Ex-Stripe exec wants staying power over huge growth

GajiGesa’s Vidit Agrawal wants to give workers access to their wages as they earn them, between traditional end-of-month pay cycles. That gives workers more liquidity and protects them from predatory lenders.


Vidit Agrawal, co-founder of Indonesia-based startup GajiGesa, knows that exciting growth is good. But the staying power is better.

“Everyone is talking about profitability these days. I hope it will stick around. 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 makes it possible for workers to withdraw their earnings as they earn instead of waiting until the end of the month to get paid. Gaji means “salary” while “gesa” means “rush” in Bahasa Indonesia.

“Vidit is an amazing individual in terms of always pushing boundaries, always trying something new to help the entire ecosystem,” said Anuj Kumar Maheshwari, chief financial officer at retail distributor Kanmo Group, a GajiGesa client.

“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,” said Maheshwari.

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.

“On the one hand, they’re trying [lend] money to workers. On the other side, they are trying to collect money from workers,” recounts Agrawal, who held leadership positions at Uber, Stripe and Carro for nearly 8 years.

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“It was a difficult experience. The workers had no choice,” Agrawal said. An average Indonesian worker earns about 2.9 million Indonesian rupiah ($192) a month and struggles to survive.

A human resources manager of restaurant management PT. Inovasi Kuliner Indonesia said they used to receive many phone calls from “screaming” loan sharks who lent money to their employees.

“The phone calls stopped two or three months after we started using GajiGesa,” said Ria Al’amin.

I’m OK with giving up 100% growth or 100x growth in a year if I can build a revenue-based, sustainable business.

Vidit Agrawal

Co-founder, GajiGesa

Currently, there are 42 different features – which include paying electricity bills, buying prepaid top ups or petrol vouchers – in the GajiGesa app.

GajiGesa has partnered with more than 300 companies and serves more than 750,000 employees.

Agrawal claims that GajiGesa is the largest wage access player in Indonesia. “I’m not just saying [myself]. When you talk to market investors, who talk to all the earned salary access players, they tell us we’re the biggest,” he said.

“At the same time, we have never over-hired so it is a blessing that we have not had to lay people off,” said Agrawal, as tech retrenchments continue to mount in Southeast Asia.

The entrepreneur shared more on how he runs a business that lasts:

1. Sustainability first, growth second

Agrawal doesn’t believe in using incentives to maintain user engagement, which he has “seen too many businesses” do. If a product doesn’t work, he shuts it down.

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“If I have to pay $2 to make $1, that’s not a business,” Agrawal said.

While they provide incentives when they onboard a new company, they do not continue to provide incentives to existing users.

The key is to balance growth with sustainability.

We have never had a fancy dinner. But we don’t compromise on fun. We have done events at the office where we catered food. The cost was low, but we made sure people really enjoyed themselves.

Vidit Agrawal

Co-founder, GajiGesa

“I’m OK with giving up 100% growth or 100x growth in a year if I can build a revenue-based, sustainable business,” says Agrawal.

He said that at Malaysian used car marketplace Carro, where he is chief operating officer, they have a principle called frugality balanced with quality, which he applies to his startup today.

“We don’t want to compromise on quality but we also want to be economical as a company,” he said.

2. Cutting excess ‘bone fat’

He is so frugal to the point that his employees get irritated and call him “cheap.”

“We have never had fancy dinners. But we don’t compromise on fun. We have done events in the office where we have catered food. The cost is low, but we have made sure people really enjoyed themselves,” said Agrawal.

He will also bargain for a 5% discount, even if the company has the money to pay for it. “Wherever we see excess bone fat, we try to trim it,” he added.

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“When people join GajiGesa, they are like: why does the CEO really care about this $10 amount? Doesn’t he have better things to do? If I can eat the cheapest but still healthy food, or I can travel on a budget, I want my team to see that.”

I personally take pride in building someone’s career because I’ve always had great managers at Stripe who helped build my career.

Vidit Agrawal

Co-founder, GajiGesa

They are already cutting costs in 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 in November 2021. Investors include January Capital, Northstar Group, European earned wage access company Wagestream and Next Billion Ventures.

But he emphasized that they spend on things that are critical for the business.

“We don’t compromise on engineering. We don’t compromise on tech tools. We don’t compromise on commissions for our top performers,” Agrawal said.

3. Care of employees

When he was at Stripe, he learned to take care of people. “Stripe really treats you like a person, not a number,” Agrawal said.

All full-time GajiGesa employees receive employee stock options.

“We all have to pay our bills and take care of the family. If the company does well and there is a good exit in any shape or form, the team will get real value out of it,” Agrawal said.

The GajiGesa team



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