How to choose the right VC, according to Ruangguru’s founders

Jul 1 2023
3-min read
It isn’t all about the figures.

Indonesia-based EdTech startup Ruangguru was founded nearly 10 years ago with a noble mission: to give Indonesians greater access to quality education through its tutor marketplace to qualify for better jobs and secure a brighter future for themselves.

It was a tall order. The country has the largest population in Southeast Asia, with 277 million people spread among 17,000 islands, stretching some 5,000 kilometres from east to west. There is also a significant urban/rural divide, with high poverty and low educational achievement levels.

But Ruangguru’s founders, Belva Devara and Iman Usman, knew the pain points were too important to ignore. So despite the country’s low internet penetration rate when they launched their startup (according to World Bank data, only 17% of Indonesia’s population used the internet in 2014), they trudged on. Today, their gamble has paid off; Ruangguru has logged over 20 million users (thanks to a skyrocketing digital-first population and more widespread access to high-quality internet) and expanded beyond Indonesia.

As Ruangguru’s successes grew, many investors were eager to get in on the action. The founders had to be judicious in choosing the right partner to get support and accelerate their growth. This meant looking beyond investment and valuation figures, adopting a more holistic view.


Being on the same page

Firstly, in the world of startup investments, a key consideration for both founders and investors is the long-term horizon associated with the funding, which often spans several years. Unlike short-term investments that aim to generate quick returns, startup investments require patience and a strategic outlook to nurture and grow a fledgling business into a successful enterprise.

The compatibility of values between founders and investors becomes crucial in this context, something Ruangguru’s founders knew well. When they decided to seek external funding, they were not just looking for financial support but for partners who shared their vision, mission, and long-term goals.

For founders, it’s not just about the valuation you get… but it’s – can you imagine working with this person for the long term?
Belva Devara

Choosing an investor is about more than just the money. It’s about establishing a strong relationship built on trust and mutual understanding. Granite Asia fostered a familial and friendly rapport, deepening our connection and giving everyone the confidence to work together toward our shared goals.

Ruangguru’s founders were aware of the potential pitfalls of a mismatch in values between founders and investors. Conflicts, misalignment, and conflicting strategies can hinder progress and create an unhealthy working environment. They conducted thorough due diligence when considering potential investors and evaluated not only Granite Asia’s financial aspects but also our values, track record, and reputation.


Taking education to the next level

Remote learning proved to be a lifesaver during the pandemic. With students stuck at home, digital platforms took centre stage, enabling them to continue their studies. Across the world, the COVID-19 restrictions fuelled a surge in EdTech investments, reaching $21 billion in 2021, three times that of 2019.

While schools and colleges have returned to normal in-class learning, Granite Asia believes EdTech adoption will only keep growing, especially with advances in AI-integrated tools. Our managing partner, Jenny Lee, says that we are now in the “execution” stage of EdTech, which is about growing the reach of virtual learning tools and making them more robust and innovative for better learning.

In places like Indonesia, where public education is fragmented, digital learning platforms are even more vital and can make a more significant difference.

This tremendous opportunity is why we were eager to work with Ruangguru’s founders. We believed in their conviction, grit, and ability to scale the business and adapt to meet the challenges of the fast-evolving education landscape.

Beyond their business acumen, we were drawn to Belva’s and Iman’s empathy and humility. These traits were clearly demonstrated during the pandemic lockdowns when they checked in with employees who were sick and arranged ambulances to provide additional help for more severe cases.

And more recently, when the founders had to make some tough decisions to lay off employees during the economic downturn, they ensured that those affected were fairly compensated and supported to find a new job.

Witnessing Ruangguru’s building journey has been a privilege. With their unwavering commitment to revolutionising education, the future is bound to hold even more extraordinary achievements. Together, we embrace the possibilities and eagerly await the next chapter in this remarkable story of growth and innovation.

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