Some see the Southeast Asia expansion itself as a boil-the-ocean strategy thought up by Nadiem Makarim, Gojek’s former CEO, who is now a government minister. (We wrote about Makarim’s exit from Gojek here .)
Devolution of powers
Gojek took an unusual approach to its expansion. It set up overseas operations that are run by local teams with Gojek Indonesia providing tech support. This strategy allows the interface of its local apps, their features, marketing and other facets of the business to vary from country to country. Grab, in contrast, operates one core app across Southeast Asia, although some features vary between countries
The expansion strategy may appeal to investors, but it is impractical, even harmful, to the company in reality, as catching Grab is both ambitious and costly, the technology executive mentioned above added. Indeed, it has been speculated that Gojek’s regional expansion could be as much about distracting Grab away from Indonesia as it is about landing in new territories.
However, it is unclear whether Gojek has made a dent in Grab’s monopoly in the Southeast Asia region. And the Indonesian company’s home base is also under fierce attack from its rival.
Grab has pledged to pour vast sums into Indonesia. The Singaporean company’s marquee investor, SoftBank, has palled up with the Indonesian government, while committing $2 billion towards developing national infrastructure. There are even suggestions SoftBank will help fund a new capital city.
Organised chaos across Southeast Asia
After stepping into Vietnam in August 2018, the company said its local Go-Viet business completed 100 million bookings in its first year. However, despite the bold claims, Go-Viet appears to be in a near-constant state of flux. It is currently in its third leadership cycle following a turnover of executives, which hints at instability and lack of coherent strategy.
Former Go-Viet chief executive Christy Le, who was earlier Facebook’s Vietnam head, resigned in September 2019 after just five months with the company. Her predecessor, Nguyen Vu Duc, had barely fared better, lasting only six months in the role.
Grab retains a dominant 72.9% share of the ride volume in Vietnam, according to a recent report by ABI Research. Go-Viet is pegged at 10.3%—just fractions ahead of local players Be and FastGo.
There are also reasons to be concerned about the management of country teams. In Vietnam, the entire annual marketing budget for the first year was exhausted after just three months, the previously quoted person said, indicating a lack of oversight.
In Thailand, the country Gojek entered following its expansion to Vietnam, there are signs that decisions are made in Indonesia. For example, GET initially worked with capital city Bangkok’s motorbike taxi driver fleets—known locally as Win bikes—despite the approach being costlier than developing its own fleet, an executive from the logistics industry told us. “A local leader wouldn’t do that,” the executive said. “This was a strategy set by Indonesia.”
Gojek has provided a limited window into the success of its service outside of Indonesia, but it does claim the following: