By Ibo Fung
This doesn’t look like something you would see in Silicon Valley. Is this really the office of a fast-growing startup, with customers in over 100 countries?
There’s no sign at the company’s main door. There is not even a reception desk. You can only be sure that you are at the right place when a random girl takes a quick glance at you and buries herself back into the screen and keyboard, after briskly saying “Yes, you are in UMU.”
The founder and CEO of UMU also keeps a low profile. You would probably take him to be a nameless technical guy, deep in discussion with other staff members, before Li Dongshuo – a former department manager at Google China – approaches and introduces himself.
Li is a walking exemplar of what UMU has been working on: interaction.
Li joined Google China in 2008. He was the director of business cooperation in Google Greater China, and was recognized as a team leader by winning multiple company awards.
Li has been a volunteer for non-profit youth organization Junior Achievement (JA) China since 2005. JA works with local businesses to deliver hands-on programs on financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship to students. Li himself has given lessons and lectures to over 10,000 students at 50 universities in China.
“I have been trying to inspire college students to think about their future career. It’s important that what I share is well communicated to them and, that I can receive their feedback,” Li told AllChinaTech.
“But it’s impossible for each of the students to convey their opinions, questions and needs to me,” he added.
Li has been on the audience side too. He participated in the Google I/O and a global training conference in 2013. He was only one of the 10,000 participants in both conferences.
“I wanted very much to communicate with the people around me, and with the speaker on the stage. But I just didn’t have the chance. I was so far away from the stage and I didn’t know my neighbors’ opinions on the speech,” said Li.
Then an idea popped up one day, when he was lying in his hotel room post-conference: maybe he could connect all the people in such conferences with cellphones.
Improving interactions in learning
Li founded UMU in Beijing in February 2015. He had seen the fast development of the Internet in China, and wanted to increase the efficiency of traditional training and education through the Internet.
According to Li, UMU stands for the connection of you, me, and us, just like a router connects devices, screens, people, and knowledge. The company’s logo is a giraffe, or “lu” in Chinese, whose pronunciation is concordant with “luyou”, meaning router in Chinese.
“A giraffe has to eat at 6 if it wants to be full at 9 because of its long neck. Similarly, a man has to learn early before he reaps the fruits of life,” said Li.
In addition to a web-based platform, UMU has a mobile application for teachers, trainers and speakers (TTS). In this app, UMU designs various frameworks for their lessons, programs and speeches, and they can use UMU’s predesigned formats to interact with their respective audiences.
Before each lesson or program, the students, participants and audiences scan a QR code or type in a PIN number generated by the UMU app. They can then raise questions, vote on topics, hand in homework, and express their own opinions on their own phone or computer.
These communications and interactions can be seen on TTS’s mobile apps, and simultaneously shown in the backdrop screen in the front of the classroom, in the conference room, and in the training room.
“I can see people smile when they see the information on the screen. I can feel their need for effective interactions, and I know UMU has satisfied them,” said Li.
With the UMU app, teachers can also make micro-lessons, five-minute video or slideshow clips, and share them in the chatting groups of WeChat, China’s largest social network. Participants can watch the micro-lessons whenever they want, and interact with each other and with the teachers.
Li said that 80% of the corporate training institutions in China are UMU users. UMU users also include Chinese network service providers China Unicom and China Telecom, banks, including China Merchants Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and universities, including Tsinghua University, China’s most prestigious university. UMU products have been benefiting people from over 100 countries, including in the Americas, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Management and online education
The huge map of Silicon Valley hanging in the office is an indication of the management style and business culture that Li is trying to cultivate for UMU. Li specifies that this style of management is particulaly relevant when it comes to recruitment.
“Don’t rush to fill all the seats in your company. You should always try to find the right employee rather than train a wrong one,” said Li.
All UMU staff will take turns to knock the gong in their office whenever a new client is signed. Li said this is a way to share the company’s results with all its staff, especially the technical staff who don’t often interact directly with customers.
According to data from Deloitte, the educational training market size was RMB 1.6 trillion (USD 240 billion) in China in 2015. Apparently, UMU’s ambition is to target not only at online education, training and conferences, but also at any other form or place where learning happens.
“Currently, online education in China is more like a DVD-version of traditional education. The future of online education, and even the whole educational industry, lies in the better interaction of teachers, students and parents,” said Li.
UMU aims to be the operating system of the educational and training industries, integrating global educational resources, connecting people and knowledge, and sharing knowledge with more and more people.
(Top photo from Pixabay.com)