With the increased relevance of China in Australia’s economy – from cross-border commerce, also known as daigous, to the recent trade deal with the United States – more people have expressed their interest in learning Chinese.
UNSW Business School alumnus Michael Liang saw an opportunity in the market and launched Culturestride. Culturestride is an online video platform that enables students to learn Chinese by connecting them with teachers based in China.
“When I was studying Chinese in high school, I felt that there was a shortage of good Chinese teachers in Australia,” he said.
“I couldn’t retain the Chinese I learnt, and this was partly because the teachers were not native speakers. My teacher was Singaporean, and I had a hard time learning from her because Chinese was also her second language.”
With China emerging as Australia’s largest trading partner – Chinese literacy has become of utmost importance for businesses. Research carried by DFAT has indicated that China received 30.6% of Australia’s total exports in 2019. However, according to Chris Bowen, Shadow Minister for Health, this is only met by 130 Australians from a non-Chinese background who can speak Mandarin at a professional level.
“This represents a great opportunity for Culturestride to help more people learn Chinese and enable them to do business in China,” Michael said.
“I also know many Australians with Chinese heritage who want to learn the language to reconnect with their cultural roots or position themselves better for future business opportunities.”
What differentiates Culturestride from competitors?
Culturestride helps students improve their Chinese proficiency and cultural literacy through tailored courses with qualified native Chinese teachers.
“Our competitive advantage is that our teachers are geographically located in China. This means that our classes are taught online on a video platform and our teachers are on the ground and familiar with everything that's happening in China. This is an ideal opportunity for students who are culturally curious. What I learned from this platform is that it offers access to a different societal value system,” Michael said.
“Having a native teacher who can share what China is like in addition to accelerating you through the linguistics – creates a unique experience when learning a new language – one that's only second to moving to China.”
In November 2019, Michael spent 20 minutes creating an expression of interest form and shared it on Facebook and LinkedIn to experiment with the idea and gauge the demand for this service. To his surprise, 22 people signed up.
“This encouraged me to do more product validation and I began building the business infrastructure such as creating a website, looking at legal implications, setting up a bank account, designing a logo and planning the growth strategy for the business.”
Culturestride was co-founded by Masae Zhang, an experienced Chinese teacher based in Shanghai who is also teaching at Culturestride.
“We are currently a team of three and I am actively hiring more teachers to help sustain the growth of Culturestride. As I’m not based in China, I manage everything remotely through WeChat and a little bit of automation.”
“We have been profitable from day one, so Culturestride is entirely funded from customer revenue. We're cashflow and revenue positive and pushing for $25,000 in annual revenue. All extra expenses come out of our own pockets.”