and consequently the necessary strategies. I learned a lot of war-time skills to operate in hostile and low trust environment, something I never learned in my previous chapter in the US. I also learned that I am an idealist with a strong value boundary that I will allow no one to violate. And we can’t control the strategies needed to play the game if the rules of the game are already set, but we can choose the game we play. Choices are often not clearly right or wrong, and are instead based on tradeoffs. To each one’s own.
I’m excited for the newfound freedom that will allow me to refocus on spending more time and investing in what I love, people I care about, the mission I feel called to do, new things to learn, and my holistic health in general. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with old and new friends, networks, partners, personally and professionally across two continents over the next few months.
I’ve also been yearning to develop technology to help fundamentally transform society, and I’m grateful for the privilege to have the freedom and acquired preparation to start out something that is more aligned with my ideals. We’ll do exactly this: using technology to help solve trust deficit problem in today’s society by employing insights from cognitive systems and mechanism design. It’s going to be another long journey that needs to be started from zero and paced with deliberation and resolve, and this time I’m not going to compromise any of my ideals and will invest in the right foundation. Stay tuned and will keep you updated!
I’m glad that we have finally reached this milestone where I believe it’s a win-win for everyone involved. Thank you for all current and past team members, partners, investors, supporters, that have helped us reach this point. I wish my co-founders Ferry, Albert, and the rest of Traveloka team the best for the next stages of the journey ahead. I still maintain good relationships with people inside Traveloka and in the ecosystem, and will be available for anyone to reach out to help with anything.
See you again in the new chapter!
See also the official press release: https://press.traveloka.com/departure-cto/