China’s online education platform Yuanfudao, or “ape tutor”, announced last Tuesday its latest financing of USD 40 million from tech giant Tencent. Previously known as Yuantiku, the company has changed its public name to Yuanfudao, the name of its third product that offers online live courses.
Yuanfudao CEO Li Yong is bullish about the future of his market in China: “Online tutoring will become mainstream,” he told AllChinaTech.
Founded in 2012, the company launched Yuantiku in 2013, Xiaoyuansouti or “Little Ape search” in late 2014, and Yuanfudao in June of 2015. While the first two products have 20 million and 85 million users respectively, Yuanfudao now has a weekly average of 150,000 students taking its online courses.
Yuantiku is a test data pool with 800,000 questions that can adapt to each student’s individual level so as to assign customized questions for more efficient study. By inputting information such as the district they belong to, the textbooks they use, the school they are at, and the grade they are in, Yuantiku would first recommend some questions corresponding to their status, and then analyze their data collected from their performance on Yuantiku. An annual update of questions weeds out outdated questions and adds new ones.
China’s high school seniors are taking their college entrance examination this week. Yuantiku will help them estimate their grades within 48 hours after the exam by offering answers as well as suggested scoring criteria. With 80% of its staff being programmers and technicians, Yuantiku organized English mock exams in this April and May, where students were automatically scored by the computer – including the scoring of short essay writing. Yuantiku is China’s largest database for analyzing the practice behaviors of high school students.
Xiaoyuansouti allows students to take a photo of a question that they have failed to figure out to try and find an answer. Now serving both high school students and senior primary school students, the app stores over 100 million questions and makes sure that 95% of all requests receive a response with a solution and explanation within 1.2 seconds. For questions for which there are no directly equivalent solutions stored, xiaoyuansouti would recommend a similar question that does have a stored answer. For frequently asked questions, video explanations are available.
Yuanfudao’s third product, also named Yuanfudao, is the focus at present; the recent financing from Tencent will be mainly used for improving this product.
It offers three options: one-on-one courses, themed courses, and scheduled courses. The price of one-on-one courses starts at RMB 59 (under nine dollars) per hour. Themed courses can be as cheap as a single RMB, and include sessions on topics such as AlphaGo to boost students’ interest in learning. Scheduled courses are the most popular option; students are supposed to complete 10 to 15 sessions in two to three months. Yuanfudao told AllChinaTech that their live courses could be as early as 5:30 and as late as 23:00, and if students missed the live stream, they can go back to its recording. Compared with the first two products, Yuanfudao is more interactive as students can ask tutors directly what they don’t know during live online classes.
Other than a teaching and research team of its own, the platform now has more than a thousand teachers offering online courses selected from tens of thousands of applicants. One of them is Wang Yu, whose story recently went viral in China: his income reached RMB 25,000 per hour, allowing him a monthly income of over RMB 200,000 as an online teacher. He is now in charge of Yuanfudao’s line of courses and products for physics classes.
Prior to the latest funding from Tencent, the company has landed multiple rounds of financing from IDG, Matrix Partners, New Horizon Capital and CMC Capital Partners.
With no plans yet to create products for people outside the K-12 school system, or to develop any totally new products, the platform will continue to improve its products, focus on Yuanfudao, and aim to serve more K-12 students.
“We believe that with the statistical analysis of our products, students can learn more efficiently,” said Li. “And we expect to help them not only by improving their scores, but also by enhancing their capabilities and cultivating their love of learning.”
Data from Analysys shows that only 8% of the K-12 student population in China were using online education services in Q1 2015. For an idea of the size of China’s student population, consider that official figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics show that China had 162 million K-12 students by the end of 2013.
There is a huge market yet to conquer.
(Top photo from Baidu Images)