In this episode, we’re going to do a deep dive back into the edtech or education scene in Indonesia, and to guide us on that journey we have with us returning guest Syarif Rousyan Fikri, who is the CEO and co-founder of Pahamify. So to our longtime listeners, you may remember from our episode […]

Pahamify CEO and co-founder Syarif Rousyan Fikri

S03E29: Indonesia’s K12 Learning Loss Gap, Leading the Grade 12 Test Prep Space with Live Streaming, and the Culture of Listening with Pahamify CEO Syarif Rousyan Fikri

In this episode, we’re going to do a deep dive back into the edtech or education scene in Indonesia, and to guide us on that journey we have with us returning guest Syarif Rousyan Fikri, who is the CEO and co-founder of Pahamify. So to our longtime listeners, you may remember from our episode back in season one last year, where he had a chat with Yinglan on introducing Pahamify, talking about how they’re changing K-12 education for Indonesian students and especially when it comes to test preparation.
In this episode, we’re going to catch up with him, learn more about how the education scene has developed, especially, with the pandemic and the lockdowns and how things have progressed over in Indonesia, and also learn more about how they’ve grown their company from a culture perspective and also a product perspective as well.

Highlights and Timestamps

  1. 00:13 Paulo introduces Fikri;
  2. 02:02 Catching up on Pahamify; “We’re constantly listening to our users. Hence, we [have become] the market leader for Grade 12 students.” 
  3. 02:30 How edtechs can sustain growth post-pandemic; “Talking about post-pandemic, the thing is once you make students feel an exceptional learning experience, they will stick.”
  4. 04:05 Where live streaming fits into Pahamify’s user experience; “The live streaming component gives us the chance to integrate all our existing products into a top-notch learning experience.”
  5. 06:03 The philosophy and cultural nuance behind live streaming; “The social aspect is one of the important parts of learning, the personal touch of the teachers, and also the way you interact with other students. And that becomes more so for Indonesian culture.” 
  6. 08:11 Dealing with impact of pandemic-induced learning loss on schools and teachers; “Because of the pandemic, there is an effect called learning loss…students who learn from home will have several gaps in their learning process…it is also a problem faced by the teachers and schools…that’s where our expertise [comes] in.” 
  7. 10:12 Long-term effects of social media engagements; “We are a product focused and very efficient edtech startup, and social media is the place where we try and build our loyal users.”
  8. 11:48 How Pahamify changed the life of Fariq; “[This story] makes me really happy because it’s not only changing the way Fariq is learning, but also he could achieve his dream to get accepted into his dream college. And not only that he also got to inspire other people in Indonesia…”
  9. 13:51 The role of customer service for Pahamify; “So it’s more than just customer service, but they are also teachers in themselves.”
  10. 15:30 Pahamify’s culture; “…good talents always want to work with a leader who shows them what the future looks like in a way that they have never imagined before. And this leader has to show them that [the team] can achieve it and the leader has to know how to achieve [this future].”
  11. 17:35 How Pahamify’s culture has impacted their product; “Listening and caring about users has always been in the DNA of Pahamify. We started the company because our YouTube fanbase asked for it.”
  12. 19:10 How Pahamify’s culture has evolved with Indonesia’s edtech landscape; “Pahamify is the underdog who is constantly beating the odds and has become the market leader in test prep.”
  13. 20:40 The next five years for Pahamify and Indonesia edtech; “The market in Indonesia is still early, everyone is still trying to figure out what’s the best model for now and what’s the best model for the next five years. But the first principle of learning is going to stay the same.” 
  14. 22:14 Rapid Fire Round; 

About our guest

Prior to Pahamify, Fikri was the writer and host of an award-winning Indonesian educational video series on YouTube which now has over 373,000 subscribers. The series received the YouTube Next Up 2017 award from YouTube and collaborated with Google to produce Learning How to Learn Course—the book version of this course was just published recently with a top publisher in Indonesia. Syarif graduated with a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB), one of Indonesia’s top universities, at only 19 years old and was also a former PhD candidate at the Electrical and Electronics Engineering department of Nanyang Technological University.

