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Indonesia generates over $1T in GDP, according to the World Bank, and has been called a “digital archipelago” by consulting firm McKinsey. As Indonesians, among the world’s most active users of social media, increasingly interact and transact online, e-commerce in the region has grown to account for $8B in annual consumer spending and is expected to increase 8x in the next five years.   However, while mobile penetration is greater than 100%, credit card penetration remains below 5% and the country lacks digital payments infrastructure.  I sat down with Xendit CEO and founder, Moses Lo, to learn more about the work the company is doing to build out the infrastructure needed to support the region’s increasingly digital economy.

The Right Team at the Right Time  

The Xendit team after winning the Bay Area Hackathon

Moses came to Haas with the goal of gaining a broad range of experiences: working at a large tech firm (he interned at Amazon), working with a fast-growing start-up, and starting his own company.  When setting out to start a company, Moses knew his first step would be to find co-founders.  He spent the first year of his MBA meeting as many people as possible, going to events across campus and hanging out in Soda Hall, home to UC Berkeley’s Computer Science Department.  It was while working with the early stage Berkeley accelerator, LAUNCH, that he was introduced to Bo Chen, a computer science major who eventually became a Xendit co-founder. Moses and Bo, along with Vivek Ahuja (fellow MBA ’15) and Juan Gonzalez (BS in CS ’13) started out by teaming up for hackathons, verifying that in addition to being friends, they worked well together.  Later, Tessa Wijaya, joined as co-founder and now serves as COO.  In November 2014, they won the Bay Area Bitcoin Hackathon, which was hosted by Andreessen Horowitz and Coinbase.  In just 24 hours, the team built an MVP to move money to Southeast Asia / Indonesia using Bitcoin.

With the team in place and an idea locked down, they worked on the venture part time while simultaneously completing summer internships.  Somehow members of the team found time to fly to Indonesia to conduct market research and reach out to locals through a web of Berkeley connections.

“I e-mailed 100 people.  Six replied, and I met with four.  I asked everyone I met with to make two additional introductions.  This way I was able to grow my network exponentially.”

– Moses Lo, CEO of Xendit

During Moses’ second year, he took advantage of every opportunity to work on his company in classes and to enlist the help of fellow classmates.   It was also during his time at Haas that Moses realized he had now entered a world where people expected him to have $1B ideas, where he would be viewed as someone who could have $1B ideas.  He also left with an appreciation for the sort of grit that Haas instills in its students.

“Haas is full of really smart people, but nobody is going to hand you anything.  As a Haas student, you have to go out and work to get what you want.  In the end, that way is better, because you end up meeting a lot of really cool people along the way.”

-Moses Lo, CEO of Xendit

The team self-classifies as nerds and was adamant about building a product made “for developers by developers.”  With this mindset, the company set out to expand upon the Bitcoin remittances MVP it built during the hackathon.  The team didn’t waste any time.  Moses graduated from Haas and Xendit started the YCombinator accelerator program the very next day.

A Critical Combination 

To say that YC was valuable to the team would be an understatement.  The advice and wisdom of YC partners and mentors played a critical role in the company’s trajectory.

“There were a few critical moments where the advice of Justin Kan or other YC partners / mentors was absolutely critical in making the right call.  Their ability to quickly identify the most pertinent issues, and to give the right guidance within that context, allowed for a different quality of advice: nuanced and actionable, and delivered within 15 minutes.”

– Moses Lo, CEO of Xendit

Xendit mobile app

It turned out that the assumptions underpinning the company’s first product didn’t hold up as expected and six weeks into the twelve week program, the company knew it needed to pivot.  In a twelve minute office hours session with YC Partner and Twitch co-founder, Justin Kan, Moses explained why the company believed it needed to pivot and presented three alternative directions the company could take.  Justin gave quick and concise advice that cut right to the core of the matter and suggested they focus on creating payments infrastructure in Indonesia based on a mobile app MVP they had already built.  Demonstrating an impressive ability to synthesize feedback and execute, the company launched a week later and had 16,000 users within six weeks.

Now the company processes millions of transactions per month.  Companies using Xendit have cut operational overtime by 30% and have seen successful credit card checkouts increase by up to 30%. Xendit works with customers across verticals, ranging from e-commerce to FinTech, and is especially well-suited to P2P businesses and businesses that require BI compliant payments.  While the company does face competition in the region, given the lack of payments infrastructure, cash is actually the most common alternative.  As commerce in the region becomes increasingly digital, the company believes the market will be large enough to support multiple players.

“A book that I kept close to heart was PayPal Wars.  It was great at outlining a tested recipe for starting a consumer payments company.  I would be able to look at our company and say ‘Okay, we’re now around page 25′ and a few weeks later we’d look more like page 36.  We could loosely track our progress relative to the PayPal story.”

– Moses Lo, CEO of Xendit

“Just Xendit, Anywhere and Anytime” 

Transfer to +140 banks anytime, including nights and weekends

The company, as a modern payments gateway for Southeast Asia, currently offers four products: XenPayments, XenInvoice, XenDisburse, and XenCheck.  XenPayment and XenDisburse facilitate payments via bank transfer, credit / debit card, retail outlets, and eWallets, and has arrangements with +140 banks (including major banks such as BRI, BNI, Mandiri, and Permata.) Customers that don’t have cards can easily pay an invoice using cash at +12,000 Alfamart and Alfamidi convenience stores across Indonesia by telling the cashier which merchant they would like to pay and providing a unique payment code for the transaction (generated by Xendit.)  XenDisburse also allows for realtime disbursements via a RESTful API without requiring bank tokens (physical devices that require manual processes.)

XenInvoice allows businesses to recognize, analyze, and receive real-time notifications when a customer has paid, and to send payment reminders, via a simple-to-use dashboard.  Example use cases include P2P loan disbursement, e-commerce pay outs to merchants, issuance of refunds, and / or disbursing payroll to employees.  Finally, XenCheck performs identity and risk services, utilizing the same world class fraud detection that Visa / Mastercard use, integrates with existing KYC processes, and ensures that data is processed in a PCI DSS compliant way.

The company charges on a “pay as you go” basis, with all fees transparently presented on the user’s dashboard.  The company only charges per successful transaction, distinct from many other models, choosing not to charge any service, membership, maintenance, or withdrawal fees.

The company is well recognized by the industry, winning the 2017 Seamless Award for Best Asian B2B Payment Initiative, the 2018 Asian Banker Transaction Award for Best Payments Initiative, Application, or Programme (FinTech), and was named one of CNBC’s 100 promising start-ups to watch in 2018 (Upstart 100.)  Moses Lo was also named one of  Forbes 30 under 30 Asia: Finance and Venture Capital in 2016.

Building More than a Gateway 

Xendit is excited about watching the team scale.  Employees that have been with the business for the past three years are now starting to lead teams and launch their own business units, which will ultimately help them learn how to launch their own start-ups in the future.  Longer term, Xendit envisions itself as more than a payments gateway, planning to expand its services to provide a full set of financial products.  The company is starting to explore opportunities to expand into new business lines, as Indonesia continues to lack a robust payments infrastructure, creating a lot of greenfield opportunities yet to be built in the country.   Indonesia is now home to four unicorns (Go-Jek, Tokopedia, Bukalapak and Traveloka) and the country’s minister of communication recently set a target to create 20 new unicorns by 2025.  Xendit looks well positioned to join these ranks.

*Currency photo credit to Dimas Ardian / Bloomberg 

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