Speaking with Freelancer about its Biggest Investment Ever, Indonesia [Interview]


Recently Freelancer.com launced its Indonesian version at Freelancer.co.id. The company now provides Indonesian language support, a local customer service team, a concierge team, and local currency support. Freelancer is targeting 100,000 users in the country by the end of this year, and 400,000 by next year. For now, Indonesian users still just comprise 1.5 percent of the four million Freelancer.com users worldwide. The primary reason for this has been the lack of Indonesian language support – but that’s now available.

We chatted with the vice president of growth for Freelancer, Willix Halim, to learn more about the company’s expansion in Indonesia. Since we also saw some complaints from Freelancer.com users about suspended accounts and money withdrawals, we asked him to clarify this issue as well.

Do you think not having Indonesian language until now was really be an obstacle to aspiring Freelancer users?

Willix: For any Indonesian graduates, they should be very fluent in English already. We have 70,000 freelancers in Indonesia, and none of them are having trouble in speaking English. I think Indonesian language support is for entrepreneurs, in case they don’t know how to speak English. [For example] if they are in textile industry and doesn’t really speak English, that’s why we provide this for them. But for freelancers, i’m sure everyone would be able to speak English.

Are the job postings to be made in Indonesian?

Willix: So there are two job post [areas] in Freelancer.co.id: one is in Indonesian, one is in English. So people from Indonesia can still bid on projects in English. Apart from local job postings, there are also job posts from around the world giving more opportunities for freelancers to bid.

Do you have an office in Indonesia yet?

Willix: Unfortunately, we don’t have a physical address here. In the upcoming months, we definitely will have one. We really want to expand here. I’m a big believer in Indonesia. I was born in Indonesia and big things are definitely happening here. Facebook is coming to Indonesia, Rocket Internet and even Rakuten is. So yeah, this is where the tech boom is going to be.

How are you going to develop the payment system in Indonesia?

Willix: So now you can deposit in rupiah through credit cards. Unfortunately, PayPal services don’t support the rupiah. You can do wire banking via HSBC to send money to banks anywhere within the country. We looking to essentially contact local banks – Permata, Bank Mandiri, KlikBCA. We can have a partnership with them, and withdrawal and deposits could be very easy.

Indonesia is the biggest investment that we’ve made. We have ten other languages now, including Tagalog in the Philippines, along with Spanish, German, and more. Turkey as well, we’re launching in Turkey next month.

What do you think are the most promising jobs that freelancers could do here in Indonesia?

Willix: I would imagine it is website building, sem, e-commerce. I believe that there are definitely a lot of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) here, as I said that 99.9 percent of all firms established in 2009 to 2010 are SMEs and most of them probably don’t know how to make a website.

Most industries are already digitized. If they haven’t, they will be digitized. Building websites, getting traffic for your website, and all of these jobs will be coming to Indonesia. That’s what we expect.

On the same day as your press conference, there was a labor strike in many areas protesting about outsourcing. Then you announced this platform for outsourcing. What do you say about that, and how do you see the economy in Indonesia?

Willix: I was really scared actually. I thought, why do you choose the same time? There’s a conspiracy! Just kidding! It’s a completely different thing. The GDP (PPP) in Indonesia is 16th in the world and it’s growing bigger. Indonesia is going to grow as big as Brazil, Russia, India, and China. I think it could be there in about ten years.

That outsourcing strike – it’s a completely different thing. What I tried to emphasize about Freelancer.com is how freelancers in Indonesia could earn $100,000 here. We try to empower entrepreneurs too. The problem that [laborers] are facing doesn’t really exist in Freelancer.com. For us, we provide the convenience to work at home, to be able to work while being a part-time mom, digitize your business, and hence, grow your company further.

So it’s not about cheap labor?

Willix: Well, cheap is relative, right? In the US, building a website with $200 is cheap. But for us Indonesians, $200 is huge and you can finish the job in 3 days. So you can essentially earn up to $2,000 easily a month which is a really good money. It’s a really different thing.

How about illegal jobs in the site?

Willix: We’re making sure that the jobs posted are legal. We keep tracking them. We have 3,000 to 4,000 jobs posted a day. You can see how hard it is for us to sort every single project. But we try. For Freelancer.co.id, I’ve mentioned to my engineers to remove the ‘triple x’ projects. We are looking at it very extensively now. It’s a continuous process.

An upset user of Freelancer.com mentioned in a comment in my previous post that the site suspended his/her account. Could you explain how an account could get suspended?

Willix: An account could get limited (Freelancer’s term for suspended) for many reasons. One reason is for using fake names. I also read the article as well, and I think [that individual] was using a fake name [on his Freelancer account]. Because there’s a difference between the name itself and the aliases that he was using. We thought there might be something dodgy there.

But the account was only suspended for a limited time. Consequently, his identification documents were required to validate the user and to prevent fraudulent activities. It usually takes two to four days to get resolved. Once it’s resolved, you are free to withdraw the money.

We have to comply with anti-money laundering laws in Australia. We limit users if there’s something going on with that user – like with the commenter in the article – like having two or three different names.

How difficult is the mechanism to withdraw money in other non-English speaking countries?

Willix: In India, we provide express withdrawal by directing it straight to the local banks. They will get the money within two or three days. PayPal, Moneybookers is probably the major third party withdrawal service that we are using – but unfortunately it’s not available for rupiah. You can even withdraw with a Freelancer debit card which we can send to you. You can withdraw from any MasterCard affiliated ATMs as well. If everything goes right, which happens for about 99.7 percent of users, you will be getting the money within seven days.

How about Identity theft issues? Some of our readers were hesitant to submit their IDs to Freelancer.

Willix: Absolutely not, essentially it will be deleted once we look at it. We make sure that the process is as safe as possible, so definitely no possible identity theft. The whole point is that we want to make sure that the money goes to the right person.

How does the customer service team in Indonesia work to help freelancers address such complaints?

Willix: There’s a live chat support for Indonesia now, in the Indonesian language. You can even email support@freelancer.com. We also have a concierge system that they can contact as well. The concierge is virtual, but they can speak bahasa too.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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