This week Flip celebrates its 8th anniversary. 8 years of building the fairest financial services.
From one person trying out a Google Form prototype in 2015, to more than a million users in 2020, to more than 7 million just a year later, and now more than 13 million Indonesians, saving billions in rupiah with trillions in transactions through the Flip app.
We have had the privilege of partnering with them since 2019, after seeing this money transfer app built out of Depok in Indonesia gaining enough traction to get us to fly for a visit.
This 2024, we recap their story through the podcast sharings of CEO and co-founder Rafi Putra Arriyan or Ari in 2020 then in 2021, COO Gita Prihanto, and VP of Engineering Henry Suryawirawan.
2015 – 2020: The Free Money Transfer Platform
How paying for a meal led to an idea to tackle money transfer fees
Rafi Putra Arriyan (Ari), from the 2020 podcast: So before building Flip, I’m with my two co-founders, and we’re still in college, and before that we made many failed products together. We built things that at first, many people were excited about but as time went on, they don’t use anymore. The common things that we see in terms of our failed products — the reason why these products fail, is because we were focused on the solution and not the problem.
So when the idea of Flip arose, the first thing that we do is not build the product itself, but we wanted to validate the problem first. So we wanted to know if interbank transfer fees is something that is a big problem for Indonesians or not. So I started to talk to my friends, but most of them said that they are okay with the fee, because the fee is a common thing.
As long as I remember, since I am in elementary school, the fee is already there in the market. So most of Indonesian people already see the fee of interbank transfer as a status quo in Indonesia. But because at that time we were college students and we didn’t have that much money and when we did interbank transfer, we saw it as one lost opportunity for a meal, because the fee that we need to pay to the bank was quite equal with the fee we needed to pay for a meal in our canteen in college.
So at that time because we really believed that this problem was a big issue in the market, we started to think, “Let’s just try to build a very simple solution and share it to the market and see how the market reacts.” That’s the start of how the Google Form idea came up.
How a Google Form experiment to save 50 cents led to initial customer validation
Ari, from the 2020 podcast: So at the time when we got the idea to build a Google Form, we discussed it. The team was very small. I think the advantage of a startup is that we can move very fast because the team is small. And to decide whether or not to execute, we only decided it in ten minutes and since we wanted to do it, we just opened my account immediately. After that we set up the domain and share the Google Form to the users.
The thing that made us really believe that the solution we proposed will work because after one hour since we shared the Google Form to our friends, there is one user whom we don’t know — none of us know this stranger — who sent IDR 2 million via the Google Form. It became an epiphany for us. Why did this guy risk his money — IDR 2 million — just to save 50 cents (IDR 6.500)? So there must be something, since then we started focusing on the product.
And because we see that building a proper product takes a long time, but we saw that there’s a very big demand in the market we built the simplest product we could have, but still have reliability on it and we could launch the full proper product in only three weeks since we started the Google Form.
The Fintech Landscape in Indonesia Flip faced in its early years (2015-16)
Applying for a License via Snail Mail
Ari, from the 2021 podcast: At that time, fintech was not a term yet, and we experienced this when we wanted to apply for a license. We had to print lots of paper, go to the regulator then they check it and then we get back, print the paper again, et cetera. And if there’s any kind of notification that we need to [send] to the regulator, we have to send it using snail mail.
The Early Mover Benefits of Flip
Ari, from the 2020 podcast: We were very lucky that we started five years ago, because back then Gopay, Ovo, Dana, are not in the market. Most of the banks did not have API yet. The solution we built was very scrappy. We needed to do a little hack to make the product work.
But since five years from that time, the digital banking industry is already very different. Gopay, Ovo are already big companies. Banks start to open up their system. But the interesting thing for us is that the interbank transfer fee is still there in the market. I think it is a very good opportunity for us in Flip.
We already learned the market for a very long time, we understand how the products work, how the system works. We already understand the needs of the users, and on top of that, in terms of the banking industry there’s much opportunity we can tackle, and because we are a more mature company right we have a bigger presence in the market. This allows us to build bigger things that we hope could give a bigger impact to the Indonesian market in the future.
