Even if you don’t recognize the name Ji Xiaohua, you may have heard of Guokr.com, a well-known science and technology education community in China which he founded in 2010. In 2012, Guokr.com launched its Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Academy, which encourages collaborative learning and support. This is where the idea of building Zaihang came from.
“From the very beginning, we positioned Zaihang as a provider of lessons customized to individuals,” Ji, founder of app Zaihang, told AllChinaTech.
The story began when Ji stayed at a dorm room in the prestigious Tsinghua University while doing research for MOOC Academy. From chatting with the students there, he realized that many promising students had no clue what they wanted to do in the future. They needed someone to light the way, and Ji decided to help.
Facilitating life-changing meetings
Zaihang, which literally means “in the industry”, recruits experts and connects them with people who are in need of advice. Mentees find experts who can address their questions by viewing the expert’s profile, then send in a request for a session. The expert then picks a time and place for an offline meeting.
Open the app, and you can access lessons in fields ranging from entrepreneurship and career development to psychology, education, and entertainment. Career development and entertainment are among the most popular topics.
To give you an idea of what the platform is like, here are three of the most popular experts on the platform:
Zhuge Siyuan, an alumina of Tsinghua University and the University of Michigan, has worked for Tencent, eBay and Global Primary. Her achievements in her field are said to be legendary. She offers advice on TMT projects, and her course entitled “Get to know anyone quickly and become their friend”, priced at RMB 588 (USD 90.85) per hour-long session, has helped 234 mentees. Through Zaihang, Zhuge has met 801 people, with 2,357 more on her waiting list. Many of her mentees say her talk has changed their lives.
Isa Zhang is a dietitian nutritionist registered in the United States. Based on her experience providing nutrition consultancy services for sports teams and helping people with eating disorders, she has designed a few interesting games “to help you cultivate good dieting and fitness habits before you realize it”, instead of repeating the same old dogmas on how to be healthy. Her course named “Isa’s fun way to lose weight: how to work out, and how to eat?” for RMB 550 per session has been paid for by 88 mentees, one of whom commented, “Isa’s methods suit those with little willpower or perseverance. I’ve been looking for dieting tricks so long, and finally I can keep my figure as long as I want. Isa told me that disciplining yourself doesn’t have to mean torturing yourself.”
Li Dan is a psychiatrist and career advisor who now works as an HR consultant. Working with leading entrepreneurs taught her that a good business plan is far from sufficient – feelings and attitudes count as well. Her most popular course “Becoming a better you”, priced at RMB 599 for two hours, helps people deal with negative emotions such as anxiety, depression and loneliness. Li has met 92 mentees through the platform. Someone who has taken her session “Get to know what you’re thinking subconsciously” seven times said, “When you can see what you’re feeling, you’re healed. Thank you, Li Dan.”
“Knowledge sharing via search engines and question-and-answer websites such as Quora and Zhihu belongs to the past. Of course Q&A models will last, but what the present needs is knowledge sharing that answers individual needs,” said Ji.
He explained that standardized answers on public platforms may fail to meet individual demands in many cases, so Zaihang works to satiate varied appetites with tailored services so that mentees can benefit and mentors can monetize their intellectual assets with “underused” time.
Although it may seem easier to set up a platform for online meetings, Zaihang chose to facilitate offline meetings and make online career development its focus. “A face-to-face chat is effective and involves sociable factors that help experts and mentees to build a relationship. Career development is more in demand than hobbies and it was a good place to start, considering our team background and the resources available at the time.”
Offline with online added, one mentee with more joined
In an attempt to break out of geographic shackles, Zaihang launched an audio chat service in December. According to Ji, 200 experts were chosen to deliver this service, which now accounts for 10% of Zaihang’s total orders. “Mentees expect more out of online consultancy, so it requires more from experts. The model is still at an experimental phase,” said Ji.
Other than one-on-one meetings, Zaihang has also introduced group meetings, to the delight of experts who want to improve their efficiency and income. “Group sessions can spark more ideas,” added Ji. “Meetings on specific topics such as ‘how to book the cheapest flight’ or ‘how to play card games’ work better in a group.”
Zaihang has a team with media and HR backgrounds to recruit experts, and it also recruits professionals in specific fields. Zaihang keeps its experts on the platform by making sure that 70% of them receive orders every month. For those who haven’t had any sessions booked yet, the platform helps them improve their profiles to get more business.
A year after its debut last April, Zaihang has now covered nine cities with 8,000 experts. “Though distinct geographic differences haven’t surfaced yet, we did find out some interesting facts,” said Ji. “For example, food and catering is the No.1 topic in Chengdu, and Shanghainese generally like to organize their ideas into lists.”
There are now 600 orders placed every day on Zaihang, with an average price of RMB 400 per session. Though the app isn’t charging commission just yet, Ji said that commercialization is scheduled to start in the second half of this year, by which time Zaihang is expected to receive 2,000 orders every day.
(Top photo from Zaihang)