понедельник, 28 февраля 2011 г.

ChineseOnline.ru - SKOLKOVO alumni’s project

Today we would like to offer you a further acquaintance with Anton Saraykin – the SKOLKOVO MBA 2010 Alumni. We have earlier published his articles on the four-week module in the USA and his impressions about the Chinese project module. Recently you might have read his section upon the overall outcomes from his studies at SKOLKOVO.

Today’s post is devoted to one of the most interesting start-up projects of the 2010 MBA class Alumni – e-learning service “ChineseOnline.ru” developed by Anton and his classmate Waseem Kawaf.

The project was established during the final module of the MBA programme when the students were to work on their own business ideas. Now it is growing fast and gaining prominence. Anton speaks about their enterprise.

- Anton, please tell us more about your start-up.
- ChineseOnline.ru is a service for learning the Chinese language in an efficient way with a teacher from China. All you need for studies is Internet access, a camera and a microphone. You are having individual lessons with an experienced teacher and learning to speak Chinese in the way the Chinese themselves do. You can see and hear your teacher as if you were sitting at a table with him or her.

Another great thing about the service is that now you can study at home, office or any place convenient for you, so you don’t need to spend hours in traffic while getting to the school or your private teacher. And what is even more important, you pay for the lessons 2-3 times less than most of the schools and privite teachers in Moscow charge.

According to our marketing survey Russia has a huge lack of professional Chinese teachers. Lessons with Chinese native speaker in Moscow will cost you up to $50-70 per academic hour, whereas our fees start at $9.99. This is not to mention the small cities where you normally don’t have another opportunity to study Chinese with qualified native speaker except for our service.

- Who did you aim for when creating the project?
- Most of our clients are people who have previously learned Chinese and now are willing to upgrade their level by studying with the native speaker. Plus now we are having more and more clients who start learning the language with us. That is why many of our trainers can fluently speak Russian. We find this important especially for children, as most of them can’t speak English well enough yet to understand the teacher if the lesson is going on in English.

We have students from all over Russia and abroad. Some of them wish to study Chinese with us for work perposes, some – as a support to their school classes, some – for their personal reasons. All of our clients are united by strong willing to learn communicating to the Chinese people without any difficulty. For even those who have been studying the languege here for years (with teachers and study books) usually feel uncomfortable when coming to China – the Chinese often can’t understand them at all because they lack speaking practice, even despite the seriousness of their academic training.

- How long can it take to start speaking Chinese?
- Of course it strongly depends on your personal abilities and time you can afford to invest in learning. But in general it takes a year to become able to support a conversation on common topics. Surely it takes longer to start reading and writing well in Chinese. Again, the timing is fully dependant upon yourself and your commitmemt to studies.


- Ok, why is it Chinese but not English, for exemple?
- I agree that English is a very attractive market segment, as it is the most popular langusge to learn both in Russia and worldwide. But it is also the most competitive segment, and you are to pay high price for entering it.

At the same time in the last years we do observe the growing interest to the Chinese language which is happening partly due to the rapid growth of the Chinese economy. You can see that ammount of internet search requests for Chinese has almost doubled during the last year. It becomes fashionable to study Chinese. Many Western people choose Chinese as the second language for their children to learn. Nowadays you won’t impress anybody by your knowledge of English, at the same time knowledge of Chinese can become an important advantage in your career and business.

And anyway China remains a country with facsinating ancient culture and tradiions to which people’s interest increases constantly. More and more Russians choose China for tourism: many have already been to Europe and now exploring East (this is a topic for a special talk though).

- Whom do you see as your rivals and what do you consider as your competitive advantage?
- While we do have many competitiors in China and America, in Russia such services are not yet well developed. This is why we see good prospects here. Our main advatage is the quality of our service and client relations. When starting the project we have read around 140 resumes of Chinese teachers from all over China and examined more than a half of them personally to choose 10 best ones.

Besides outstanding professional skills and experience we also require our Chinese trainers to speak Russian fluently. Furthermore, the trainers we hire usually not only can speak Russian but do feel interest in our culture, and that enables them to better understand the peculiariries of working with the Russain students. This helps us to successfully compete with similar Chinese and Western services.


- But how did you initially come up with the idea of ChineseOnline.ru?
- While being in China I used to study Chinese every day with a private teacher from Beijing. Upon returning to Moscow I was inclined to continue my studies but couldn’t find a really good teacher. Besides, studying every day, as I wished to, would cost me a fortune in Moscow. Then I decided to continue lessons with my Chinese teacher by Skype, fortunately high-speed internet now allows having video-calls with high level of image and sound. I liked that method a lot and I said to myself, “If it helped me so much, why shouldn’t it help other people in Russia studying Chinese?” When I shared this idea with my Hong Kong partner Sergey Man he gave his full support to it (by the way, Sergey is now studying at SKOLKOVO too – at Executive MBA programme). The whole summer we had been hiring teachers and testing ChineseOnline.ru with friends and class mates improving technology and service. As early as in autumn we had got the first customers and the first profit.

- Who is in your team now?
- Waseem Kawaf, an American and my classmate from SKOLKOVO, helps us a lot with the projet. He is excited with the idea and its prospects like I am. He is now in the USA working on the project’s development strategy. And by all means we have a strong team of professional Chinese teachers, every one of whom works conscientiously, willing to teach their trainees to speak Chinese fluently in the shortest time.

- What is the business model of your start-up?
- Well, it’s quite simple. We offer high quality, convenient and inexpensive way to learn the language. We invest much into constant improving of our service, teachers’ training, advertising and technical support. Though in spite of the fact that the model is simple, you’d never call the business an easy one. In order to maintain a high quality service we have to take into consideration lots of nuances. To develop the project now we invest our own capital and the first profits, but in future we will have a need for external investments.


- How do you plan to develop the project then?
- While on the MBA module in the USA we talked to many venture investors and MIT professors. They liked the simplicity and at the same tine promising outlook of the project. We also got very optimistic comments from Russian venture capitalists and some investment proposals from business angels. At the project presentation some people asked about Chinese lessons for their children, and it surely inspired us much.

The fact is that E-learning idustry acquires great prospects with such rapid development of the Internat as we have it. People will inevitably use such services as ChineseOnline.ru more often. To tell you the truth, we are not going to limit ourselves with the Chinese language and the Russian market only. As soon as we gain good position here we plan to go for other segments (we hope it happens till the end of this year).


Anton Saraykin – Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO MBA-2010 class Alumnai, the Partner at ‘Asia Business Media’ company and the founder of ‘ChineseOnline.ru’ start-up project.
Anton was born in Novosibirsk, Russia, and has a degree in Journalism. He was a reporter for ‘Vedomosti’ newspaper, then he was in charge of Media Relations at ‘Wimm-Bill-Dann’ company and kater – at ‘Japan Tobacco International’ Russian branch. In 2008 he worked in China where was engaged in developing Russian-language media projects on business with Asian countries. Since 2011 he lives and workes in Hong Kong.

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