Transcript

Paulo: So we’re happy to have Fikri back on the show. Hi Fikri, how are you doing? 

Fikri: I’m great. glad to be back here. Thanks for having me balling.

Paulo: Yeah. It’s great to have you back again. And, I think for our listeners, maybe you can give us a quick intro for those who haven’t heard of Pahamify yet. And also for those who have caught your previous episode with us, how has Pahamify been doing since we last talked?

Fikri: Pahamify has been doing great. We’re constantly listening to our users. Hence, we [have become] the market leader for Grade 12 students. We are number 1 in test prep, the largest free live stream [class] provider, and we have the most engaging learning content.

“We’re constantly listening to our users. Hence, we [have become] the market leader for Grade 12 students.” 

Paulo: Given that you guys have really focused on Grade 12 students, test prep, and new projects like livestream, which we’ll talk a little bit more about later and also the contents that you have in your platform — given that focus how has user engagement or behavior on your platform evolved since our last chat? Do you see any new trends especially given the tech boom last year? How do you see K12 edtechs in Indonesia fairing post-pandemic? 

Fikri: Since our last chat, we keep seeing excitement from students to the many new initiatives that we launched. Last academic year, seeing the demands from the users, we launched premium live-streaming classes before the college entrance exam. I even taught for 50 consecutive days at 6 am in the morning, joined by thousands of students each day.

Talking about post-pandemic, the thing is once you make students feel an exceptional learning experience, they will stick. Some boarding schools in Indonesia forbid the use of smartphones, but our users wanted to keep using our service. They asked us to write a letter stating that they are truly Pahamify students, so the school would allow them to bring smartphones. 

“Talking about post-pandemic, the thing is once you make students feel an exceptional learning experience, they will stick.”

Paulo: I think it’s really great that the dynamic has only allowed you guys to prove even more just how much the users, to an extent even depend on the platform or really see it as a go-to when it comes to supplementary learning or test prep. 

So now I want to talk a little bit more and zoom in to the livestreaming component, which is one of the newer things about the Pahamify platform. Obviously, you guys started creating in-house content, which came from the fact that you guys started a YouTube channel, and then you created in-house content. And now you’re doing live streaming, which I’m curious to know about and I’m sure listeners would love to learn more about as well. So how does the live streaming build on top of this, as I mentioned earlier, existing content and gamification features, and how does it fit into Pahamify’s overall strategy long-term? 

Fikri: The live streaming component gives us the chance to integrate all our existing products into a top-notch learning experience. Our overall program is designed to give students 3 things in their learning habits. The first is structure. The second is measurement, and the third one is consistency.

On the structure, most students don’t know how to plan their study. We help them build the most efficient learning pathway according to their current state. We have all the content that they need, the learning activities, quizzes, problem sets, but we also help them to plan which one is to take first before getting into the next ones and how to measure this progress that they have. 

That’s where the measurement part comes in. As you know, we have the best and largest test-prep platform for college entrance examinations in Indonesia, allowing them to know their real progress while chasing the top university they want to [enter]. Here’s where the intrinsic gamification aspect plays its role.

Then the third one on consistency: getting to meet teachers and other students on a regular basis will keep them engaged and motivated in their studies. That’s the plan.

“The live streaming component gives us the chance to integrate all our existing products into a top-notch learning experience.”

Paulo: So I suppose the live streaming plays into the consistency aspect of the whole platform. So you’ve talked about live sheaving and its role on Pahamify’s platform. I also want to get your thoughts as an educator, and also co-founder and CEO of an edtech company in Indonesia — what are your thoughts on live streaming for education In Indonesia? 

I understand it’s not exactly a walk in the park because you’re dealing with internet connectivity problems and obviously you want to reach as many high schools as possible. So how are you grappling with these challenges and what is Pahamify’s biggest edge rolling out this live streaming component on its platform?

Fikri: Despite the obstacles we need to understand first the first principle of this live streaming. The social aspect is one of the important parts of learning, the personal touch of the teachers, and also the way you interact with other students. And that becomes more so for Indonesian culture. 

