How Ruangguru and Sociolla Can Reach Their Inflection Point?

27 November 2019

In a panel discussion at East Ventures’ 10th Anniversary event, founders of Ruangguru and Sociolla shared how they met East Ventures, built their respective startups, and hit the inflection point.

Adamas Belva and Iman Usman recalled the first meeting with Willson Cuaca, that happened in 2014.

“At that time, we only had some information about VCs that were available in Indonesia. I think word of mouth and the referral usually spread around. We asked one of our friends, Brian Marshal from SIRCLO, about his investor. He mentioned East Ventures,” Iman said.

They asked Brian’s feedback about East Ventures, who gave a good impression of his interaction with Willson and some people at East Ventures. Belva and Iman decided to meet Willson when they got back to Indonesia and asked Brian to introduce them.

“I think it’s funny because we were introduced by Brian to Willson, for example, today evening. We immediately received an email back from Willson: “Okay let’s meet tomorrow morning”. We didn’t have a deck at the time. So we scrambled everything, created a deck out of nothing,” Belva said.

The next day, they met with Willson. Within 15 minutes of the conversation, Willson said: “Okay, I want in”.

Looking back, they felt very grateful because Willson took a leap of faith to become the first investor of Ruangguru. Belva was still a student in the US at that time, leaving Iman running it by himself in Indonesia.

“I think Willson has been a great partner, and we’re grateful to be part of EV family,” Belva said.

John M. Rasjid and Christopher Madiam from Sociolla also have a similar story. They met Willson in early 2015 in a restaurant in Pacific Place, and Willson quickly said: “Okay, this makes a lot of sense, let’s go.”

“After half an hour and before we even finish the talk, basically there’s no presentation, he said how much money you need?” Christopher said.

Why Ruangguru chose education?

Today, Ruangguru is the largest tech-enabled education provider in Southeast Asia. It provides learning video subscriptions, private tutor marketplace, corporate learning, and anything that is a cross between education and technology.

Belva and Iman founded the startup because of their personal story who didn’t come from a wealthy background and their struggle to get a good education. At that point, they realized that education is a big (maybe the biggest) problem in Indonesia, and almost no one tries to tackle the issue at that time. 

“We are not the smartest or the most talented students. There are many smarter and more talented kids, but they don’t get the same opportunity as us back then,” Iman said.

They were surprised to see many students and parents interested in alternative solutions in education like Ruangguru.

“We’re the fourth largest education system globally with 50 million students, but one of the most dysfunctional. You can look at PISA ranking that we’re number 2 but from the bottom. However, this problem comes with an opportunity. That’s why we’re setting out to dominate the market, hit the inflection point, and we think we’re just getting started,” Belva said. 

The magnitude of the problem in education encourage Belva and Iman to stick to their focus, especially after they see the impact of their solutions for a lot of students who depend on Ruangguru’s services. 

The problem in education is worse for students who don’t live in Jakarta, who do not have other alternatives to get additional education. Besides, they still need to sit for the same exam to get into the best university and compete with students from Jakarta.

Ruangguru’s solutions have been proven to level the playing field for those students.

“I heard stories like how a son of a farmer, a son of a domestic worker in Malaysia, a son of a laundry worker, who got into the best universities by using our services. Just imagining what kind of impact that we will have, to be the forefront of technologies of education, that really what keeps us growing,” Belva said.

The change that matters

Ruangguru’s founders once thought that the biggest problem in education was the difficulty of finding good teachers. That’s why Ruangguru started in 2014 as a private tutor marketplace that can connect students and good teachers. However, the solution turned hard to scale.

“In Jakarta, for example, there are many good teachers. But if you go to smaller cities and remote areas, it’s much more difficult. It is a supply problem,” Iman said.

Ruangguru’s founders decided to shift their thinking and try to scale the teachers by creating digital content. On the other hand, Ruangguru also uses technology to spread the content to the mass. The change, as well as the absence of competitors, allowed them to reach the inflection point.

“I think given the business model that we have, it has a good margin because it’s content business. We could recoupe all of our marketing expenses and make money from it,” Belva said.

Belva felt grateful that they can arrive in this inflection point as fast as they did.

“It was a realization from our part as well because it proves that parents do care about their children’s education. We will continue to be rational, as we grow the business as well,” Belva said.

Ruangguru also has experimented with offline learning centers. Talking about this, Iman said that the learning center is different with a typical learning center. They try to leverage technologies and contents that they have. Thus, the learning process can be more scalable, effective, and efficient.

Potential of beauty products

John M. Rasjid, Christopher Madiam, and Chrisanti Indiana founded Sociolla in 2015 because they see an opportunity in the beauty industry. At that time, most of the beauty products sold in Indonesia don’t have license from regulators and hard to buy. That’s why they decided to build Sociolla, and also a media platform to educate the market. 

Recently, they just opened offline stores. Customers can touch and feel the product in the stores, while Sociolla can still track customer’s data. This move allowed Sociolla to reach a new customer base, serve them better, and hit the inflection point.

“From day one, we always try to understand our customer needs. We see that the need for offline stores is still big. We want our customers to be able to touch and feel the products,” Christopher said.

Similar with Ruangguru, Sociolla doesn’t build its offline stores like ordinary stores. It tries to ask themselves what kind of experience that the offline stores can give, which the online platform can’t.

“It was a controversial idea at first, an online company going offline. We spoke to a lot of people, and they expressed different perspectives. However, I think we always need to come back to customers. It’s relevant to become our anchor, and this is the right way to do to stay relevant for us,” John said.

Stay focus and be humble

According to Ruangguru’s founders, a startup can be successful only by focusing on the consumer, not on competitors. Focus and being data-driven will keep you on track for inflection point.

“We have to understand what customer needs, what makes them happy, and what makes them unhappy. For us, it involves the parents, schools, teachers, kids, and the governments,” Iman said.

Sociolla’s founders also have valuable suggestions. They reminded the audience that there is no single piece of advice that will work for every startup. However, they pointed out the importance of attitude, such as continuously being humbled and not getting complacent about where you are.

“Things change so fast, tech industry change so fast, beauty industry change so fast. We have to be humbled and continuously do pulse check,” Christopher said.

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