The “First VC to Fly to Depok”
Ari, from the 2020 podcast: I really remember the time when Insignia went to Depok. I think Insignia is the first VC to come to Depok in the world I think, because Depok is not really a tech haven in Indonesia and when I met with Insignia team it was very memorable to me because most of the time when I meet with VC, what I [usually] do is introduce myself, introduce the product, how it works, etc.
But when I met Insignia they went to Depok, they already did so much research about Flip, they already know how the product works, and they already use the product. They were a very memorable team for me and because of that at that time I am very sure that Insignia is a very good partner for the future.
Ari, from the 2020 podcast: One of the biggest pain points that users keep telling us is it takes quite a long time for them to send money through Flip. So we started to look at the opportunity to make the transactions as a real time cash transfer but still keep the cost at a low cost to make the business viable.
After we did many experiments, we did some partnership with the banks, we saw that we could give value to the users — free transfer with real time SLA that the users could do every day, and we started to launch it in December last year.
Since we launched this feature, the usage of this product went crazily high like our month on month growth at that time almost 30% and it has become a thing that we keep focusing on right now. So we see the alignment between the product quality, the service reliability with the user engagement and activity on our platform.
So it is the thing that keeps improving in Flip that we hope could enable us to capture more of the market and also give better solutions for users in the future.
2020-2022: Beyond P2P Money Transfers
Building an Interoperability Platform for all types of transfers
Ari, from the 2021 podcast: Maybe if you remember before, we only have a domestic transfer as our product use case, but we have scaled up our remittance. And also currently we are also serving ewallet users. Currently, we are becoming the interoperability platform that could help people move money from the bank to their ewallet, from ewallet to bank, and other channels too, and not only in Indonesia, but also overseas.
Flip for Business and Banking
Ari, from the 2021 podcast: We are still seeing peer-to-peer transfer is still the most popular one, but given the recent changes in the behavior of the users, we [have] also started seeing the business use case to be growing. A lot of merchants are using our product to help their operation. And we are figuring out how to help them more.
And also we tried doing lots of experiments in terms of how we could improve the experience of the users. For example, currently we have Flip Saldo, so users can top up money to Flip, then they can use Flip basically to be like their mobile banking.
Capturing Indonesia’s Multi-Billion Dollar Remittance Market with Flip Globe
Ari, from the 2020 podcast: But as a business we think it is a smart move so currently Yinglan mentioned we started to develop a new use case to help people sending money overseas. Because there is a very big opportunity in it the cost to send money overseas from Indonesia is very high, the experience is not as good, you can’t know when your money will arrive. Other than that if something wrong happens, to solve it, it could take a very long time.
Gita Prihanto, from the 2023 podcast: Flip Globe is something that we are investing in right now. The international remittance business is something that is big in Indonesia. It’s an 8.5 billion market with approximately 25% year-on-year growth. And this is a lucrative market because not only [is it] huge and growing, but also there is no clear winner in the market, especially in the non-bank space.
And Flip actually has the advantage to [grow] into this segment and this business because we already have the technology. And having that technology, we decided to come in and basically help our users [with] their international needs.
2021: Attracting Top Talent
Gita, from the 2023 podcast: So I have known Ari for a long time, our CEO and co-founder. I have known him since before the inception of Flip. So I was already familiar with what Flip does in terms of a company and the idea of the business as well as how the company has grown over the years.
So when Ari approached me with the opportunity to become the COO, I decided to join because I was really excited with the potential future and the opportunities that Flip has. I think it’s huge because in many countries, for example, a lot of the leading financial technology companies started as P2P payment companies. Some examples are WeChat Pay in China, PhonePe in India, Cash in the US, Toss in Korea and so on.
But interestingly in Indonesia, nobody has really cracked the P2P payment business until Flip. So with high user engagement as well as with network effects, there is so much more that Flip can do to serve more users and broader needs of the users in Indonesia. That’s why I’m excited to get on board and be part of the journey to build one of the largest and fairest financial services in the country with Flip.
