Higher share of women staff makes Indonesia’s Xendit stand out among fintech unicorns

Xendit co-founder Tessa Wijaya

Indonesian fintech firm Xendit has at least two distinctions to its credit — the startup’s recently-earned unicorn tag, and a relatively higher share of women on the rolls of the company.

Xendit, which was valued at $1 billion in September this year following a $150 million Series C round led by Tiger Global, says around 40% of its workforce, including 20% of the senior management team members, are women.

“Women leaders in technology are a rarity,” said Xendit’s co-founder and chief operating officer Tessa Wijaya to DealStreetAsia. “We’re even rarer in the fintech space that Xendit inhabits. Women account for a mere 7% of the total employees working in fintech firms globally, according to Deloitte Insights. And fintechs with operations in Asia are even more male-dominated than in the West,” she added.

Tessa herself worked her way up the ranks of the company, which was founded in 2014 by Moses Lo, Juan Gonzales, and Bo Chen. She joined Xendit in 2016 as a product manager and took on a host of responsibilities including business development, customer satisfaction, and financial management, before earning the title of co-founder in 2018.

Xendit had initially focussed on providing money transfer services free of charge. Soon, it pivoted into the B2B sector, enabling businesses to accept payments from debit cards to online installments, and running marketplaces, among other things. Its customers included individual entrepreneurs, social sellers, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and large corporations such as Traveloka, Transferwise, Wish, and Grab.

The market reception for Xendit’s services was positive from the beginning, given the fragmented nature of the payment ecosystem in Southeast Asia.

Now, the company is planning its next leg of growth, which includes geographic expansion beyond Indonesia and the Philippines.

Tessa said the company aspires to build and provide solutions in all Southeast Asian markets.

At the same time, through partnerships with Kredivo and Akulaku in Indonesia, as well as Billease in the Philippines, Xendit is offering Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) services to its merchants. “Today, Xendit is here to help businesses at any growth stage to set up and implement commercial initiatives more quickly,” said Tessa.

Speaking at a webinar organised by DealStreetAsia on ‘How BNPL has unleashed the potential of the emerging Asian consumer’ on Nov. 11, Angus Mackintosh, CrossASEAN Research founder, said that payment gateway companies such as Xendit are likely to latch on to the BNPL trend.

While it faces competition from other companies offering payment infrastructures such as Gojek’s MidTrans and Xfers in Indonesia, and PayMongo in the Philippines, Xendit has the first-mover advantage, claims Tessa. “Xendit is among the first payment gateways that implemented this system with no registration fees, no setup fees, and no monthly maintenance fees,” she said.

“When you look at the SMEs that we want to serve, what they’re asking for is working capital because it’s so hard for other players to understand them,” said Moses Lo at a press conference recently.

Even as it expands and grows, ensuring there are enough women on the rolls is important for the company: “Xendit is a workplace that supports gender equality. We will ensure our 40% strong female workforce stays,” said Tessa.

Women in technology

While the tech industry has been a so-called ‘boys club’ for a long time, Tessa said there’s been an increasing proportion of women entering the space, both in developer roles and leadership roles.

“When I was a kid, people told me my head was in the clouds. I was a really strange girl,” Tessa said. “My mother wanted to see me in tutus, instead I used to beg for GI Joes and a BMX bikes.”

Tessa’s journey began in Sukabumi, a town about 113 kilometres south of the capital city of Jakarta. She then moved to Jakarta before continuing her schooling in Hong Kong, and later Australia. She got her master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Sydney in 2006 after graduating from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in New York in 2003.

Tessa spent seven years in private equity, working for Principia Management Group as a senior analyst, Fairways Investment Group as a business development analyst, and Mizuho Asia Partners as an associate, honing her abilities and knowledge in finance and investment, which, she says, helped her thrive at Xendit.

“I was once told that I’m not a Sheryl Sandberg [COO of Facebook] and that I run operations relevant to companies 15 years ago. As a female in fintech, it’s important to understand that these biases exist and to learn to tune this out and focus on what’s important, which is to grow the company, and make as much of an impact as possible,” Tessa said.

While, globally, women are still fighting for fair pay and a seat at the decision-making table, Indonesian women are more well-positioned in their home turf against male counterparts, opines Alamanda Shantika Santoso, the founder and president director of edtech firm Binar Academy.

She not only experienced firsthand the challenges of being a woman leader in tech but also empowered more women to learn to code. While she admitted to having seen a rising number of women enrolled at Binar Academy, Alamanda said she was not surprised. “The stereotype we’ve been talking about has nearly ended,” she said.

In Binar alone, she said, 67% of the board of directors are women, 38% of the managers are women, and nearly half of facilitators and speakers at Binar are women.

Alamanda was the VP of technology and product at Gojek in 2016 where, she said, half of the senior executives were women.

Another Indonesian giant that encourages gender equality in the workforce is e-commerce giant Tokopedia, says Jessica Stephanie Jap, the co-founder and COO of the Indonesian quick commerce startup ASTRO. Jap recalls having a supportive team when she was at Tokopedia. She was the head of merchant partnership at Tokopedia in 2018 and later became the AVP of FMCG and long-tail categories in 2019.

“We carry the same spirit at ASTRO,” said Jap, who, together with four other co-founders, created a new startup in the middle of a pandemic. “We had to admit, most [computer] engineers in Indonesia are men but lately women are starting to enter the space… I think the women are catching up,” Jessica said.

Interest in women-led startups

DealStreetAsia’s data shows that since 2020, at least 19 female-founded startups have raised more than $571 million. Big-ticket fundings have come in 2021 for companies such as Xendit and the online stockbroking app Ajaib, which was co-founded by Yada Piyajomkwan of Thailand.

Some female-led startups such as the healthy food marketplace Lemonilo, Binar Academy, kitchen network DishServe, and personal financial app Sribuu also raised undisclosed funds this year.

“I am a big believer that tech can change the world for the better,” Tessa said. She says payments infrastructure is something “not as glamorous as B2C plays” but it has a big impact on the country’s economy.

“Money movement allows people to create and grow businesses so our economy can grow. That is huge. It’s important for young people to understand that the unsexy stuff can make a big impact, so be open-minded about different industries within the tech world,” she said.

Cindy Silviana contributed to the story.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.