“At the end of the day, an edtech startup should put education first.” – Rousyan Fikri

Syarif Rousyan Fikri, co-founder and CEO of Pahamify

Acing edtech in Indonesia with Pahamify CEO and co-founder Rousyan Fikri

“At the end of the day, an edtech startup should put education first.” – Rousyan Fikri

About the episode
Edtech platforms are seeing greater adoption across a world under lockdown as schools, teachers, and students. Rousyan Fikri, CEO and co-founder of Indonesian edtech Pahamify, shares what this shift to online platforms has been like in Indonesia, trends on where edtech is going in the country, and his approach to building an edtech platform. 
About our guest
Rousyan Fikri is the CEO and a co-founder of Pahamify. 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 Bachelor’s 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.


1:49 How Pahamify was founded;

3:19 Impact of COVID19 on Indonesia’s education system;

4:59 Feedback on Pahamify;

6:54 Managing user experience quality at scale;

8:12 Short-term trends on edtech platform usage;

9:15 Long-term trends on edtech platform innovation;

10:31 Impact of COVID19 on career outlook;

11:37 Book recommendations for founders and operators in the edtech space;

12:40 Favorite type of video content to create;

Yinglan: Why don’t we start by giving our listeners a quick intro to how you became a founder and how Pahamify helps Indonesian students?

Fikri: While I was a PhD candidate and my Youtube channel started to gain popularity, I was having a discussion with few friends who were involved in unicorn startups in Indonesia. They told me it was the best timing for us as Indonesians, to start a startup. 

So I thought it was a perfect timing for me to quit [my]PhD and focus on making something out of this unfair advantage that I have from our ability to communicate science better. And in our Youtube channel audience, most of our audience are high school students. They asked us to create an online learning platform based on the school curriculum. Then it was crystal clear to me that I should build a startup.

And in Pahamify, we are helping students to pass the most important exam in their lives which is the college entrance exam. Because in Indonesia only 10% of the population holds a bachelor degree. We build our service based on this end in mind. We offer a set of test simulations where they can track and analyze their performance. And it’s integrated with other services like the concept videos, talent mapping test, ask teachers, and also counseling sessions with psychologists. 

Yinglan: For those who are not familiar with Indonesia’s education system, can you share with us what the impact of COVID19 has been on schools and students in Indonesia? 

Fikri: Starting from mid-March, students were instructed to learn from home. Schools shut down. And another unexpected impact of COVID is the postponement of [the] college entrance exams. So everything moved to online. But of course, doing online teaching is a totally different animal compared to offline teaching. This is where our expertise and technical capabilities can be a great help for students, especially for high school students.  

So after schools shut down, schools and offline tutoring institutions tried to do online teaching and online test prep. But they were clueless. Therefore, the ministry of education endorsed several edtech platforms to help. Pahamify is one of them and we opened the access of our concept videos for free. 

As for the test-prep platforms, many institutions are attempting to do it online using Google Forms. But of course, it’s not convenient for the students. The thing in edtech is, students just want to use the best product. Product that is reliable, has a good UX and offers good content. Basically, a seamless learning experience which we can provide.

Yinglan: I’m sure you have one or two stories of what you are seeing — what your students have remarked about Pahamify, maybe you can share. I would love to hear how activity and usage has been like on Pahamify in the world of social distancing, and many learning institutions and students look for tools to continue their schooling online? 

Fikri: As a new player in town, we’ve been seeing double growth in the beginning of this year And you know we mostly grew through organic channels. So students told us that our platform is the most caring education technology platform. It is the rookie online platform of the year because even if we’re new, we’ve offered them with complete content, the best UI and the best UX. 

And social distancing has been multiplying this exponential growth even more. It’s serving as a catalyst for our product growth which already speaks for itself. We got trending quite frequently in Google Play Store, Social Media like Twitter and also top the chart at AppStore without spending a lot of marketing budget. 

And these users, learning becomes fun and addictive for them once they know Pahanmify. They regret that they did not know Pahamify since before — I mean they just knew Pahamify, and it is something that they have been missing. Because right now they can use our app for around 1 hour a day. They said it changes the way they learn. That’s why even though we’ve been seeing tremendous growth in the number of users, our play store rating is increasing to 4.9.

Yinglan: Congratulations we are seeing stunning growth on the platform since COVID happened. When platforms experience a sudden increase in activity and demand, one of the key challenges is keeping up operations and making sure the platform is scalable. How has your team been managing content production and ensuring quality user experience?  

