From an app to — A #SuperApp

The backstory of building a campaign for a unicorn startup that doesn’t have product presence in India, but in dire need for quality engineering talent.

Adithya Venkatesan
Life at Gojek


Transport company.

That’s all I knew of GOJEK before wanting to join the Southeast Asia unicorn a little over a year back. I did some reading and realised GOJEK is a lot more than a transport company, but that scale was never conveyed outside of Indonesia. I saw an opportunity to do some creative work, and without the the usual marketing that comes alone with having a product in the home turf, this seemed like an interesting challenge. And what a challenge it has proven to be since 🤪 .

TL;DR: This post details the backstory of how a 2-person team launched a marketing campaign in India to attract the best engineering talent available in the country.

Perceptions can be a resilient bug. And the perception around GOJEK was something like this before I joined:

A ride-sharing company like Uber, but with scooters, not cars.

My first meeting back in 2018 was with our PR agency on record for 2 years. Their overarching message — ‘Without a product…it’s difficult to…’, ‘Can we get Nadiem (Our CEO) to speak to the media.’, ‘Let’s take some journos to Jakarta and show them the app’. I did what any marketer worth his/her salt would do: Got rid of the agency.

Not having a product in India is a boon, not a bane. It gives us the unique chance to focus on building an org around smart engineering — our core value proposition.

If Uber is renowned for its engineering in the Valley and Airbnb for its design, there’s no reason why GOJEK can’t be the gold standard for engineering AND design in India — more so when we have only 300+ people managing 18 products. I saw an opportunity, not the downside. If anything, this was a treasure trove. Here was a chance to build something from scratch instead of worrying about an irate customer complaining why his/her food was not delivered on time.

Don’t preach, show.

I wanted to change the entire description of what GOJEK would be called. To move away from the transport epithet, I borrowed Connie Chan’s phrasing of the ‘Super App.’ This would be the perfect description of GOJEK’s vision of mishmashing a whole range pf products and services into one app. But no one defined what a Super App was and we had to build a bit of IP around it. We had to architect an entire vision around what makes GOJEK a Super App and what that would mean. For this, I would need buy-ins from senior stakeholders and more.

I pitched the idea and it seemed good, but would I be able to really uphold this vision of the Super App? Maybe? Maybe not? Maybe i’m just a flake with a bunch of ideas, but might never see it all through. You don’t walk into a company and demand things be given to you. You earn it. I had to earn my dues. The easiest way to do this is to speak the language. And GOJEK’s language is engineering. I wanted to pick a complex engineering problem and storify the living daylight out of it. The simple idea: Prove that engineering problems are fun to read for a mass audience.

The ‘Allocations’ story:

That’s how the first story about our Allocations team was written, and is our most read article till date. It became the bellwether article for GOJEK and we shared it at conferences, used it in our recruitment pitches, gave talks about it, organically got a tonne of PR coverage around problems we’re trying to solve and lastly, obviously, we splurged enough money to promote it on social media.

But above all, it gave me buy-in. And buy-ins are important. It gives confidence to senior leadership that you can walk the talk. As strong custodians of the brand, an outsider needs to win trust. There’s no escaping this, no matter which org you work for. Newbies who want to change the status quo and want to 10x everything, prove your mettle first. Avocado holding won’t cut it. 😝

Let’s make this Super — Super App

Objectives, goals, measurement metrics for success, budgets, content pillars, digital media spends, copy, hoardings, radio theatre ads? (ooo, yes.) et all.. We had to do everything. Not going to bore you with the usual rigmarole of getting all the ducks in order. (But we were sure on one thing — If we had to do this right, we had to make a big splash)

BUT… We also had to convince management. And the pitch was fairly simple:

This is what we are perceived to be, like it or not.

How do we change that? Before that, a quick story:

Anyone? Someone?
Pat came the reply. THAT’S ELON MUSK. EVERYONE KNOWS!!

The guy on the right is Ma Huateng and his net worth is twice that of Elon Musk. But no one knows much of Huateng. He’s the founder of Tencent — the parent company of Wechat, a Super App of epic proportions. What’s going on here? Stories that happen in Asia, don’t really percolate to the rest of the world; no matter how huge or how important they are.

For context on what I mean:

If China has an unshakable and obvious language barrier, so does Indonesia. BUT, it’s not as pernicious as China. A lot more Indonesians are comfortable with English and incredible stories around Indonesia’s culture and hyper-growth tech scene are getting lost in the din of everyday reportage around Facebook’s misgivings and Theranos’ scandals. 🤷‍♂️😉

The big promise:

  1. Increase awareness of what GOJEK is.
  2. Narrate stories around the complex problems we’re solving in the fourth most populous country in the world.

This in turn will have trickle-down effects to get the brightest talent to consider GOJEK instead of a Facebook, or Twitter, or Google.

All signed-off we were good to go. Phew, that took some time. But here we are.

A partner in crime

In keeping with GOJEK’s philosophy of lean teams, the marketing team in Bangalore was a massive number — 2 people. Me and Sumanth Raj Urs. It took a good 3 days to convince Sumanth, because he’s a nice guy. 😝. But above all, you need a worker bee, someone who’ll pour their heart and soul into work. You need a good cop to your bad cop. Sumanth was the man in the trenches, focusing on budgets, getting deals cut, hustling approvals and picking the rotten apples. 🙏

Then, bureaucracy hit us. For a while. Then, finance hit us. For a while. Then, existential crisis. Do we really need to do this?


Having a partner in crime is vital. It’s never a one-man show. And Sumanth picked-up when I was frustrated. We pushed each other and kept at it. While I selfishly focused on the creative work, he more than willingly did all the dirty work I didn’t want to do — two peas in a pod style. 😂 This was immensely critical if we needed to ever see this campaign take shape.

We redefined what hustling means. Many sleepless nights, a lot of bickering with internal teams and a tonne of meetings later, we had everything in place. We were ready. This was our moment to ship #SuperApp.

In the next post, I’ll detail out some of our assets and how we ‘launched’ a campaign without a product. The bottomline: Bangalore should be #009444. (The hex colour for green 😈)

Second part of the story here

If you have ideas, comments, suggestions, please feel free to ping me on twitter — @adadithya. Would love to know what you think of the campaign (if you’ve seen it offline or online)



Adithya Venkatesan
Life at Gojek

Brand Marketer. Twitter: @adadithya. Travel fanatic. Wildlife lover. Voracious reader. Cenosillicaphobic. Logophile. Past: @gojektech @reuters @ACJIndia