Head to the streets of Jakarta and you will see an army of green-uniformed motorcycle taxis on the roads providing fast transportation, delivery, shopping, cleaning and even massage services. All via mobile. Go-Jek, an app-based motorcycle taxi service, is one of the fastest growing and most visible tech startups in Indonesia.
Go-Jek is derived from the Bahasa word ojek—unlicensed motorcycle taxis. Ojeks’ popularity emerged in the mid-'90s as a response to the city government’s ban on rickshaws. They’ve also proved to be a nimble solution to gridlock.
The rise of Go-Jek has been meteoric. It’s hugely convenient, doing away with waiting around at taxi (ojek)-stands and interminable haggling. And affordability is also a powerful draw. But beyond these obvious aspects, there’s a deeper cultural fit.
In a country where corruption has been normalised and there is no real trust in the government, banks or big corporations, Go-Jek is very strong in three key areas: humanity, transparency and what anthropologists call agency.
In a country where people instinctively look askance at large organisations, individuals—even strangers—are, by contrast, always given the benefit of the doubt. They are seen as much more likely to be moral and trustworthy and much more likely to be accountable than a big, faceless corporation. Go-Jek allows users to see and track their driver. They see a face, a name and a contact number. The drivers are front and centre in the relationship, not the company name. A driver’s call to let his fare know that he is on his way increases the sense of security and reassurance.
Moreover, Go-Jek cultivates a culture of honesty and transparency through its user experience. For passengers, fares are clearly explained and shown upfront. For vendors, the app provides clear policies, efficiency and rapid training.
With its C2C platform, Go-Jek also appeals to an intrinsic human need to feel in control of events: agency. On the supply side, it empowers the everyday driver to be his or her own boss by providing a simple-to-operate infrastructure, with technical support readily at hand. On the demand side, the clear-cut interface allows customers full control over all aspects of their order. A similar service, Go-Clean, enables customers to dictate all aspects of their order, from the timing, areas to be cleaned and number of cleaners, right down to specific chores they want settled.
Go-Jek’s ability to connect gives it something of a social enterprise feel. Its service is highly compelling: It helps cut through the jams, with a fast, affordable and highly accessible means of getting around. At the end of the day, Go-Jek feels like a service that is by the people, for the people.
In some ways, it’s the perfect brand. A service offering that delights consumers. A product delivering highly relevant benefits. A cultural resonance that runs deep. And a social purpose that’s not nailed on, but which is at the heart of what the brand does. How many brands, be it in developing or developed markets, can say that?
Widad Jamil is project director in Jakarta and Nigel Lim is research executive in Singapore with Flamingo.