Fikri: Of course, a lot of requests have been made both for the content side and also the platform or server side, because it’s both the education and technology. Especially when we become the go-to platform for test-prep, this is a whole new level of users’ excitement that we’d love to see. And we have been working round-the-clock to serve users. Due to the COVID situation, It’s mandatory to quickly adjust our content production framework to be able to produce and conduct live streaming remotely. 

While our engineering team continuously optimizes the platform, the marketing team also needs to be responsive to see what’s been going on from the users’ perspective. Sometimes we couldn’t fulfill all of their requests. Sometimes we even make mistakes and we have to admit it. And this is where having an intimate relationship with users matters the most. It’s been known to the users that we are the friendliest edtech platform with amiable customer service.

Yinglan: To that note, what are the trends you are seeing in how users behave on Pahamify? Are there specific subjects/topics that are more in demand at this time? Are there features that are being more or less during this time? 

Fikri: Yeah as I mentioned there’s been a postponement of the college entrance exam, so test prep is becoming the popular service in our product. So the content related to School Aptitude Test such as reasoning test and math, they became trending videos in our app. In terms of features, we see students sharing our test-prep performance tracker in social media a lot, because they like to see their progress so they share it on social media. This feature is heavily used periodically and intensely during this COVID moment. Because we are the only edtech platform who focuses on performance improvement in the Indonesia market. And clearly it resonates with what the students are looking for.

Yinglan: And tell us a story on how you are seeing edtech platforms increase or improve the value they provide to students and teachers? 

Fikri: I do believe there are still plenty of opportunities for edtech in Indonesia since the market is just about to take off. At the end of the day an edtech startup should put education first. What matters the most is how the student can learn from the teachers. How to keep this interaction seamless and learning process efficient by using technology. But, what works in other countries might not work in Indonesia. But seeing the trends recently, I believe live streaming class is one of the things that we should put more effort to experiment with. 

And we kind of cracked some formula to it, we’ve been conducting this for the last two months and they feel like this live-streaming session is just as powerful as the offline tutoring session. I believe this is where we can explore the possibilities in the future to improve the interaction between students and teachers online. 

Yinglan: There’s an interesting feature on your platform which is career consultation. How would you say students’ outlook and expectations on their careers are changing with this pandemic? How will Pahamify meet these changing expectations and needs? 

Fikri: I must say [the] pandemic has not impacted the way they look at their future career. We’ve been seeing that it’s just the same classic problem as we have asked students while we were trying to build this solution. These questions lingers on, questions like, “Should I choose talent over passion? Should I follow what my parents told me even if it’s against my own interest? Is this major I aspire to go to would be valuable in the future job market?” Fortunately, we have all of these mapped out in our career center solution. That’s why it also feels like students need to go at least one time before taking the test to consult with our psychologists. 

Yinglan: Do you have any book recommendations for our listeners, especially fellow founders and those working in the edtech space? 

Fikri: I think one of the most important books that influenced my mind when I built an edtech company is “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley. It gives you a sense how education is a part of culture, and it’s not easy to change culture. So you have to have a growth view and what works in a country might not work in another country, so it’s important to get down into the first principle. And also “Whiplash” by Joi Ito, to give a sense of how the future might roll out for the education world. I guess these two books can give you a micro and macro perspective to help you with building an edtech. 

Yinglan: I’d like to end on a light note — what has been your favorite video/content to produce on your channel or on the Pahamify platform? 

Fikri: Most of the contents that we produce are highly crafted with high production quality. But, just recently, I really like to produce a deep talk series. It’s basically a raw video, unscripted, unedited, of me doing book review for 15-20 minutes. Sometimes simplicity feels much better and it’s on our Youtube channel. 

Fikri’s latest #deeptalkmalam on Ignition

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Paulo Joquiño is a writer and content producer for tech companies, and co-author of the book Navigating ASEANnovation. He is currently Editor of Insignia Business Review, the official publication of Insignia Ventures Partners, and senior content strategist for the venture capital firm, where he started right after graduation. As a university student, he took up multiple work opportunities in content and marketing for startups in Asia. These included interning as an associate at G3 Partners, a Seoul-based marketing agency for tech startups, running tech community engagements at coworking space and business community, ASPACE Philippines, and interning at workspace marketplace FlySpaces. He graduated with a BS Management Engineering at Ateneo de Manila University in 2019.