When the Jakarta Globe interviewed Jaka Wiradisuria back in 2010, the young entrepreneur had just launched discount website Valadoo from his bedroom with a couple of friends. Today, Valadoo is a booming online travel business partnered with international metasearch company Wego, boasting a reported 500 percent growth in sales in the second quarter of 2012.
Jaka, 26, who often shortens his last name to Wira, has been determined to make it big in business since he graduated from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in 2008. After a three-year stint at multinational manufacturer Procter & Gamble, he decided to forge his own path as an entrepreneur.
Since then, he has tried his hand at everything from renewable energy to probiotic chicken, racking up a total of six failed ventures. But Jaka has taken it all in his stride, remaining convinced that it is possible to build something from nothing.
“So long as we have an Internet connection, we can establish a company,” he said in a recent interview at Valadoo’s shining new office in Kuningan, South Jakarta.
And for Jaka and friends, the startup dream appears to be finally coming true.
From little things
Valadoo started out as a daily deals website similar to Groupon, the Chicago-based discount coupon site.
The name Valadoo was a contraction of “Value Added Discount Online Organizer,” with the double “O” intended as a lucky charm to mimic the success of Internet giants Yahoo! and Google.
Like Groupon, Valadoo worked with local businesses to promote daily specials. Users only needed to print out the coupons from the site, or present the coupon on a smartphone screen to receive a time-limited discount on goods and services. But after about a year of offering daily discounts, Jaka and friends decided it was time to take the business in a different direction.
“We thought we needed to have a much sharper business model than just copying the daily deals models, and finally we came up with travel,” Jaka said.
“There were two reasons: because the three of us were travelers — at least we traveled quite a lot — and also because we thought that there were big opportunities in travel,” he added.
It may sound like a huge leap to go from pushing coupons to arranging trips across the archipelago, but in fact the two businesses turned out to be surprisingly similar. Valadoo users can present travel coupons on their smartphones to redeem the transport, accommodation and activities that they pay for online.
“Maybe now Valadoo stands for ‘Vacation, Activity, Leisure And Destination Online Offerings,’ ” Jaka joked. “But when it comes to branding, it’s just Valadoo.”
The altered business model proved successful, as Jaka and several friends — Budi Sambas, Dicky Sukmana, Amalla Vesta, Ramadion Syam, Husein Febriskamadya, Aryo Suryamas and Bondan Herumurti — were soon able to move out of the bedroom and into a home office in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.
Just a few months later, Jaka came into contact with Wego, an international metasearch company able to compare hundreds of hotel and flight prices across a single platform, providing information on 40 countries in 30 languages.
Wego invited Valadoo to join them in their Kuningan office, where the two teams work in parallel and share information.
For Wego, Valadoo offered insight into the Indonesian market. For Valadoo, the partnership was nothing short of a big break.
Until recently, domestic travel in Indonesia was dominated by big players with decades of experience in providing office-based assistance and package tours. But what these old hands lacked was the momentum to take services online, and a youthful sense of adventure.
“Our approach is much more youthful, a kind of fresh ambience,” Jaka said.
Valadoo is targeted toward the domestic market, offering information in Bahasa Indonesia to local travelers wanting to explore their own country. And the biggest takers come from a younger demographic.
While package tours are often seen as something for the older generation, Valadoo presents adventurous tours with a hip, fresh image. And even more appealing for the younger generation, all of the arrangements can be made online.
“In many ways, Indonesia is already a post-PC environment,” the company said in a statement on its website. “It is the perfect laboratory for social media experimentation.”
The Wego team at the Kuningan office is focused on mobile product development and social media, with Valadoo providing the perfect window into that world.
The biggest market for Valadoo is young professionals and students, known to be early adopters of new technologies.
Young travelers searching the Wego website can link straight through to Valadoo for a host of getaway options. And for a small fish in a growing pond, that link could prove a crucial one in the years to come.
“When we moved into travel, there weren’t so many digital travel players in Indonesia,” Jaka said. “It was a very good move from our end because by the end of 2011, voof! We suddenly had competition.”