Uber agreed to, then scrapped, a non-compete deal with Indonesian unicorn Go-Jek

Uber may have a reputation for steamrolling its competitors, but it can be conciliatory at times. In 2015, a year before its retreat from China via the sale of its Chinese business to rival Didi, the U.S. company agreed to a non-compete deal with Go-Jek, a fast-growing on-demand service from Indonesia that’s valued at more than $1 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

In a bid to strengthen their collective battle against Grab, the Singapore-based firm represented in six countries, the two companies floated a collaboration that would ensure they didn’t compete directly in Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia, according to a person who was involved in discussions. In practical terms, it meant Uber would stick to offering private cars in the country, while Go-Jek would focus only on two-wheeled motorbikes on demand.

The agreement fell apart when Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was made aware of the arrangement. Our source said the Uber chief didn’t want to miss out on potential market share and thus scrapped the deal. It wasn’t long before they did invade each other’s spaces: Uber introduced ‘Motor,’ its bike-taxi service, in Indonesia in April 2016, while Go-Jek announced its GoCar service the following month.

Uber declined to comment. Go-Jek did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Indonesia, and its capital city Jakarta, has become a hot battleground for Uber, Grab and Go-Jek. The country is the largest in Southeast Asia, with a population of 250 million people, and it is currently estimated to account for one-third of the region’s ridesharing market based on revenue, according to figures from a report co-authored by Google. The same study predicts that ridesharing across Southeast Asia will grow by more than five-fold to reach $13.1 billion by 2015, with Indonesia alone worth $5.6 billion.

Agreeing to an alliance might have made sense for a young Go-Jek, but times have changed. The company, which specializes in on-demand motorbike taxis, had a breakout 2016, in which it attracted investment dollars from major firms Warburg Pincus, DST and Sequoia Capital, all of which took part in its recent $500 million financing round. Now valued at $1.3 billion, the company’s stock has continued to soar as it fends off the challenge from Grab and Uber, two vastly larger companies that have raised billions of dollars more. Today, Go-Jek is arguably Indonesia’s top ridesharing firm, and it is reported to be in talks with Chinese tech giant Tencent over a new investment that could bring in as much as $1 billion at a pre-money valuation of $2 billion.

Beyond imitating its business by expanding into motorbikes, Uber and Grab have also taken a leaf out of its monetization playbook. Grab has copied Go-Jek by introducing non-transportation services via motorbike and developing its own mobile payments service, which is designed to seed its platform beyond the initial early adopters that have registered and used it thus far.