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Inside Jeff Bezos’ first investment in Indonesian e-commerce

Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos made his initially expenditure in a Southeast Asian e-commerce begin-up previous thirty day period.

But it truly is in not one of the region’s billion-dollar unicorns. It truly is in a mother-and-pop store commence-up that’s been around for significantly less than two many years.

And its founders? Some of Bezos’ former workforce.

“It was incredibly fortunate and a massive enthusiast boy instant for me,” Ula CEO Nipun Mehra, 40, informed CNBC Make It.

Organization influenced by Bezos

Indonesian e-commerce start out-up Ula is a wholesale market aiming to modernize the country’s millions of mother-and-pop kiosks, or warungs, by giving inventory and shipping and delivery solutions as nicely as funding.

Founded in January 2020 by CEO Mehra, the enterprise has thrived below a pandemic-induced shift to digital, so far raising over $117 million in funding from massive names like Tencent and Lightspeed Undertaking Companions.

Just one among the them is Bezos, whose household place of work Bezos Expeditions invested an undisclosed sum soon after 1 of the start out-up’s early backers advised him about Ula.

The regular way of accomplishing e-commerce would not function … So you have to uncover other ways of carrying out it.

Nipun Mehra

co-founder and CEO, Ula

Nevertheless Mehra has by no means satisfied the billionaire founder, he labored under him as a software program engineer at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters right before joining e-commerce big Flipkart in his native India.

Like Bezos, Mehra yearned to be an entrepreneur. But it was not until finally a long time afterwards, although working as an trader at Sequoia India, that he saw an possibility to adapt the traditional e-commerce product for a new current market: small food kiosks in Indonesia. 

Nipun Mehra, co-founder and CEO of Indonesian e-commerce marketplace Ula.


“The usual Amazon, Flipkart — or here in Southeast Asia we have Shopee, Lazada, Tokopedia and so on — has been more on the non-foodstuff aspect. Foods is a pretty distinctive way of running items,” mentioned Mehra.

“Typically in rising economies, their income profile is this kind of that they have to buy regularly and in small baskets. The second you get into that dynamic, the common way of carrying out e-commerce won’t operate. You are unable to provide a a few-, 4-, 5-greenback basket to somebody’s residence and do it profitably … so you have to uncover other means of executing it.”

Adapting e-commerce for Indonesia

Indonesia is dwelling to hundreds of thousands of road stalls, acknowledged as warungs, promoting day-to-day essentials these kinds of as foodstuff and residence products.


They are an integral element of modern society, especially in the lesser metropolitan areas and provinces outside the capital Jakarta, accounting for virtually three-quarters (72%) of the country’s $47 billion consumer goods gross sales.

Nonetheless numerous however rely on conventional means of replenishing their provides by shuttering their stores when they visit wholesalers to inventory up wares. 

They are very constrained by the actual physical footprint that they can entry.

Abheek Anand

taking care of director, Sequoia India

“They are essentially run by one particular or two men and women, who act like individuals. They possess the business they need to have to procure things for by themselves to provide,” Abheek Anand, a taking care of director at Sequoia India, a single of Ula’s traders, explained to CNBC Make It.

“For them to tap into offline source chains is in fact very inefficient. They have to go to the local marketplace, commit several hours figuring out what to acquire, where to invest in it from. By and huge, they are really limited by the actual physical footprint that they can entry,” he added.

Drawing on Amazon expertise

Mehra wanted to simplify that procedure by generating a small business-to-small business platform that would empower stallholders to order stock at competitive fees and have it delivered to their shop for a tiny fee. 

So, he referred to as on his contacts in the e-commerce house to enable him comprehend the eyesight. 

Ula co-founders Riky Tenggara, Derry Sakti and Alan Wong.


His former colleague from Amazon, Alan Wong, Riky Tenggara from Lazada, and Procter & Gamble executive Derry Sakti rounded out the founding staff.

“We’ve learned all this stuff in Amazon, we’ve learned all this stuff at company school. How do we carry some of that into this small smartphone and enable them equally make much more money as very well as conserve more cash?,” stated Mehra.

Powering up in the pandemic

The business enterprise acquired off to a steady start. But in months of launching in January 2020, the pandemic hit, generating need for companies like Ula much more urgent. 

Lockdowns created it more durable for stallholders to resource goods from wholesalers, even as buyer need for everyday necessities grew. That brought on several mom-and-pop shops to pile on to the platform. 

The need in the industry just completely switched. In lockdown, your 1st priority is to get your meals, is to get factors that you consume.

Nipun Mehra

co-founder and CEO, Ula

Ula onboarded tens of hundreds of merchants onto its system throughout the peak of the pandemic.


“The most interesting addition to the company is Jeff Bezos, who’s invested, which is clearly pleasant validation for the small business. But there are a variety of other definitely intelligent folks who have joined us together the way,” explained Sequoia India’s Anand.

An bold expansion agenda

In Oct 2021, Ula shut its Series B round, raising $87 million. Mehra said the cash will go to expanding its current market featuring, as very well as launching a so-known as obtain now, fork out afterwards service to present stallholders with small financial loans.

In just the up coming 18 months, the CEO hopes to quadruple the range of merchants Ula is effective with from 70,000 right now to 300,000. He also hopes to help merchants expand into new categories such as attire and technology, with the top intention of doubling their revenue. 

That is what will direct to a new variety of retail. Not some thing which we have witnessed in the U.S. … It will be an Indonesia-distinct, special option.

Nipun Mehra

co-founder and CEO, Ula