I knew this guy from 5 years ago when he was still a student in the University of Indonesia. We didn’t talk much back then, as he was mostly busy with tons of positive activities, while I was still busy partying and dealing with my quarter life crisis.
Fast forward now, he has become one of the most inspiring twenty something I’ve ever known. He is exactly where he wanted to be, driven by a noble passion and a box of curiosity. One day, DR forwarded me this video of him giving a speech at the United Nations Headquarter in New York. “I know this guy!” I said to him. We quickly agreed to feature him here, as we believe he must have a lot of insights and perspectives to be shared to us.
TPOB20: Who is Iman Usman in your own eyes?
Iman: Iman is someone who is ambitious, in a way that he basically knows what he wants and what he does not. Once he knows what he wants, he’ll try to achieve whatever it is. He will figure out how to get there. He is very persistent. Often he wants a lot of things, which can be quite a distraction for him. He’s also very easily excited about something. Once he’s excited he’ll put everything into it as if there are no other things or no other day. He can also be very predictable and unpredictable at the same time.
Iman: I basically spend 90-95% of my time at Ruangguru. Most people used to know it as a private tutoring marketplace. However, what we do is actually a lot more complex than that. Ruangguru’s main product is actually a Learning Management System (LMS) for Primary & Secondary Schools which can be used for free by students and teachers in schools setting. The data that is generated through the LMS is linked to the school and government dashboard to help the government create data-driven policies. This LMS is currently being implemented throughout Indonesia through established public-private partnerships with 15 provincial governments and 80 cities/ regencies governments. We estimate that the platform is going to serve ~1 million students by January 2017. In addition to the LMS, we also provide monetized supplemental products and services (premiums):
(1) The largest private tutoring marketplace in Indonesia with +60,000 signed-up offline tutors
(2) The only mobile app in Indonesia for live on-demand problem based tutoring (through live chat and audio call).
(3) Learning videos subscription, to be launched in December 2016, with ~1500 videos already produced;
(4) Paid test-preparation/ online exams.
Iman: I’m the co-founder and also Chief of Product and Partnership. As a Chief of Product and Partnership, I lead the teams who are responsible for: the whole product design, development and iteration process (which includes leading and overseeing the whole design sprint and agile framework); all government relations efforts both in country level and district-level; all internal and external PR & communications and collaboration with third parties. In addition to that, I’m helping some education and youth related foundations as their board of advisors, including: YCAB (Yayasan Cinta Anak Bangsa) and IFL (Indonesia Future Leaders). In my spare time, I usually speak, run workshops, and write.
TPOB20: And how old are you now?
Iman: I started my twenties wanting to be a diplomat, that was why I took International Relations as my major. I thought that it was going to be a very cool job as you get to travel and represent your country at the same time. That was until I became an ASEAN Youth Ambassador and a Youth Advisor for the United Nations. Those two jobs allowed me to explore everything about diplomacy. I did a lot of travel. I did a lot of advocacies work. There was nothing wrong with that, but I just felt that it has the possibility to block my creativity. There were so many things that I would like to communicate, but then it was not my personal statement.
To cut a long story short, I began to lose interest in diplomacy and decided to do something that allows me to be more hands on. That was when Ruang Guru came into the picture. At that moment I was still not sure whether I want to do this in a long run, because I didn’t even know what a startup is. But I knew that I have spent half of my life in that particular sector as I had a lot of involvements in the educational field and youth movement since I was 10. Also, I had a Master in Educational Policy. I learned a lot through that journey, to the extend that got me thinking about doing something that is very transformative. Something that could actually change the situation.
Iman: I was 22 when I started Ruang Guru with my best friend. We started with only two staffs and this free space that we used for IFL. After a year, we raised investment and expanded our team to 12 people with our own office. Now, we are leading a team of 90 people and on the track to serve 1 million students.
Iman: You’ll never know until you try. I always try not to be assumptive in anything that I do. As the Chief of Product in Ruang Guru, I learned that the biggest crap for a product developer is when you think that you have known your users, your products and everything that you are working on. I always create a room to clarify my assumptions. I am never hundred percent sure about anything. I like to try things out and see which one actually works. I’m always curios and eager to learn, which affect so many things in my life.
Iman: When you know that there’s something wrong but you can’t do anything (in your power) to fix it. For example, in my job, when our web went down, I could only manage my resources to fix it, but I could not do anything significant to help them as I could not code. Or, maybe when I’m in a situation that I don’t have the control towards the output. Or, when you know that there’s something wrong, and you can’t do anything about it, and nobody realizes that it’s wrong.
Iman: A lot of my struggles are internal, particularly when I’m doubting what I’m doing as I naturally always question everything. If it’s external, like for example, people undermine me or what I do, it fires me up because I want to prove that they’re wrong. But if it’s internal, it normally took quite a while for me to solve it.
What kept me going? Because I challenge myself to meet new people on a weekly basis, I get to have a lot of friends who actually believe in me, support me and will remind me why I do what I do. And I also have people who trust their money resources on me, so it motivates me not to let this people down.
In the past, I sometimes can be too hard on myself. When something went wrong I put all the blame on me. I put all the burden on me. But now, I’m more emotionally stable. For the past one year, I’ve learned that when things goes wrong I’m now easier to surrender. Knowing that I’ve done my best, and just let it go, believing in the best result. I know that what I’m looking for is not a perfection, but rather a progress. I can never be perfect. But at least, I know when I’ve done something better than before.
Iman: Well, my purpose in life. I want to make sure that a good quality education for everyone is actually a right, not a privilege. It’s still a long way to go, and I want to be in the frontline. I want to make this big.
Iman: Many people know I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter and the character has big influence in what I do. However, beyond that, I get more inspiration from the people that I met. This might sound a bit cliche, but it’s true, because everytime I met people, I got excited about new stuff, about their stories, how they live their life, and how they work so hard to achieve their dreams.
Iman: It is okay for you to do a lot of stuff, experience failure and then just be okay with it. When you’re at your twenties, people tend to be more forgiving and accepting towards your flaws, mistakes and failures. If you fail, your failures might not affect others much. But once you hit 30, people have higher expectation on you, and you also have higher responsibility. People have less room for forgiveness.
That is why I don’t get twenty somethings who are too afraid to try things out. When I started Ruang Guru, I knew definitely that there would be chances of failing. I don’t even know whether my company would still be running next year or not. But even if I failed, I know that I have tried my best. Being an entrepreneur in your twenties is actually comforting, because you don’t have a lot of responsibilities yet. For me, it’s actually a comfort zone, because I am what I am good at and what I am passionate about. That’s why I push myself every single year to do something new/ better.
Our mind was totally blown by his answers. It’s actually very possible for you to pursue you dream and make it happen when you have a vision, take risks, and pay the price! Who agrees with us that this nation needs more people like him?
Write to you later,