Cover Story / March 2019

A Passion for Big Data

GOJEK has, since its launch in 2010, employed more than 1.8 million driver partners in 204 cities across Indonesia and in neighboring countries, offering at least 19 types of services, which has earned the unicorn startup a valuation of nearly $10 billion.

This also means that the company has access to reams of data, such as the preferences, habits, daily routes, locations, vehicle types, vehicle license expiration dates and more, derived from customers and driver partners. In this datacentric era, companies with large numbers of customers often have access to massive amounts of raw data, which, once processed and properly analyzed, can become very valuable. This task is usually performed by such companies’ business intelligence units, which in the case of GOJEK, is where Crystal serves as senior vice president.

Her path to GOJEK almost mirrors the plot in the 1998 romantic comedy film, “You’ve Got Mail.” It all started by her typing the keywords “HR GOJEK” into Google Search, which yielded the name of Monica Oudang, human resources team leader at the ride-haling firm. Crystal tracked down Monica’s online profile and sent her an email, asking whether GOJEK needed someone to work in its business intelligence unit, and if so, offering to move from San Jose, California, to Jakarta. To her surprise, Monica’s response was that GOJEK indeed had such an opening. Soon after, Crystal was on a plane to Jakarta, the city where her parents originally came from.

Despite having been born and raised in the United States, Crystal loves Indonesia, describing her move to the country as “returning home with the spirit of helping GOJEK have a greater social impact.”

“I want to make lots of impact and changes in the world. Not only making apps for the millennial generation, but also making changes,” said the 27-year-old, who graduated six months early with a political science degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

“In political science, I learned a lot about Nate Silver, one of the greatest statisticians and polling expert in the US, who is known for having correctly predicted [former US President Barack] Obama’s win in all 50 states. Statistics was a big entry point for me to learn and understand data, but it is also a way for me to explain what is happening in the world, what decisions people make and why they make such decisions,” she explained.

Crystal, who with her move to Indonesia did her bit to reverse the brain drain many developing countries are facing, explained the importance of data in the development of products or services.

“I think I was really interested in polling and being able to understand people’s decisions and what influences them when they make those decisions, because at the end of the day, what I really want to do, is understand why something is happening and use data to explain or identify correlation versus causation,” she told GlobeAsia in a recent interview.

Processing raw data can be tedious and confusing, but for Crystal and her team, it is fun. All raw data is properly examined to ensure other teams get the correct information. They also analyze how GOJEK users interact with the company’s app. The ride-haling service has experienced rapid growth in recent years. According to Crystal, the number of orders for Go-Ride, the company’s motorcycle-taxi service, were to equal in the third quarter of 2017 to the total number of Go-Ride orders for the entire 2016.

“How we can solve problems for our customers when we see them battling traffic, or a lack of transparent pricing, and what GOJEK can do is provide alternatives, so people are more productive. We can make the process of getting from point A to B more efficient and effective. In focusing on what problems customers face, we can figure out exactly what we need to build,” she explained.

“We started out with a package delivery service and soon realized that people were using it to order food, so we added Go-Food to the platform. We not only use data to identify problems, we also use it to find solutions to those problems,” she said.

Crystal exudes energy, which also inspires those around her to make a useful impact. She is also co-founder and adviser of Generation Girl, a computer coding program geared towards girls aged 12 to 16. The goal of the program is to get young girls interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to empower them to break free from gender stereotypes. This is just one more example of Crystal’s unstoppable passion.