The first Indonesian Minister of Education, Ki Hadjar Dewantara said that a teacher must do three things. First is to set an example up front. Second is to inspire the students by blending in with them. Third is to give encouragement from behind. This philosophy is the one I’m aspiring to emulate. I immerse myself in their world, talk to them every day, before teaching them and setting a product vision for the company. 

And I teach every teacher in the company to do the same. And that creates a strong sense of belonging for Pahamify students. After our live streaming program ended, they even sent pizzas to our office. So, you know, after our live streaming program ended last academic year, they even sent pizzas to our offices, and then they even asked for a reunion with their friends. the teachers and with me after the 6:00 AM class. So even [the students] miss the experience. This is the key of the live streaming component in our business.

“The social aspect is one of the important parts of learning, the personal touch of the teachers, and also the way you interact with other students. And that becomes more so for Indonesian culture.”

Paulo: I would say, from what you’ve said, that it really builds a sense of community, when it comes to the engagement. So it’s not just them interacting with a digital interface or recorded videos, but they actually know that that person is there and really engaging with them.

A follow-up question to that is what’s the sell for the teachers to actually, and maybe even the school’s — what’s the sell for the teachers and the schools to actually use this live streaming component and to integrate it into how they engage with their students? 

Fikri: Because of the pandemic, there is an effect called learning loss. Compared to students who go to school on a regular basis, students who learn from home will have several gaps in their learning process. And it is also a problem faced by the teachers and schools especially since they can’t really put all of their time and focus into tinkering with how to deliver online content. That’s where our expertise [comes] in. 

During this pandemic, we also have been collaborating with several schools. They can access the contents of Pahamify we’ve been having the students learn from: our bank of content and also our live recordings of the live streaming. Then they can discuss [these] with the teachers during the school session. 

On top of that, a lot of [learning] gaps [can’t] be fulfilled during the school session. So they needed to go for supplementary learning activities. That’s where the live session or live streaming classes of Pahamify can play its role in helping schools and teachers first. They don’t have that much time and they’re not incentivized to do this, but they know that it is required in order for students to progress in their learning process. And that’s how the school and teachers see the contribution of Pahamify.

“Because of the pandemic, there is an effect called learning loss…students who learn from home will have several gaps in their learning process…it is also a problem faced by the teachers and schools…that’s where our expertise [comes] in.” 

Paulo: Definitely something that I learned also from our previous podcast and also the podcast with Edmicro in Vietnam is that it’s not just getting the students on board, you also have to get the buy-in of the teachers and the schools as well because they draw in the students to some extent as well.

And speaking of community, one of the things that I personally like about the high-fives approaches, how active you guys are in social media and engaging students there. And I think you thought about it as well in the previous episode, but I wanted you to also share this time what are the benefits, right?

Because it can seem a little bit time-consuming as well, especially as you mentioned earlier, waking up really early to do these classes and social media engagements with these students and users. So what are the long-term benefits of actually building these strong, direct relationships with these students through social media?

Fikri: We are a product-focused and very efficient edtech startup, and social media is the place where we try and build our loyal users. As you mentioned, we started off as an education YouTube [channel]. So I know how to build an audience. I know the DNA of creating a sense of loyalty in the users. And in fact, the first year after launching the product, we got big because of Instagram and Twitter.

The key here is that we can interact on a daily basis. And can immerse ourselves in the work of the students. I know what kind of Korean dramas they’ve been watching nowadays. So I can use that while teaching. I know the dynamics that are faced by the students due to the development of pandemic and changes in regulatory curriculum and whatnot.

That might be time-consuming, but that’s the right thing to do. It can give you a clear direction in which way to go for the product and for the company. So we can keep in touch with the market.

“We are a product focused and very efficient edtech startup, and social media is the place where we try and build our loyal users.”

Paulo: I think that’s something that your co-founder Ikhsan also wrote in an article that we published on our blog last year that you really try to get into the mind of your users. And that’s through, as you mentioned, really interacting with them in the “off hours” as well. 

So one thing I wanted to ask also, and I’m sure listeners also love hearing this from our guests, especially from the founders, is the customer stories or a case study. So could you share with us a story of how Pahamify has impacted or changed the life of one of its student users?

