Vidit Agrawal, co-founder of Indonesian startup GajiGesa, knows that crazy growth is nice. But endurance is better.
“Everyone talks about profitability these days. I hope that sticks. Building a revenue-based or profitable business is something I’ve advocated for over the years,” Agrawal told CNBC Make It.
GajiGesa is in the business of “access to earned wages”, which means that the company allows workers to withdraw their earnings as they are earned rather than waiting until the end of the month to be paid. Gaji means “salary” while “gesa” means “haste” in Bahasa Indonesia.
“Vidit is a fantastic person who always pushes the boundaries, always tries something new to help the whole ecosystem,” said Anuj Kumar Maheshwari, CFO of retail distributor Kanmo Group, a client of GajiGesa.
“Our HR department uses [GajiGesa] as [a part of] the employer brand, where we can attract talent [with the perk] to be able to withdraw [portions of their salaries] before the end of the month,” Maheshwari said.
It was a “visually crazy” scene – loan sharks circulating on both sides of a factory in Semarang – that led Agrawal to found GajiGesa in 2020 with his wife, Martyna Malinowska, who heads up engineering and products.
“On the one hand, they were trying to [lend] money to workers. On the other side, they were trying to collect money from the workers,” said Agrawal, who held leadership positions at Uber, Stripe and Carro for almost 8 years.
“It’s such a bad experience. The workers had no choice,” Agrawal said. The average Indonesian worker earns around 2.9 million Indonesian rupees ($192) a month and struggles to make ends meet.
A human resources manager from restaurant management PT. Inovasi Kuliner Indonesia said they receive many phone calls from “screaming” loan sharks who have loaned money to their employees.
“The phone calls stopped two or three months after we started using GajiGesa,” Ria Al’amin said.
Today, there are 42 different features – which include paying electricity bills, buying prepaid refills or gas vouchers – on the GajiGesa app.
GajiGesa partners with over 300 companies and serves over 750,000 employees.
Agrawal says GajiGesa is the biggest player in access to earned wages in Indonesia. “I’m not just saying that [myself]. When you talk to investors in the market, who talk to everyone involved in wage access, they tell us we’re the biggest,” he said.
“At the same time, we’ve never over-hired, so it’s a blessing not to have to lay off,” Agrawal said, as tech cuts continue to mount in Southeast Asia.
The entrepreneur shared more about how he runs a business that lasts:
1. Sustainability first, growth second
Agrawal doesn’t believe in using incentives to keep users engaged, where “he’s seen so many companies” do. If a product does not work, it will stop it.
“If I have to pay $2 to earn $1, that’s not a business,” Agrawal said.
Although they offer incentives when onboarding a new business, they do not continue to incentivize existing users.
The key is to balance growth with sustainability.
“I’m okay with giving up 100% growth or 100x a year growth if I can build a sustainable revenue-based business,” Agrawal said.
He said that in the Malaysian used car market Carro, where he was COO, they had a principle called frugality balanced with quality, which he now applies to his startup.
“We don’t want to give up on quality, but we also want to be frugal as a business,” he said.
2. Cut the Extra “Fat on the Bone”
He was so frugal that his employees got angry and called him “cheap”.
“We’ve never had fancy dinners. But we don’t compromise on fun. We’ve had events in the office where we’ve cooked meals. were really entertaining,” Agrawal said.
He would also negotiate a 5% discount, even if the company has the money to pay it. “Wherever we see extra fat on the bone, we try to remove it,” he added.
“When people join GajiGesa, they think, why does the CEO really care about that $10 cost? Doesn’t he have better things to do? If I can eat the cheapest meals but always healthy, or if I can travel on a budget, I want my team to see that.”
They were already cutting costs for the first two years of operation despite having $9 million in the bank, he said.
GajiGesa raised a $2.5m seed round in February 2021 and a $6.6m pre-Series A round in November 2021. Investors include January Capital, Northstar Group, European data access company salaries earned from Wagestream and Next Billion Ventures.
But he pointed out that they are spending on essential things for the business.
“We don’t compromise on engineering. We don’t compromise on technology tools. We don’t compromise on commissions for our top performers,” Agrawal said.
3. Take care of employees
When he was at Stripe, he learned to take care of people. “Stripe really treated you like a human being, not a number,” Agrawal said.
All full-time employees of GajiGesa receive stock options.
“We all have to pay our bills and take care of the family. If the business is doing well and there is a good exit in any form, the team gets real value out of it,” Agrawal said. .