Spotlight on Rumie Startup Open’s Best Social Startup
23 Jan 2015

Learning and finding answers to questions can be easy if you have access to the internet. Rumieprovides underprivileged children with low-cost and low-energy tablets that do just this. The catch? They take it one step further. In conjunction with local partners, Rumie curates high-quality educational content and preloads the devices with books, lectures, quizzes, and games.

In 2014, Rumie won the Best Social Startup award for Startup Open. We interviewed Rumie’s founder Tariq Fancy about Rumie’s place in the market, tough decisions, and the best advice he has ever received.

So Tariq, how is Rumie different from its competitors?

Rumie is often compared to One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and Khan Academy. We're different from both of them in some important ways. OLPC was founded in 2005 to build a special laptop for children in developing countries. Our first difference is that, building on my previous success bringing mobile phones into emerging markets over 10 years ago, we leverage existing market forces and technology trends rather than trying to build something new from scratch - this means we can produce a device that is very cheap yet very good. Second, OLPC was in the business of delivering technology for the sake of it, whereas we use technology simply as a means to deliver great free content. Research shows that there are fantastic gains to be had from delivering high quality, proven content to children who have never had access but are equally capable. We deliver that content via affordable tablets that are intuitive, power-efficient, don't require regular internet access (content is preloaded onto the devices), and have great added bells and whistles (gamification and rewards, analytics, impact testing, etc). That brings us to Khan Academy: they do a great job and are complementary to us, since they're one of the many great free learning sources that we deliver to these communities. In general, there are tons of amazing free learning sources available online. Just think: anything you want to learn (whether math, science, health-related, coding, etc) you can now find for free online. We don't try to compete in creating content - there's no need, other people are already creating great content. We just think that the real human opportunity is to deliver these great materials to people who have never had access to well-funded public educational systems or well-stocked libraries. So our mission is to curate the best sources and work with our local partners around the world to deliver them affordably to children in communities where their hunger to learn has so far not been met. That's where the hole in the market is: lots of people are talking about the potential of digital education in emerging markets, but no one has yet found a truly low-cost and scalable model that makes economic sense. We're in seven countries today and are targeting 15 by the end of the year.

What is the best part about being an entrepreneur?

Definitely the ability to be my own boss. I can choose my own hours and see my work translate directly into results.It’s great!

Have you had any tough decisions to make recently?

It was a tough realization that no matter how well-intentioned and interested some folks are in our work that we have to pick and choose what we spend time on very wisely and be ruthless about execution in order to fulfill our mission.

What is the best advice you've ever gotten? The worst?

The best advice I’ve ever gotten is to not waste my time with people who don’t believe in our vision. We have to instead simply prove to them that we are right. The worst advice I’ve ever received was when people suggested I try to convince large bureaucratic organizations that our vision is valuable. The problem here is that they’re too slow. You just have to start doing it and after a while, they will realize that your idea actually makes a lot of sense.

If you could run your company from anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I’d stay in Toronto, Canada. Nowhere else do you have this ideal mix between the well-educated, creative, innovative hackers and team members required for our work and the progressive social vision and global links from a city where over 50 percent of the inhabitants hail from other corners of the world.

Even New York, where I have spent most of my career to date, does not have the same mix of people.

How has winning a global pick helped your business?

Winning a global pick has led to more recognition from potential partners, clients, and funders, and has given us a platform to show people what we are doing and how they can get involved.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to become the Secretary General of the United Nations.