Scaling tech & singing lullabies: A volunteer’s visit bridges worlds while accelerating impact

RippleWorks volunteer expert Mike Starkenburg (left) and Ruma CEO Aldi Haryopratomo (right)

Mike Starkenburg has over a decade of experience running and growing technology companies, and through the RippleWorks program, he has been volunteering that expertise to help Ruma assemble a technology and organizational scaling plan to manage its forecasted growth.

Based in Jakarta, Indonesia, Ruma enables access to financial and information services as it empowers the poor using mobile phone technology. Recruiting from Indonesia’s two million independently-owned “mom and pop” stores, Ruma has trained over 10,000 low-income entrepreneurs in Indonesia, through whom underserved communities now have access to prepaid mobile minutes, electricity, and other needed goods and services.

Ruma CEO Aldi Haryopratomo and his team hosted Mike for a visit at their Jakarta offices to dive deeper into their project.

Aldi: “Mike’s visit made it that much clearer to see that our project is a top priority for our company. Things are less hazy now, and we now know that we will scale, and scale well.”

Mike: “With my career and the nature of my work, I don’t get to go to places I haven’t been before, so this was an incredible experience.”

A turning point: Diving deeper into Ruma’s growth

Mike: “I’ll tell you what was wonderful — I was doing exactly what I’m good at. I can say that I am the right person with the right skills to help them grow. If they grow the way that they want to, they’ll be able to look back on this trip and see it as a turning point.”

Mike: “Ruma just moved into a new office, and you can’t tell the difference between a new office without furniture in Jakarta and any building in Soma. And besides the language being different, the sound and energy of the office is the same as here in the US. It felt very much ‘startup.’”

Huddling the team to meet Mike, talk shop

Aldi: “We arranged a brown-bag lunch session with Mike and the rest of the team. He told us about his career, and what he had seen through it.”

Mike: “Where that came from was a conversation that brought up that I was getting to know a couple of people on the Ruma team, but there would be whole pools of people I wouldn’t be able to see. They came back and said everyone has questions, so we put together an “Ask-Me-Anything” type of thing.

Mike: “One of the main questions they were asking was, ‘How are we different than the other startups in the world?’ They’re all reading TechCrunch, and they want to know, ‘Is that us?’ Luckily, I had answers for them.”

Aldi: “He gave some deep thoughts that motivated the team. He encouraged us, telling us we have the right team, the right funding, the right product.”

A field trip to experience Ruma’s impact

Aldi: “Going to the field to meet with Ruma’s customers was my favorite part of my time with Mike. Being able to share that with him was amazing. Mike was curious, like a kid in a candy store.”

Mike: “This is the first time that these people have had this ability. This whole idea of being trusted is new to them. It hit home for me when I was walking around the mall near my hotel one night. This mall is huge — we’re talking five floors high — filled with people. And right across the street are shantytowns.

“Having physical access to goods is one thing, but emotional, financial access to goods is totally different. That’s what Ruma is building and providing.”

Aldi: “At one point, I was translating what an agent and a customer were saying about why they like and use Ruma, and Mike said to me, ‘Dude, that’s your mission. You nailed it. Now let’s scale this thing. It’s not about going for an IPO, it’s about helping people. This is it.’”

Mike: “For the customers Ruma is now able to reach, it’s not ‘I want this.’ It’s ‘I need this.’ What they’re able to buy now is very basic, critical stuff. It’s literally flour.”

Aldi: “I took him to my favorite local restaurant, and ordered everything on the menu. He loved everything. He even ate durian. I have never seen an American eat and like durian.

“Mike also visited my house, and he met my wife and kids. He played with my son and sang him Itsy-Bitsy-Spider. My son absolutely loved it, and now he asks me to sing it to him every day.”

Mike: “I want to do it again. This project, I’ve loved every minute of it, and I want to do it again.”

RippleWorks pairs volunteer technology and business experts with promising social ventures globally to conquer scaling challenges and accelerate impact. Visit our website to learn more and join our community.