And then the second thing is also because I really can’t relate to the hustle and humble culture that Flip has. And this is a culture that is apparent through my series of conversations and discussions with the founder. As you know Flip started with humble beginnings, with three University of Indonesia students trying to solve the problem of sending money to friends. And from that, to grow to wherever they were two years ago with limited capital and resources.
This is possible because of the scrappy mentality that they have with patience and persistence to basically develop a product market fit for P2P payments. The sense of humility is strongly projected through the growth mindset that the founders have. They acknowledge what is lacking in the organization. They’re open to feedback, and they actually take real action toward it. This is something that a lot of people say, but only a few really execute it.
Seeing that, I’m thinking, “You know what, this is my next journey.” I would love to be part of this team. So that was the story.
The (Former) VP of Engineering
First Scale-up Experience: So since day one, even before day minus one, when we met and we kind of like chatted about the opportunity, he was very supportive and very humble.
And I like the approach how he built the culture within the company as well. So I think all the founders Luqman, Ari, and Ginanjar, they pretty much stay within their roots. So even though the company has grown this big, I don’t think they ever feel like they are like a big shots now. So I think that’s something that I really admire from them.
So I think, Flip, as a company, offers me also a very different opportunity, and like I mentioned in the beginning, so I’ve never worked in a scale-up company before. So actually Flip is probably my first scale up experience, and it also offers me a lot of challenges.
As you know, typically at a scale up, they grow very rapidly, not just in terms of business opportunity, but also team size and number of people, culture, and also growing problems. Because there are so many things not well defined and you are there to help solve those, creating processes, standard operating procedures, creating culture, telling people best practices that they can adhere to.
So I think this kind of experience is definitely very unique for me. Also, if you have heard of this phrase before, “building the plane while flying it.” So this is actually very, very, true, working in a scale up. So this is literally what we are doing — building the plane as it is flying.
So sometimes some engines may not work properly, so we have to find a way to figure out how to fix it.
Engineering Impact: So I think the key thing for me is always trying to look for opportunities where I can bring my value, bring in impact, and also at the same time, grow the company together. So I think for the past one year, I think it’s been a very, long journey I feel and a lot of challenges [as well], but I’m happy to share some of the things that I’ve done with the team.
So for example resolving reliability issues, making Flip much more available to our customers, also helping to grow best practices within the engineering team, growing the team itself from I think around 50 when I joined, [and] now, it’s more than a hundred plus, so almost like double the team size, and just bringing more best practices, based on my previous experiences working at Google and working at ThoughtWorks — things like automation, CICD, observability and all that. And just bringing the team up to the level that we aspire to be, so a more world-class engineering team that can be recognized globally.
We have served or touch around 10 plus millions users in Indonesia, and this keeps growing year over year. I see still a lot of more opportunities to help more millions of Indonesians. So I think this kind of scale and opportunity is pretty rare.
I would say that sometimes I feel really humbled by this opportunity because where else can you really find a problem that you can serve millions of people. Sometimes even like for us creating podcasts, I don’t think it’s easily touching millions of people.
2016 to 2023: Maturing with Indonesian Culture and Regulation
Becoming Part of Indonesian Culture
Ari, from the 2021 podcast: We’re trying to explore more solutions because currently we are seeing the behavior is already there. [There are] lots of users that use our platform, it’s becoming very sticky, almost no churn. That’s [what] we are seeing so far. And the process is there, because money transfer basically [has] become a culture here in Indonesia.
Everything is being done using money transfer. If you want to pay your debt, you use money transfer to do it. If you want to send money to your family, you also use bank transfer to do that. So we are in a really interesting [era] right now, which is something that is becoming the culture in Indonesia, and we are doubling down on this product to ensure we have the best solution.
Currently, if you are aware, [there are] lots of products in Indonesia. There’s a gap in the way they can accept payments from the customer because currently the most popular method is still bank transfer, or [they] have ewallet on the platform, but still the experience is not really smooth and not really good from the user perspective, and I’m seeing if we have a capability to do direct debit seamlessly, connecting our bank account to the third party, seamlessly and securely, it will change a lot of how we interact with digital product or features.
