GajiGesa’s Vidit Agrawal wanted to give workers access to their wages as they earn them, in between the traditional end-of-month pay cycles. That gives workers a lot more liquidity and protects them from predatory lenders.
Vidit Agrawal, co-founder of Indonesia-based startup GajiGesa, knows crazy growth is beautiful. But perseverance is better.
“Nowadays everyone is talking about profitability. I hope it stays that way. Building a revenue-based or profitable business is something I’ve championed over the years,” Agrawal told CNBC Make It.
GajiGesa is in the Earned Wage Access business, which means the company allows workers to withdraw their earnings as they earn them, rather than waiting until the end of the month to be paid out. Gaji means “salary” while “gesa” means “hurry” in Bahasa Indonesia.
“Vidit is a fantastic person when it comes to always pushing the boundaries and always trying something new to help the entire ecosystem,” said Anuj Kumar Maheshwari, chief financial officer at retail distributor Kanmo Group, a customer of GajiGesa.
“Our HR department uses [GajiGesa] as [a part of] Employer branding 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 insane” scene – loan sharks circling two sides of a factory in Semarang – that prompted Agrawal to set up GajiGesa in 2020 with his wife Martyna Malinowska, who is responsible for engineering and product.
“On the one hand, they tried [lend] money for the workers. On the other hand, they tried to collect money from the workers,” said Agrawal, who has held managerial positions at Uber, Stripe and Carro for nearly eight years.
“It’s such a bad experience. The workers had no choice,” Agrawal said. The average Indonesian worker earns around 2.9 million Indonesian rupiah (US$192) a month and is struggling to make ends meet.
A Human Resources Manager of Restaurant Management PT. Inovasi Kuliner Indonesia said they used to receive many calls from “roaring” loan sharks lending money to their employees.
“The phone calls stopped two or three months after we started using GajiGesa,” Ria Al’amin said.
I can give up 100% growth or 100x growth per year if I can build a revenue-based, sustainable business.
Today there are 42 different functions in the GajiGesa app – including paying electricity bills, buying prepaid top-ups or fuel vouchers.
GajiGesa works with more than 300 companies and serves more than 750,000 employees.
Agrawal claims that GajiGesa is the largest player for 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 in access to earned wages, they tell us we’re the biggest,” he said.
“At the same time, we’ve never hired too many staff, so it’s a blessing that we haven’t had to lay off any staff,” Agrawal said, as tech cuts mount in Southeast Asia.
The entrepreneur shared more about running 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” doing it. If a product doesn’t work, he shuts it down.
“If I have to pay $2 to make $1 in sales, that’s not a deal,” Agrawal said.
While they offer incentives when onboarding a new company, they don’t offer any other incentives to existing users.
The key is to balance growth with sustainability.
We’ve never had fancy dinners. But when it comes to fun, we don’t compromise. We held events in the office where we served food. The cost is low but we made sure people really enjoy themselves.
“I can give up 100 percent growth or 100x growth a year if I can build a revenue-based, sustainable business,” Agrawal said.
He said that at Malaysian used car market Carro, where he was chief operating officer, there is a principle called economy balanced with quality that he applies to his startup today.
“We don’t want to sacrifice quality, but we also want to be economical as a company,” he said.
2. Cut extra “fat on the bone”.
He was so thrifty that his employees irritated him and called him “cheap”.
“We’ve never had fancy dinners. But we don’t compromise on fun. We have hosted events in the office where we have served food. The cost is low but we made sure people really enjoyed it,” said Agrawal.
He would also negotiate a 5% rebate, even though the company has the money for it. “Wherever we see extra fat on the bone, we try to cut it out,” he added.
“When people come to GajiGesa, they ask themselves: Why does the CEO really care about that $10? Doesn’t he have better things to do? If I can eat the cheapest but still healthy meals, or travel on the budget, I want my team to see that.”
I personally take great pride in building someone’s career because I’ve always had great managers at Stripe who have helped me build my career.
They’ve cut costs in just 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.
But he stressed that they spend on things that are critical to the business.
“We don’t compromise on engineering. We don’t compromise on technical tools. We don’t compromise on commissions for our top performers,” said Agrawal.
3. Care of employees
While at Stripe, he learned how to take care of people. “Stripe really treated you as a person, not a number,” Agrawal said.
All full-time GajiGesa employees receive employee stock options.
“We all have bills to pay and families to take care of. When the company is doing well and there is a good exit of some sort, the team has real value,” said Agrawal.
The GajiGesa team
He also doesn’t hire people who are already successful. “We hire people who, with the right guidance, can be very successful,” he said.
There was one young lad who turned out to be a good wage, Agrawal said. “He was raw, but he was smart. I knew he could be there.”
Today, the same young fellow is the Vice President of Partnerships at GajiGesa.
“Personally, I’m very proud of building someone’s career because I’ve always had great managers at Stripe who have helped me build my career,” Agrawal said.
Correction: This report has been updated to correctly identify GajiGesa’s investors. Patrick Walujo is an investor, but the firm he is a partner at is not. An earlier version of this report incorrectly identified the company as an investor.
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