William Tanuwijaya is an entrepreneur from Indonesia. He is best known for being the co-founder of Tokopedia, which is an Indonesian e-commerce tech company that is highly pervasive among consumers in the country. A milestone in his career culminated in 2019 when he received the Medal of Honour award (called Satyalancana Wira Karya) from the President of the Republic of Indonesia for his stunning contribution to technology and economic growth in Indonesia.

Born in Pematang Siantar at North Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1981, Tanuwijaya came from a family with a middle income background. From his humble beginnings, he was educated at Harvard Kennedy School. His internet entrepreneurial activities came from his work background with accumulated various IT-related experiences, ranging from software and game developer roles to IT and Business Development Manager role in the 2000s. But his biggest break in internet entrepreneurship began in 2007 when he and his friend, Leontinus Edison, started building Tokopedia, as an e-commerce startup to connect buyers and sellers in Indonesia at no costs. This marketplace startup went on to rule the consumer e-commerce in the huge nation of a population size of 270 million.

Tokopedia started off by getting its funding from Softbank and Sequoia Capital and it was the first Indonesian marketplace to achieve this. These financial companies were crucial behind the success stories of Facebook and Alibaba earlier on. With the funding of $100 million secured from them, Tanuwijaya would change the marketplace scene in Indonesia forever.

How Tokopedia started

Tanuwijaya was often asked about making an online store website when he was a student. He was being tasked to uploading photos and responding to customer chat on websites. This idea sparked his inspiration of creating an online marketplace to be free, simple and reliable. Even in his most difficult time when his own father had already been diagnosed with cancer, Tanuwijaya spurred on together with Edison.

As his father could no longer work, Tanuwijaya had to be the sole breadwinner of the family and had to keep on working. Time was not only the difficult factor for him. Lack of funding was also an obstacle to the early development of Tokopedia. Despite such hurdles he had to face, he would constantly make time for Tokopedia as he was committed in his dream business. He was introduced to the funders subsequently. Eventually, after many presentation setbacks, in 2009, he managed to secure his first funding for the business. A total of 11 pitches was involved before his dream was being realised at the first step.

The initial funding success proved to be worthwhile for Tokopedia. With each passing year, the investment amount grew. Within half a decade, in 2014, Tokopedia grew to 300 employees from an initial size of only 4 employees earlier. The funding from Sequoia Capital and Softbank proved to pay off.

Business of Tokopedia

Other than the marketplace, Tokopedia also provides a free business platform for customers and sellers in a C2C way. The well-known brands also have official stores online to conduct their B2C business. Digital products such as credit, utility payments, flight tickets, concert event tickets, credit cards and many more are available. In 2016, the financial technology (Fin Tech) products and services came into Tokopedia and were sold under Mitra Tokopedia application. They include digital wallets, virtual credit cards and loan services. They aimed to grant Indonesians an easy and affordable access to these financial products.

A year later in 2017, Deals Products from the top shopped categories of beauty and travel are launched. Its purpose was to help users find the best deals. Offline businesses can also leverage on the Deals Products for online business expansion.

In the years 2017 and 2018, Tokopedia has raised US$1.1 billion each from funding. Under Tanuwijaya’s direction, by November 2019, Tokopedia has over 7 million merchants and 200 million different products. Korean K-pop stars, BTS and Blackpink became official ambassadors to Tokopedia.

An integrated fulfillment and logistics system was also established to support its marketplace business. By using this service, customers are able to select their preferred package arrival time that would suit the logistics providers too. In 2020, during the height of the global coronavirus pandemic, this service has pervaded almost 100% of district of Indonesia.

William Tanuwijaya during COVID-19

The coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic hit many companies and businesses hard and caused a heavy economic downturn. But it also saw a new wave of opportunities for many industries. Tanuwijaya and Tokopedia transformed many companies digitally during this period. In fact, the digital transformation is boosted by the COVID-19 pandemic and even accelerated further.

As of September 2020, the number of sellers in the Tokopedia platfrom had risen from just 7.2 million in January to more than 9.4 million. More than 100 million visit the platform every month. This was told by William Tanuwijaya in an email interview with the Jakarta Post.

Champion among the sellers are those from the food and beverage sector as many restaurants and coffee shops had to close their physical shops and were on the lookout for digital platform to sell their products. Many sellers had actually made more sales through selling on the platform than offline methods. Coffee was a very popular product in Tokopedia. 90% of sales from a coffee shop called Klinik Kopi were generated via Tokopedia.

In November 2020, Singapore sovereign wealth fund, Temasek Holdings, had agreed to invest US$350 million into Tokopedia. This came after Temasek recognised its stellar performance in business through online shopping during the pandemic.