Belva Devara co-founded the Indonesian edtech startup Ruangguru in 2014 and says it has impacted more than 22 million K–12 students and worked with over 300,000 teachers. In April, Ruangguru raised $55 million in a round led by Tiger Global and GGV Capital, to bring its total venture funding to over $205 million.

What’s the biggest tech opportunity in Indonesia that’s often overlooked?

It’s education because I think a lot of people just don’t internalize yet that Indonesia is the fourth biggest country by population with the fourth biggest education system in the world. But it’s one of the most dysfunctional education systems too, based on the Programme for International Student Assessment ranking. That presents a lot of opportunities that I don’t think a lot of players have been taking advantage of. It’s an exciting sector that is still very, very nascent, compared, for example, to e-commerce or ride hailing.

What investment trend for Indonesia and Southeast Asia are you most excited about?

I’m most excited about the fact that the larger startups, the unicorns, are starting to go public. Bukalapak’s one of them, GoTo is another. I think that kind of gives us — the younger startups — role models to look up to. They’re not just listing here in Indonesia; they’re also listing in the West and other markets. This is the first time that we’re seeing this part of the world get more spotlight in the eyes of the investors. Previously, I think there were very few companies, especially tech companies, that investors were able to get exposure to the growth that we’re experiencing here in Southeast Asia — and [then] seeing that their IPOs are successful. I think that will spur the next wave of new startups that will be beneficial for all of us.

How has your company adjusted to the pandemic?

The pandemic has been an excellent way to boost the adoption of online learning. Because previously, a lot of parents didn’t even consider online learning. It’s such a foreign concept that you can learn on a mobile phone. But right now, it’s a necessity. And I think it’s also the first time that parents actually know what their kids are learning, because they are forced to accompany the kids. And so I think that even after the pandemic, the overall adoption level of online learning is going to be permanently increased. And now we are thinking about inventing a blended learning model for when the pandemic ends.

What was the most important decision of your career?

Starting Ruangguru. Indonesia is really not known for education.  We’re not Singapore, we’re not China and when we first started it, we faced a lot of doubt from investors. There were really no role models — not in Indonesia, not in Southeast Asia. But we pushed through because parents were not getting it from the schooling system and we found that these supplemental education programs parents ended up with are often very, very expensive. And so we thought, okay, why don’t we use technology? We gathered the best teachers in the country, and created very good learning videos and then live teaching that can reach a lot of students at the same time, affordably. 

*Devara was interviewed by Jihan Basyah.