There are various entrepreneurs on the internet. The medium has created new opportunities for individuals with a touch of creativity and an intrepid spirit. From dental spas to paperless college applications, it is teeming with sites that offer different kinds of wild and useful services. One such site is SpeakMandarin.com which provides language classes in the Chinese language. It provides an opportunity to millions of users from around the world that are interested in learning the language but do not have the access to material and tools.
Speakmandarin.com was founded by a scholar with a strong background in the language and an aggressive approach to taking on the world of online study, Yang Yang. Over here, she sits down with eBrandz to explain her company’s set-up, her thoughts on entrepreneurship and how she handles damage control in her business.
Q. Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business.
We teach Chinese language using online virtual classrooms to Chinese learners around the world. Our online scheduling system and customized course curriculum make it possible for people to learn with a real person whenever and wherever they are. Our m workforce of teachers ensure that we cover every time frame for conducting classes that suit the client’s convenience. And the fact is that all our teachers are majored in language teaching and are located in China ensure that they have state-of-the-art teaching skills and language accuracy.
Our main office is in Beijing, where we have the management team, technicians, and eight full time teachers. About twenty more part-time teachers who live across China work for us through the internet. We also have sales agents in several countries that are in charge of off-line marketing that targets organizational customers.
Q. Kindly give us a brief description about yourself
I got my Bachelor Degree in a double major Chinese Linguistics and Economics from Beijing University (the top university in China) in 1999. In 2000, I joined a new startup Zero2IPO group that is a leading integrated service provider in the China venture capital and private equity industry. Afterwards, I joined Zero2IPO’s sister company Asia Direct Consulting, a China-market-entry strategic consulting firm, as a founding employee, and carried out market research and M&A projects in the industries of retail, pharmaceutical, consumer electronics, and information technology.
Feeling constrained by my theoretical knowledge on international business, I started to pursue a Master Degree in International Management in the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at University of California, San Diego. As one of the top students in the school, I was awarded the Dean’s Fellowship and had a chance to meet one of the school’s board members, a successful business investor named James Jameson. With his angel investment and two other partners, I founded SpeakMandarin.com and have been expanding at a considerable pace.
Q. What ignited the spark in you to? How did the idea for your business come about?
While studying in the US, I was stunned by the number of Chinese language learners and quite sympathetic at their lack of resources. The contents of the courses offered in schools were out-dated since the teachers had been away from China for years and were often not teaching majors. They had no idea about the rapid change of vocabulary in China in an Internet era. Also the private tutors in the US are very expensive and without flexible schedules. Most of them are simply Chinese students without any teaching background. My investor Mr. Jameson had the same feeling. He was learning Chinese too and could only find satisfying teachers from an online education company in China. But that company was closed because of poor management and internal governance. So when Mr. Jameson and I were talking about possible business ideas, we both agreed that online language training was a great one. We contacted two teachers in China who had given Mr. Jameson classes before and found a mutual interest among us. I took the task of general management as well as marketing and the other two people took charge of the management of the teaching and technical team. Thus, a new company was born.
Q. How important have good employees been to your success?
Good employees are not just important. They are everything for a company. Our investors delegate all the decision-making power to the management and I delegate most of it to my partners. Such an efficient setup is only possible when we hold a strong bond of trust internally in context to managerial and financial workings. This kind of trust has saved us both time and energy which we employ to focus entirely on the business. Of course, it is often hard to determine an ex, anti or whether someone is worth hiring. I have to say it was Mr. Jameson’s accurate judgment on personality that helped build the team and I was just lucky enough to become part of it.
Q. What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?
Be extremely careful about picking your partners. They don’t have to have shiny resumes but need to be someone you can trust.
Set deadlines for yourself and don’t wait until something has to be done.
Always put yourself in the shoes of your investors. Always be a loyal agent and do not attempt taking advantage of your principal. Your long-term success depends more on your reputation than on how much money you earn at the moment.
Q. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
If time were my only cost, I would stick to something much longer. But in a real-world business, you pay rent and salaries for every unfruitful day you spend. So I am usually very aggressive about non-working ideas. We changed our websites, changed our providers, and changed our curriculum whenever we needed to.
Q. How many hours do you work a day on average?
8 to 10 hours.
Q. How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Being an entrepreneur means sometimes you have to encounter the instability (life pattern, income, etc.) that may affect the family. I’m lucky to have an understanding and super supportive husband. And I never overload myself. I value my family more than anything else. I spend time with my family so that I don’t lose the root.
Q. How do you generate new ideas?
Thinking, reading, networking and brainstorming.
Q. How do you define success?
Achieving something that you never achieved before is a success.
Q. How did you decide on the location for your business?
For an Internet business like us, it doesn’t matter where our customers are. But we definitely want to hire teachers directly from China. So our office has to be located in China. And Beijing is the city where technology providers and university graduates are most concentrated in China. So the only choice for us was Beijing, even though the office rental is a little too expensive there.
Q. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Q. What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
I failed to make decisions fast enough at the beginning of our business. I hesitated too much about everything: website design, office location, course curriculum, salaries, advertising platforms and many other things. But later I found out that it is often impossible to tell whether a strategy is good until you try it. By hesitating, I wasted a lot of time and opportunities and unnecessarily left some market shares to our competitors. I was too afraid of making mistakes, but didn’t realize that waiting itself could be another mistake in the making.
Q. How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
My husband is a political scientist and he often talked about a theory called the “Condorcet Jury Theorem”, which predicts that majority decisions of a group of people are more likely to be accurate than one person’s judgment. I don’t want to show the proof here but it was really convincing. So whenever I have time, I’ll brainstorm with my colleagues and then vote on important decisions. But of course, as I said previously, when time is constrained I’ll still make some decisions fast and doing so decisively so as to afford some risk of making mistakes.
Q. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I do have a few hobbies such as music and movies. But currently the only thing I enjoy most is to hang out with my three-year-old (and her daddy, of course). It’s such an exciting moment everyday when I pick her up from the daycare center. We would talk, make silly noises, dance, have a cupcake or shop a little bit. That’s just wonderful.