Fikri: There are so many stories, but I want to tell you one story about Fariq, our student who got viral in the news because he got accepted to ITB after failing twice. So after graduating from high school, he went to a private university, but then he had to drop out because of financial problems. 

Then last year, he [became] one of the most diligent students in my 6 am class. Many people called him my assistant. He told me he [has] tried all edtech platforms, yet Pahamify was his last harbor. 

And he’s been telling other students, “Pahamify’s customer service replied to your text faster than your crush.” One time he wanted to repurchase a package, but then there was some issue. Our customer service acted quickly so he didn’t have to wait long to start studying. For Indonesian students, time is scarce, especially when the college entrance exam is [approaching]. 

So this is one of the stories, which makes me really happy because it’s not only changing the way Fariq is learning, but also he could achieve his dream to get accepted into his dream college. And not only that he also got to inspire other people in Indonesia because he got viral in the news.

“[This story] makes me really happy because it’s not only changing the way Fariq is learning, but also he could achieve his dream to get accepted into his dream college. And not only that he also got to inspire other people in Indonesia…”

Paulo: That’s really a great story, not only [because], obviously he had that experience of not being able to succeed before and then that sort of puts him in an underdog kind of position and everybody loves an underdog that eventually succeeds, but [also] that Pahamify was there, and as you said, almost in a relationship with the students, replying even faster than their crushes. So you definitely save time for the students. 

One thing I want to ask as a follow-up, is that given that customer service plays a huge role in the experience of the students on the platform, what are the things that they usually need this customer service for, and how do you see this aspect of the platform evolving moving forward? Do you see it becoming more integrated with technology or — how do you see it scaling?

Fikri: In terms of what our customer service does — customer service does so many things in Pahamify. They have to handle the purchases, educate the students [on how to use the product], and also when they have problems with their studies, customer service can act as a bridge to the product team. They will give input to the teachers, to the engineers, to the product managers, to the UX researchers and designers, and to the creative team to create better content. 

So it’s more than just customer service, but they are also teachers in themselves. We have this concept of rockstar teachers. Rockstar teachers must be able to not only be an expert in the field, but they are also a good communicator and they are also inspiring. And the important one is that they have to care personally for the students and this [is why the] customer service has one of the roles of the so-called rockstar teachers, and the way we would love to integrate it with the program is we have more features and more surfaces and campaigns to allow this to be more scalable.

“So it’s more than just customer service, but they are also teachers in themselves.”

Paulo: And now that you’ve talked a lot about Pahamify’s platform and product, I want to shift gears a bit and talk more about talent and culture at the company. So it comes to bringing in the right talent, specifically for an edtech in Indonesia, and obviously also [you’re hiring for] engineering talent and leadership talent as well. What has been Pahamify’s approach to that? 

Fikri: From what I experienced, what brings people together is ultimately vision. My co-founders and I come from technical backgrounds. Ikhsan is a PhD in Machine Learning. Edria created the 1st Indonesian game published by Square Enix. And I found that good talents always want to work with a leader who shows them what the future looks like in a way that they have never imagined before.

And this leader has to show them that [the team] can achieve it and the leader has to know how to achieve [this future]. And we are founders who are deeply passionate about education and technology, so we might have seen what kind of product will disrupt the market in the next seven to ten years. 

And patience is one thing, but to keep people engaged while chasing this audacious school, we need to show them that we can guide them, that we can set an example for them, that we can be a resource to them. And based on my experience, when we co-founders interact with people, they will know what kind of leaders we are compared to the other leaders [and] that makes our job easier to invite them to join our cause. And by this philosophy, we’ve been successfully attracting rare talents in Indonesia. including several PhDs working on the fundamental innovation in edtech that we see as the future of edtech.

“…good talents always want to work with a leader who shows them what the future looks like in a way that they have never imagined before. And this leader has to show them that [the team] can achieve it and the leader has to know how to achieve [this future].”

Paulo: I think it’s really great that you’re able to bring in these rare talents who are able to really contribute in terms of innovating the fundamental aspects as you mentioned of education in Indonesia. So I wanted to ask, given this philosophy and culture that Pahamify espouses, how does that affect the platform directly and the way that you engage students that use your platform? 

