A Tale of Two Cities: Startup Life in Jakarta and Boston

Jakarta morning: As I get ready to work, I text my ojek, or motorcycle driver, that I will be ready to go around 8am. I head downstairs, and as usual he arrives 15 minutes late because of traffic. Sometimes he doesn’t show up and I have to call him. We have an unspoken rule where if I want to have an extended conversation, I have to call him so that I foot the phone bill, instead of making him spend his pulsa (phone credit in Indonesia) texting back and forth with me. I hop onto the motorcycle, strap on my helmet, start playing music and zone out. I sit there in the sticky heat, as he skillfully weaves through cars and motorcycles to get to my office, which is actually only 5 miles away but usually takes about an hour to get there. My office is located in Slipi, which is sometimes affectionately known as Slipicon Valley because of the abundance of startups there.

Boston morning: Ready to head out the door for work, I put on 2 jackets and talk a brisk walk to the MBTA red line. I swipe my card and wait on the platform, which tells me the train is 2 minutes away. The train arrives and the door opens, where we politely stand to the side as people get out and then we file into the train. I take the red line for about fifteen minutes to Downtown Crossing, which is right in the middle of downtown Boston. As I exit the station, I go to Dunkin Donuts to get my daily morning fix of iced coffee with extra sugar and extra cream. I stand there in line at Dunkin Donuts, QR code in hand, noting the diversity of people in line around me who all need morning coffee, ranging from policemen to men in business suits. I grab my coffee and enter our new office building on 101 Arch and take the elevator to the ninth floor.


Left: Traffic in Jakarta. Right: MBTA red line in Boston.

Jakarta afternoon: The office is a large open room filled with desks where leads sit at one end facing their teams. I sit at my desk in the warm and sticky air trying to concentrate, but I can feel the mosquitos buzzing around my legs. Today at work, we are integrating another payment type and working on an upcoming promotion for New Year’s Day with Visa. Operations is in a flurry due to the flood last night, resulting in a bunch of delayed orders followed by an influx of complaints and inquiries from customers. Around 3pm, the Muslims head out to their daily prayer, which takes about ten minutes and happens five times a day. Meanwhile, I grab a snack with some coworkers at the nearby warung, or small shop, where the office favorite is stuffed tofu which sells at 10 cents a piece.

Boston afternoon: The office is still quiet at 9am. People gradually trickle in and sit at their randomly assigned desks – we have “desk shuffle” every quarter where people get randomly assigned to a new desk. Today we are rolling out an experiment testing four different variations of push notification text to see which is most effective at reactivating lapsed users. I work with our data analyst to determine which country and percentage of users we want to run the experiment on. The retention team today is building a set of monitoring and alerting tools which allow us to track the performance of push notifications in our Android app mCent. By midday, the office is buzzing with productivity and everyone is on Slack, mostly talking about work mixed with a healthy amount of heckling in channels like #random and #cute-animal-chat. At 4pm, I go to retention standup, which is immediately followed by Daily Social where everyone takes a break and meets up in the cafeteria to chat and enjoy an afternoon beer or wine.


Left: Afternoon break at the warung. Right: Hanging out at the cafeteria.

Jakarta night: After work, I have Indonesian class. I am really eager to learn Bahasa because my quality of life depends on it – language enables me to order different foods, troubleshoot when the electricity goes out, and make more friends at the office. After class, I share a taxi with coworkers to a nearby mall. Malls are very popular hangout locations because there is air conditioning, an abundance of food, and entertainment options. We walk around and decide to watch a new movie before heading home for the night.

Boston night: Sometimes after work, I go to kickball with the Janamals team. Other days, I get to choose from a variety of public lectures available at Harvard and MIT. There is a cool lecture today on the Science of Sugar, so I jump on the MBTA red line and take a twenty minute ride to Harvard campus. After absorbing a bunch of new ideas, I grab a locally sourced sandwich from Clover and head home. My roommate and I go to the gym for a quick workout, and after that I get to play the night away with friends on League of Legends on my high speed internet.


Left: Malls are popular hangout places. Right: Public lecture at Harvard University.


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