Vidit Agrawal, co-founder of Indonesia-based startup GajiGesa, knows that crazy growth is nice. But the staying power is better.
“Today everyone is talking about profitability. I hope it sticks. Building a profitable or revenue-based business is something I’ve championed over the years,” Agrawal said. CNBC Do It.
GajiGesa is in the “access to earned wages” business, which means that the company makes it possible for workers to withdraw their earnings as they are earned instead of waiting until the end of the month to get paid. Gaji means “wage” while “gesa” means “hurry” in Bahasa Indonesia.
“Vidit is a fantastic person in that he is always pushing the envelope, always trying something new to help the whole ecosystem,” said Anuj Kumar Maheshwari, CFO of retailer Kanmo Group, a GajiGesa client.
“Our HR department is using [GajiGesa] What [a part of] 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 circling two sides of a factory in Semarang — that led Agrawal to found GajiGesa in 2020 with his wife, Martyna Malinowska, who heads engineering and product.
“For one thing, they were trying to [lend] money to workers. On the other hand, they were trying to collect money from the workers,” said Agrawal, who held leadership positions at Uber, Stripe and Car for nearly 8 years.
“This is such a bad experience. The workers had no choice,” Agrawal said. An average Indonesian worker earns around 2.9 million Indonesian rupiah ($192) a month and are struggling to make ends meet.
A restaurant management human resources manager PT. Inovasi Kuliner Indonesia said they used to receive many phone calls from “screaming” loan sharks who had lent money to their employees.
“The phone calls stopped two to three months after we started using GajiGesa,” said Ria Al’amin.
Today, there are 42 different functions, including paying electricity bills, buying prepaid recharges or gas vouchers, in the GajiGesa app.
GajiGesa partners with more than 300 companies and serves more than 750,000 employees.
Agrawal claims that GajiGesa is the largest player in access to earned wages in Indonesia. “I’m not just saying that [myself]. When you talk to the investors in the market, who talk to all the players of access to earned wages, they tell us that we are the biggest,” he said.
“At the same time, we’ve never overhired, so it’s a blessing that we haven’t had to lay people off,” Agrawal said, as Tech reductions continue to mount in Southeast Asia.
The entrepreneur shared more about how he runs a business that lasts:
Agrawal doesn’t believe in using incentives to keep users engaged, where “he’s seen so many companies” doing it. If a product doesn’t work, it will shut it down.
“If I have to pay $2 to generate income of $1, that’s not a business,” Agrawal said.
While they do provide incentives when joining a new company, they do not continue to incentivize existing users.
The key is to balance growth with sustainability.
“I’m fine if I give up 100% growth or 100 times growth a year if I can build a sustainable business based on revenue,” Agrawal said.
He said that in the Malaysian used car market, Carro, where he was COO, they have a principle called frugality balanced with quality, which he applies to his new venture today.
“We don’t want to compromise on quality, but we also want to be frugal as a company,” he said.
He was so frugal to the point that his employees chafed and called him “cheap.”
“We’ve never had fancy dinners. But we don’t compromise on fun. We’ve held office events where we’ve served food. The cost is low, but we’ve made sure people really have fun,” Agrawal said.
You would also negotiate a 5% discount, even though the company has the money to pay for it. “Whenever we see extra fat on the bone, we try to remove it,” he added.
“When people join GajiGesa, they say: why does the CEO really care about this $10 cost? Doesn’t he have better things to do? If I can eat the cheapest but healthy meals, or can travel on the budget? I want my team to see that.”
They were already cutting costs during the first two years of operation despite having $9 million in the bank, he said.
GajiGesa raised a $2.5 million seed round in February 2021 and a $6.6 million pre-Series A round in November 2021. Investors include January Capital, Northstar Group, European earned wage access company Wagestream and Next Billion Ventures.
But he stressed that they spend on things that are critical to the business.
“We don’t commit to engineering. We don’t commit to technology tools. We don’t commit to commissions from our best employees,” Agrawal said.
When she was at Stripe, she learned how 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 employee stock options.
“We all have to pay our bills and take care of the family. If the company does well and there’s a good outlet in any form, the team gets real value out of it,” Agrawal said.