Fikri: We are in the business of helping students to fulfill their potential. One of the ways is to make them discover the authentic joy in learning and help them improve their [test] scores. So listening and caring about users has always been in the DNA of Pahamify. We started the company because our YouTube fanbase asked for it.

And it translates to [going] the extra mile for the students to learn more about their problems and how to solve them. Learning about them is the key part in this. We always put students first, not our ego or our idea, while creating content or learning plans, planning new features, and even designing marketing and sales plans.

And in collaborating with each other as a team, there might be arguments, but at the end of the day, we find what’s best for the students. If I have an idea and my staff has an idea. My idea doesn’t have to win, if my staff’s idea is the best one for the students. And this is how it translates from our culture, so Pahamify can provide the best service for students. 

“Listening and caring about users has always been in the DNA of Pahamify. We started the company because our YouTube fanbase asked for it.”

Paulo: It always boils down to the students, and also pretty much culture, I would say, where you really try to get everyone involved in contributing to driving the mission that you’ve just described. So Pahamify has been through quite a lot since it started, two years ago, obviously you had a pandemic and you had like this whole edtech boom, a lot more players in the landscape — how has your company culture evolved to meet these changing demands from students and from the industry?

Fikri: Pahamify is the underdog who is constantly beating the odds and has become the market leader in test prep. People might ask, “How could it survive competing against bigger and older startups?” We can survive, and we can thrive, and we can become the market leader because we have a solid team with high talent density who upholds our culture.

And trust is the key. Trust that everyone is caring about the students, trusting that the leaders are caring for the students and that makes this culture thrive. And since 2019, this culture is only getting stronger because we have more time and resources to nurture this culture. Back in 2019, my co-founder and I had to personally teach the teachers and others as well, and we didn’t have any fancy facility, it’s just dynamic and personal. Now we have a dedicated team and platform for our internal learning. We can constantly build the process and facilities that allow our team to upgrade themselves in accordance with what students need.

“Pahamify is the underdog who is constantly beating the odds and has become the market leader in test prep.”

Paulo: Definitely that culture has, I would say, reflected in the way that you engage with your users, as you’ve mentioned earlier and my next question to that is, where do you see then Pahamify moving forward in the next five years, also considering the context of [the Indonesian edtech] landscape, right? How do you see the Indonesia edtech industry moving forward as well, especially coming out of the pandemic because students will be coming back to schools and everybody hopes that we’ll be able to return to some semblance of normality as well?

Fikri: In the next five years, the way I see Pahamify will be having a proprietary technology that allows learning acceleration for any kind of model or products. The market in Indonesia is still early, everyone is still trying to figure out what’s the best model for now and what’s the best model for the next five years. 

But the first principle of learning is going to stay the same. So, we focus on the heart of learning activities itself, and the other parts will just follow. Like in the last academic year, we didn’t even plan to roll out our premium live streaming program, but then seeing the users needed [it] and because I also interacted with them and bought them everyday, I knew that this can be monetized right now with this model and with this kind of program. And then we just built the MVP fast, I guess if it was only one week when we decided to lodge until the program was launched and it was well-received by the students. 

“The market in Indonesia is still early, everyone is still trying to figure out what’s the best model for now and what’s the best model for the next five years. But the first principle of learning is going to stay the same.” 

Rapid Fire Round

Top Three Skills of a CEO?

Fikri: Seeing what’s invisible to others. Learning agility. Influencing people

Biggest misconception about K12 education in Indonesia?

Fikri: People think that Indonesian students are not motivated to learn. Indonesian students are highly motivated but simply don’t know yet how to build their learning habit.

Advice for first-time founders raising their first round of venture funding?

Fikri: Know the game that you want to play in the long run.

Advice for aspiring founders in Indonesia? 

Fikri: Be someone who has unmatched insight on your users.  

Advice for content creators in Indonesia? 

Fikri: Always improve your meta-process, your process to make a process for creating content. 

What do you do to de-stress?

Fikri: Writing in my personal journal. 

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