Bahaso aims to help all Indonesians excel in English
By Masyitha Baziad November 9, 2016
- Launches web and mobile app, offers free and premium subscriptions with certification
- Partners with the University of Indonesia for content, aims to add more languages
WITH Bahasa Indonesia as the main language of the country, only a small percentage of the population speaks English. However, in the digital era, there is no other choice but to at least have basic communication skills in English.
In Indonesia, there is no culture of speaking English except in big cities like Jakarta, or tourism-heavy cities like Bali. There is also no source of flexible and affordable learning.
“I spent nearly Rp25 million (US$1,910) to study English in one of the big institutions, only to find myself not attending most the classes because of my work load.
“At that time I realised how great it would be if the classes were flexible, especially if most of the students are also employees. But then I thought, why not create an online class where people can learn at their own pace and schedule?” Bahaso CEO Tyovan Ari Widagdo (pic above) told Digital News Asia (DNA).
PT Bahaso Intermedia Cakrawala (Bahaso) is an education technology (edtech) startup that offers free and premium online platforms for learning foreign languages, starting with English. It has a web application, as well as a mobile application to stay true to its mission of making it easy for people to learn English, anywhere, anytime.
Its name is taken from the Indonesian word “Bahasa” which means language, combined with “Boso”, which is a similar word in Javanese.
Users can access Bahaso via the web or mobile app on Android and iOS. As soon as a user has completes the registration process, they can begin their lessons by choosing the language they want to learn. For now, only English is available.
Users can then choose to start at the beginner level or test their English ability to determine which level is suitable. Each level has a few lessons that include reading, speaking, listening, and writing.
The mobile application was launched in April. Tyovan said Bahaso already several thousand users, mostly in Jakarta, Surabaya, Yogyakarta, Medan, and Makassar.
According to Tyovan, 70% of its users are recurring users. This is what the startup wants to achieve every month. Bahaso wants to keep the recurring user rate at 70% or above.
“Recurring users are good data points for our platform, meaning that people come back to learn not just download the app and delete it later. We want to keep this rate as our monthly target, regardless of how many users we have,” he added.
More than six months after its initial launch, Bahaso is now ready to reach a wider audience and begin promotions.
Tyovan is now starting his marketing push using Instagram, hiring public figures and celeb-grams with an extensive following to promote Bahaso and its scholarship promotion package.
Despite the high cost of hiring key influencers for marketing efforts, Bahaso got it for free, Tyovan said, simply because these public figures see it as an educational cause that needs to be supported.
“No fees have been spent on marketing yet. However, we would like to extend the efforts to include city roadshows, educating people about our platform, how to use it and benefit from it,” he continued.
English is still a luxury
Bahaso’s mascot often appears in the platform’s social media feed to offer handy tips to users.
Founded in January 2015, Bahaso started as part of Tyovan’s undergraduate thesis. He studied information technology and wanted to present a solution to a problem faced by society. He himself, had difficulties in learning English.
Tyovan who studied in Jakarta, once visited his hometown in Central Java and found that most of the youngsters there are starting to win international design competitions, while working as farmers.
While he was happy to find out that the digital era was benefiting young creative minds in his hometown, he found that they still could not utilise these benefits to the fullest, simply due to communications issues.
“They win competitions for best logo designs and their name and contact details will be shared among people. However, when potential clients try to call them, they get scared. They can only communicate through emails with the help of Google Translate while clients wants to chat via video calls. Most of the time, they do not get the project,” Tyovan explains.
All these factors gave life to his thesis. He asked a few friends to join him, in terms of technology expertise and investment and immediately registered Bahaso as a business entity.
Their initial vision was to help people from rural areas with Internet access to have the tools to learn English. Eventually everyone in Indonesia, regardless of age, with the help of technology and connectivity would be able to master the language too.
“The world is becoming borderless. In order to compete, Indonesians need to start by speaking the English language. How can we trade our goods across borders if we do not understand English?” he added.
Content creation through partnership
Tyovan and the team spent the first year developing the platform, its features and the content. They worked with University of Indonesia (UI) to develop their content.
Through its faculty of humanities, UI offered its support in research and content development for Bahaso’s platform alongside the company’s in-house language expert. UI also agreed to certify Bahaso’s users upon completion of the course.
“It was truly a surprise for us to get University of Indonesia on board to support us with content development,” Tyovan said, saying that both parties signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in August last year.
He added that for Bahaso, UI’s name behind the content and certification is a definite boost for the platform’s credibility.
“Partnering with Bahaso means that we can offer access to more Indonesians and contribute to the human development in the country, without time and place restrictions,” said the university’s faculty of humanities dean Adrianus Waworuntu in a statement.
Users can get the certification by subscribing to Bahaso’s premium membership plan of Rp100,000 (US$7.64) for per month if payment is made monthly; Rp70,000 (US$5.34) per month if payment is made in a lump sum a six-month period or Rp50,000 (US$3.82) per month if a lump sum payment is made for 12 months.
In the pipeline
In five years Tyovan hope Bahaso will be a centre for language students, both Indonesian and international.
The startup will add more language to its platform, starting next year. Currently it has Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch, Korean, French and Arabic in the pipeline.
The team will also start looking for both pre-Series A and Series A funds next year, to scale up the business that is being run on team’s own funds.
“We are now starting the talk with the Ministry of Education and Culture to preserve and document the 745 rural languages of Indonesia. Many rural languages are now spoken by less than 10 people in a community. We need to make an effort to preserve these languages,” Tyovan explained.
Their target has been clear to Tyovan from the beginning. He wants each Indonesian to at least have access to learning tools and excel in at least English. The country can then move forward with its globalisation agenda.