Covid-19 opened up great opportunities for e-commerce companies, while also posing fresh challenges of its own. Launched early in the pandemic, Indonesian quick commerce e-grocery startup Astro has not only survived but thrived on its mission to deliver groceries within 15 minutes or less to select neighborhoods across Jakarta.
Equipped with more than US$90 million in venture funding, the firm now eyes expansion in terms of neighborhoods served as well as items in stock at its dark stores.
In a recent podcast, Astro’s co-founder and COO Jessica Stephanie Jap sat down with Helen Wong, managing partner at AC Ventures, and spoke about the opportunities and challenges the instant grocery startup has encountered, both during and after the pandemic.
Before Astro’s rollout, Jess spent time at local e-commerce titan Tokopedia, researching pain points confronting Indonesian shoppers during their purchase journeys.
Shortly after she left to help build Astro, the pandemic reared its ugly head. Still just trying to find validation and product-market fit at the time, Jess and her team were suddenly front and center of the online shopping discussion in Indonesia. As lockdowns took effect, Astro’s quick commerce experiment was off to the races.
Though it had been operating since 2019, Astro’s official launch came during the second wave of the pandemic in Indonesia. The business has continued to thrive since, even to the point where Astro is now eyeing expansion in terms of products on hand beyond the 3,000 now in stock, as well as the addition of coverage beyond Jakarta.
During the episode, Jess elaborated on how Astro came about and where the startup is headed now. Here are some excerpts from the discussion.
Astro proves that quick commerce was not just a pandemic fad
The transcript below has been condensed and edited for focus and clarity.
Can you tell us about your time at Tokopedia and how it led you to start Astro?
I had the privilege at Tokopedia of learning from many great people about business operations, products, and tech. It was really inspiring to see people at Tokopedia create impact after impact, day by day. I then realized, though, that I wanted to step out and pursue my own dream.
How did the pandemic spark an interest in quick commerce in Indonesia?
We realized that people needed us. So many were impacted by Covid because they couldn’t get out of their houses. They all were saying, ‘Do you guys deliver to my neighborhood?’ The challenge then became: how do we capture this demand quickly enough?
What was it like for you to try to meet this demand during Covid?
There were five of us as co-founders, and we were lucky enough to have some other key team members who were there from the start and eager to help customers who really needed to order groceries online.
But at the beginning, 30% of our team members were also impacted by Covid. They were sick and they had to stay home. We had to focus on taking care of our people so they could recover quickly. But we also had very good teamwork in covering for each other when needed. At one time, I was even doing the picking and packing at one of the hubs, so I got to experience what it’s really like.
Now that the pandemic is waning, what kind of challenges are ahead for Astro?
We’re growing very fast. In the beginning, we only had 1,000 products, and now at certain hubs, we have almost 3,000. I’d say the biggest challenge we have right now is: how do we manage the delivery of a greater assortment of products in the same limited time window?
Meanwhile, people are constantly asking us, ‘Please, when can you cover my area?’ I just always have to answer them by saying, ‘Don’t worry! We’re getting there.’ The ambition is to cover all of the Jakarta Metro areas soon, and maybe even a bit outside of Jakarta, perhaps Bandung.
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