The Story Behind Tokopedia’s 10 year journey

Democratizing commerce through technology for Indonesia

Bianca Adriennawati
Aug 17 · 6 min read
Tokopedia Tower, a 53-floor building located in the central business district of Jakarta.

Ten years ago, building Tokopedia was just a dream to our two founders: William Tanuwijaya and Leontinus Alpha Edison. Back then, we did not have 90 million active users monthly nor reached 97% of districts in Indonesia.

All companies did not become big by a day. Similar to Tokopedia, it took us 10 years of fighting challenges to drive more than 1% of Indonesia’s economy.

Tokopedia’s 10th anniversary is a special moment to celebrate. Why? If we trace back 10 years ago, online marketplace was not a popular business model; investors even questioned the company’s potential. Without the persistence work from the founders and the support from Indonesians, Tokopedia would not have survived until now.

This article will trace back to ‘Tokopedia’s one decade journey’: starting from the journey of finding investors to the milestones.

Started with a dream

Tokopedia’s founders: William Tanuwijaya and Leontinus Alpha Edison bersama dua orang teman.

Tokopedia started by the dream of William Tanuwijaya. William, who was born and raised in Pematangsiantar, North Sumatera, lived a very humble life with his family. William loves to read but due to limited resources, he had to wait for his relatives from the nearby town to visit and bring him the latest books they had.

At that time, there were only two choices for his future: to stay at home and live the ‘normal’ life, or move to a big city for better opportunities. Lucky enough, his father and uncle chose the second choice for him. William was given the opportunity to continue his study in Jakarta. He boarded a ship from the Port of Belawan to the Port of Tanjung Priok for 4 days and 3 nights.

In Jakarta, William had a different experience. All the things that were difficult to get at his hometown could be found easily in Jakarta. William realized that it was a rare and valuable opportunity for him, thus he made the best use of time. He worked as an internet cafe keeper at night to pay for his college and to support his life, especially after his father fell ill.

That was the moment when William became acquainted with the internet and realized that the access gap in Indonesia could be resolved with one answer: technology.

In 2007, William had lunch with his co-workers, Leontinus Alpha Edison, and two other people. That was when the idea of Tokopedia born.

The beginning of the journey

William and Leon started a small step to build Tokopedia.

Building Tokopedia was not easy, the absence of successful examples in Indonesia had resulted in many rejections by potential investors. They doubted that marketplace would work well in Indonesia. One investor even said that only special people could make this idea come true, and William was not one of those.

Even so, William and Leon did not give up. While looking for investors, they thought of a suitable name for the marketplace they were going to build. The first name was ‘Belanjaaman.com’. This name aimed to convince potential users that they could do a transaction safely with a joint account system. They also thought of ‘Kopaja.com’, short for ‘Toko Apa Saja.’ However, they didn’t end up using those names. Then it was ‘Tokopedia’: a combination of Toko (shop) and encyclopedia. To the two founders, the name exactly represented their ideas.

After knocking from door to door, William and Leon finally got first funding from an acquaintance who trusted them. Started with a small step by two people, on August 17, 2009, Tokopedia’s journey began.

The objective back then was to make users trust online marketplace. Started in a small office with only a few people, Tokopedia could hook thousands of active users. The first item sold at Tokopedia was the ‘Kami Tidak Takut” (“We Are Not Afraid”), a statement T-shirt produced by local Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Tokopedia’s campaign evolution

In its early years, Tokopedia did not do any paid promotion due to the limited funds. Luckily, many users promoted Tokopedia through word of mouth until it finally reached the media.

On the second day of its establishment, Tokopedia was visited and featured by Tempo Magazine, one of the media in Indonesia. At that time the article was about “Online Mall”.

Tokopedia’s first media cover in 2009.

In its third year — 2012 to be exact — Tokopedia made cinema ads for the first time. Cinema advertisement was chosen because it was more affordable than television.

At that time, Nakama worked hand in hand to produce the video ads. Many of them did more than their own job, from acting out themselves to becoming the scriptwriters, videographers, and so on. When the ad ran, all Nakama watched it together at the cinema with a happy tear.

The unforgettable ads became another milestone for Tokopedia. From there, Tokopedia produced thematic advertisements under an inspiring campaign. In 2018, Tokopedia started “Mulai Aja Dulu” campaign to encourage people in Indonesia to start their first step in realizing their dreams, just like what Tokopedia and millions of sellers did on the platform.

Not just a marketplace

William with Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank.

The year 2014 marked Tokopedia’s new chapter after receiving 100 million USD (around 1.2 trillion Rupiah) fund from Softbank Internet and Media, and Sequoia Capital. This funding allowed Tokopedia to develop various services.

In 2016, Tokopedia began to focus on developing the Digital Products and Fintech businesses. It aimed to help all Indonesian in getting banking services, as well as providing a seamless payment service to pay daily needs such as electricity, BPJS and credit. Tokopedia also launched Train product, allowing people to buy a train ticket in Tokopedia. It is Tokopedia’s effort to democratize commerce through technology in Indonesia.

Tokopedia never stops to innovate. In 2017, Tokopedia launched Deals Products to help people find the best deals from eight main categories, including beauty, travel, and activity. It helps offline businesses to expand their businesses online.

2017 also became one of Tokopedia’s memorable year by moving into a 53-floor building called Tokopedia Tower, located in the central business district of Jakarta. In the same year, Tokopedia received another round of funding at 1.1 billion USD, led by Softbank and Alibaba Group.

In 2018, Tokopedia started its largest annual shopping tradition, “Ramadan Ekstra”. At that time, Tokopedia’s 1-day transaction on May 25, 2018 was equal to Tokopedia’s first 5-year transactions. Small steps from two founders were transformed into thousands of big steps that impacted Indonesia.

Developing Tokopedia’s Super Ecosystem

Tokopedia-UI AI Center of Excellence, the first AI (Artificial Intelligence) development center in Indonesia with deep learning supercomputer technology. This initiative is taken to encourage academics and researchers to use technology, especially AI, in presenting real-life solutions to problems that occur in society as well as industries.

Collaboration is the key in growing over the past 10 years. Together with all Nakama, Tokopedia believes that success can only be achieved by helping others to become successful.

Tokopedia aims to build bridges that connect many people, it connects all services and needs in one platform. Users can now access digital products, marketplace, even financial technology services in one platform easily with their fingertips. Tokopedia is an all-in-one city that answers the needs of the people.

In May 2019, Tokopedia recorded a Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) of Rp. 18.5 trillion. We drove more than 1% of the Indonesian economy. Now with many partners, 90 million active users every month and more than 6.2 million sellers; Tokopedia will continue to develop a Super Ecosystem, where everyone involved is interconnected and able to seize values together.

Nakama, the force behind Tokopedia’s innovation.

The journey of Tokopedia proves that there is no dream people can’t achieve, as long as they dare to start and are willing to work hard to fight for their dreams. Happy 10th anniversary Tokopedia!

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See Tokopedia’s 10th anniversary here:

Also, watch our inspirational TV Show here:

Life at Tokopedia

People and stories behind our work

Bianca Adriennawati

Written by

Life at Tokopedia

People and stories behind our work

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