The Irony of Million-Dollar Investments

I had a very interesting conversation with my design colleague from the United States who worked for Yahoo!. We were having breakfast at his hotel and discussing about Indonesian startups. Go-jek was easily the one that came up in the conversation.

Immediately, he said, “I saw the app, but why do I think that for a startup that has a lot of money invested into them, the app doesn’t feel and look polished enough? As if they don’t care about user experience.”

I quickly recognise the same problem, and in fact, it has been my pet peeve for the app.

When asked about the details of what bothered him, he answered, “Well, first thing, some of the icons of the subservices aren’t the correct version, they look blurry, and somehow some of them don’t represent what the subservices are.”

I immediately agreed, and added that so many details go rampage, like inconsistent element designs, various font sizes, and different form-filling experience across the subservices. I said to him that I know personally that they use different vendors for the different subservices, thus the differing qualities and details for each subservice.

This is very ironic for a product design point of view because if a company’s performance is defined by products that serve and delight the customers, they should have invested more in user experience, and paid more attention to details.

I can probably see why it’s missing from Go-jek’s products and services, it’s a typical Indonesian company problem, and this goes by many dimensions:

  • Internal politics. Usually, there are so many stakeholders. Each of the stakeholders feels that they should have a say in what the product should look, feel and be like. Hence, design by committee.
  • Success bias. When companies like Go-jek get hundreds of millions of dollars, it becomes an illusion that they are successful. They don’t think it’s important to build and polish the product, when they focus mostly on growth and bask in the success bias. This is why I never fully trust invested companies.
  • Lack of focus. When you aim solely for growth, you lose focus of what’s more important. In Go-jek’s case, the focus is more to diversify and expand their businesses by adding more subservices, not to actually improve the existing products and services. Feature bloat comes in, as a consequence. With organic growth like this, and by using different vendors to build their digital products, it’s entirely impossible to get in sync and to create a coherent system.

What I see in every startup in Indonesia who are invested is that they are too busy in burning money and trying to pay that money back to investors, instead of making, and further, polishing their products.

If they think digital user experience is important to achieve key performance indicators, then they must invest time, effort and money to prioritise product development, and hire a design team internally to help.

An app can be ugly, laggy, and awkward, but it can work. It is understandable if you don’t have money and try to create a first-stage product like an MVP. However, if your startup is invested in the millions—let alone hundreds of millions of dollars—it’s pretty shameful to present a mediocre product experience, don’t you think?

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