Maturing with Indonesian Regulation
On eKYC: Right now, at least in this year, a lot of [those processes] are not existing in the market from a regulatory standpoint. We can submit everything using online channels and connect with the regulator in a much more efficient way. Not only that, but from the core regulation itself, for example for KYC, before we started Flip, in Indonesia, we do not have any kind of online KYC regulation. So all KYC should be done offline, and it became a very big headache for us as a startup.
And it was in 2017, If I remember correctly, the Bank Indonesia made a new regulation that allows KYC in an online way. And that’s where lots of fintech companies start to boom, and not only [KYC] all of these things are being refined right now. I believe currently we are going in the right direction in terms of regulations.
On fintech bank API integrations: Currently most of the banks are already aware that they need to revolutionize the way they are doing this on the technology part. Currently, they are opening their API, partnering with fintechs and also from the regulator side, in this case in Indonesia, they are also pushing the banks to do that.
In fact, currently Indonesia is building some open API guidelines for the banks to follow. It will be better for us maybe in the next three to five years. We can have an ecosystem that is quite similar to India or the US maybe, where a fintech company could tap into the bank directly. And then we can get the data based on the [activity] of the users, and it would be really a game-changing opportunity that the users can get from that kind of product.
But in Indonesia we are moving toward there. That’s why the Bank Indonesia is building an open API regulation that I’m assuming will help us to be closer to that kind of infrastructure later, because it will be a very big change in terms of how people will interact with other kinds of products, especially in their relationship with their money.
Next Generation Users of Flip
Gita, from the 2023 podcast: With our P2P payment product, our largest segment is what we call the new prime segment, which is the younger audience, somewhere mid 20 to early forties. The ones who have a good job, good salary or good income, but they still also care about their finances, their savings, and their economics.
The second segment is what I called earlier, the micropreneurs. These are people who either have home businesses or small businesses as their core income or have another business on the side. And they like to use Flip to make payments to their suppliers and to their employees. Sometimes they ask their customers to send money through Flip.
Staying True to Roots while Evolving
Never Forgetting the First 100 Users
Ari, from the 2021 podcast: The funny thing is when I talk about Flip people always think that we have 7 million users and they are always thinking that that’s a lot, and how [it is possible for us to] hear all of the feedback that the users [give]? But see, they forget that initially we only had one to 10 or 100 users, and in [the early] days, what we did before was we had a WhatsApp group together with our first users.
Until now these users are still using our product. And I’m in this WhatsApp group, getting feedback from them. Sometimes we are doing some experiments. We make a WhatsApp together with our users to get first feedback from them directly. That’s the way for me to get feedback from the users, at least, in my current role.
But currently because the team is ramping up, we have dedicated teams to do the research. We have dedicated teams to focus on product. Each of the teams have their own channel to get feedback. But as a founder currently, my phone is still in [the early] users’ phone contacts. So sometimes when there is an issue, they reach out to me directly.
The first-hand feedback from users means that I can know for sure what’s happening from our users’ side. So I think that’s very helpful. The initial relationship that I have [from] the early days, gives lots of insights for me to understand what the users are thinking of right now.
Advice for Technical Founders
Ari, from the 2020 podcast: So Flip is the first job, the first proper job that I did in my life. I learned a lot as a founder when building this company. As a technical founder we have a tendency to really focus on product. It makes us miss other important things. I got lucky that I have a great team that helps me execute things that I missed wonderfully.
So my advice for fellow technical founders in SEA, build a team that really believes in the company vision and also complements you, because as a founder we are not Superman, there are many things that we lack, and because of that there’s a team that is together with you in building this company.
But not only the team that executes on a daily basis, but also the investor and board that join the company especially in early days. From our experience, there are a lot of things that will happen when we build startups, and sometimes one wrong decision could make or break for the company’s future. That’s the advice I would give to other technical founders and to myself right now because I’m still building the company.
2024: What’s Next? Subscribe to our podcast for more