In what appears to be a clash of ideals and aspirations, the brains behind Traveloka’s technology, Derianto Kusuma, is leaving the company he co-founded in early 2012. It is telling how a startup that has reached unicorn status is changing. But is it for the better?
Traveloka’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Derianto Kusuma, has resigned, effective November 30, saying “this game is no longer for me” in an article he wrote on the publishing platform Medium.
Kusuma is the technology mastermind behind the Indonesia-based unicorn, a ticketing and hotel booking services company that received a $350 million investment from Expedia last year. He graduated in computer science from Stanford University in 2010, then worked at Microsoft as a software development engineer and LinkedIn as a senior software engineer.
The loss should be palpable. His co-founder and CEO, Ferry Unardi, has always prided his company’s success on being co-founded by people with engineering instead of marketing and banking backgrounds.
It appears to be over a clash of ideals and aspirations.
“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,” Kusama wrote. “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 Southeast 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,” he added.
He will be focusing on developing a new venture in a non-competing category.
In a statement, Unardi said the resignation had been in the works for a few months and a handover was in place, although no mention was made of who would be succeeding Kusama’s role.
“Deri has played an unparalleled role in Traveloka’s development and success by building, scaling, and making not only sustainable technology capability and systems, but also a sustainable organization,” said Unardi.
In the his article, Kusuma said he hadn’t successfully hired his own successor, however a “solid transition plan” was in place. “The current engineering and data organization is restructured to continue 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,” he said.
There are more than 700 engineers in Traveloka’s tech teams around the world including in Indonesia, Singapore and India, among them senior hires from Apple and Google, compared to the early days when there were just him and a group of friends.
One of the things he had learned in the journey was: “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.”
“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,” he wrote.
He believes Traveloka’s future runway is secured with a concurrent financing round from a mix of old and new investors. Last month, Bloomberg reported that Traveloka was in talks to raise a $400 million and seeking to double its valuation to $4.1 billion, while other reports speculated the round was led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC.
Indonesia’s most valuable unicorn presently is Tokopedia, its largest online marketplace which reportedly just raised $1 billion from existing investors including Softbank, increasing its valuation to $7 billion. Tokopedia, ride-hailing Go-Jek, Traveloka and Bukalapak, another online marketplace, are four out of nine unicorns that have received the biggest funding in Southeast Asia, according to a joint report on the Southeast Asian Internet economy 2018 by Google and Temasek.
Traveloka’s spokesperson Sufintri Rahayu, told Skift, “Transformation is an inevitable phase in Traveloka’s journey. Since 2012, Traveloka has gone through many transformations, and Traveloka will still need to continuously transform and evolve to keep innovating and to stay in the lead. Traveloka will continue to grow and focus on achieving our long-term goal, to be a world-class technology company that offers services to millions.
“Technology and innovation will remain the core and priority for Traveloka. Now, with a highly capable tech team, which amounts to 30 percent of the total number of Traveloka’s employees, Traveloka will continue to ensure its technology foundation will remain solid and the gears of innovation to continuously roll.
“Though we are saddened by Deri’s departure, we respect and support his decision and wish him the best for his next venture.”
The Changing Gear of Traveloka
To understand the “gear change” of Traveloka, one only has to look at the internet economy of Indonesia and the region.
Indonesia is firing on all cylinders, the study said, supported by the largest internet user base in the region (150 million in 2018). It has the largest internet economy ($27 billion in 2018) and is the fastest growing internet economy in the region with a compounded annual growth rate of 49 percent between 2015 and 2018. With huge headroom across all sectors, it is poised to grow to $100 billion by 2025, accounting for $4 of every $10 spent in the region.
Online travel is the largest and most established among the four sectors of the internet economy in Southeast Asia, the other three being e-commerce, online media and ride-hailing. Including online bookings for flights, hotels, and, for the first time in the study, online vacation rentals, online travel is expected to add up to nearly $30 billion in gross bookings value in 2018 and is poised to reach $78 billion by 2025.
“We estimate that 41 percent of all travel bookings made in Southeast Asia were completed online in 2018 — up from 34 percent in 2015. Travel bookings keep moving from offline channels, such as traditional travel agents, call centers, and in-person bookings at hotels, to online channels operated by online travel aggregators, airlines and hotel chains.
“This has been driven primarily by the continuous increase in consumer trust for players like Agoda, Booking, Expedia, and Traveloka, which offer a wide range of flights, hotels, vacation rentals, and other travel services,” said the study.
Significant improvements in user experiences on mobile websites and apps, coupled with widespread smartphone adoption, have made online travel bookings accessible to more and more Southeast Asians. “As these trends continue to unfold, we project that up to 57 percent of all travel bookings will be completed online by 2025,” said the report.
A new e-book from Skift Research about startups looks at Traveloka. To learn more, and buy the report, go here.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include comments from Traveloka about its ‘transformation.’
Photo credit: Pictured is an office photo at Indonesia's Traveloka. One of its co-founders has resigned. Bloomberg