Bukalapak CEO under fire for tweet about Indonesia’s R&D budget

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Achmad Zaky is the latest top startup executive to get embroiled in a politically charged social media storm  

Last week, Bukalapak co-founder and CEO Achmad Zaky found himself in the middle of a Twitter controversy over his tweet about Indonesia’s R&D budget. 

In a tweet dated 13 February that has since been deleted, Achmad lamented Indonesia’s US$2 billion budget for research and development in 2016. “Industry 4.0 is just a pipe dream if our R&D budget is like this,” he wrote. He listed the budgets of some other countries, including Indonesia's, and ended the tweet saying: “Let’s hope the new president can raise [the budget].” 

Social media users were quick to interpret Achmad’s tweet as undermining the incumbent presidential candidate Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, or even lending support to his rival, former general Prabowo Subianto. #UninstallBukalapak trended on Twitter for a few days last week, accompanied by images and videos of users uninstalling the app from their smartphones.

Achmad also defended his tweet, saying he was highlighting the need to invest in R&D and skilled talent. He added he meant no malice and that he considered Jokowi a father figure, since both of them are natives of Solo (where Jokowi was also previously mayor). Achmad ended his explanation by expressing his appreciation for the public's concern over the tweet and over the country’s R&D budget. 

"R&D is the single most important differentiator between developed and poor countries,” Achmad wrote. “Developed countries wage innovation wars, while poor countries are stuck in price wars."

Jokowi called Achmad for a meeting on Saturday, 16 February, holding a press conference thereafter to urge the public to “stop uninstalling Bukalapak.” In a statement, Jokowi also asked Indonesians to support young entrepreneurs instead of boycotting them. 

The current uproar came just a month after Jokowi attended Bukalapak’s ninth anniversary celebrations as guest of honor. During his keynote speech, Jokowi had urged Bukalapak to integrate online and offline retail ecosystems, so that more MSMEs could carry out business online and access a larger market.

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Stumbling unicorns

This is not the first time an Indonesian startup unicorn has been the subject of social media brouhahas.

In November 2017, the then-CTO of Traveloka, Derianto Kusuma, had allegedly participated in a walk-out protest against Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan. The protest was led by musician Ananda Sukarlan during the 90th anniversary celebration of Canisius College, a private high school in Jakarta, of which Derianto is an alumnus.

Ananda protested the event committee’s decision to invite Anies, as he believed that the governor did not reflect the Catholic school’s pluralist values.

The #UninstallTraveloka hashtag appeared after rumors of Derianto’s involvement spread across social media platforms. Traveloka later clarified that Derianto did not attend the event, as he was in the US at the time.

In October 2018, Go-Jek's Vice President of Operations and Business Development Brata Santoso uploaded a Facebook post discussing the company’s diversity-themed internal event. Photos and captions suggested that Go-Jek’s inclusive policy included support for LGBT groups. 

News of Brata's post triggered a social media backlash from conservative communities and the #UninstallGojek hashtag quickly spread among Twitter users, who called for a boycott of the app. Go-Jek subsequently issued a statement, saying Brata’s post was his personal interpretation of an internal company event and that Go-Jek was an Indonesian company that "respects Indonesian values and culture."

Edited by Leonard Lee


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