Pingo Space tests new interest-based learning service for China

Almost 600,000 foreign nationals, excluding nationals from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, resided in China in 2010, according to China’s last national census. That is the potential market for one startup in Beijing who wants to increase cross-cultural interaction in China to bridge the gap between expatriates and local Chinese.

Yunkai Weng, founder and CEO of Pingo Space, had a 12-year career with New Oriental Education and Technology Group, a company providing English education services in China. He says he wanted to change the concept of learning a foreign language by ditching books and socializing outside of the classroom.

Weng said the idea is not to sell Pingo Space as yet another English learning platform to Chinese people, but to bolster users’ self-esteem in English learning through communicating within an activity of their interest.

“Forget about the word ‘study,’” the 41-year-old Weng said.

Instead, he wants people to learn English through their interests. To provide an interest-based learning service, he thought of taking advantage of foreigners’ fun-filled personalities to let Chinese practice their English through an activity.

“Foreigners are creative, they are bold, they have ideas,” Weng said. The University of Chicago MBA dropout came to a conclusion to build a platform — a mobile app for now — to package foreigners to sell their talent or interests on an hourly basis to Chinese. Some activities include microbrewing beer, learning violin and baking.

Weng said the idea is not to sell Pingo Space as yet another English learning platform to Chinese people, but to bolster users’ self-esteem in English learning through communicating within an activity of their interest.

Instead, he wants people to learn English through their interests. To provide an interest-based learning service, he thought of taking advantage of foreigners’ fun-filled personalities to let Chinese practice their English through an activity.

“Foreigners are creative, they are bold, they have ideas,” Weng said. The University of Chicago MBA dropout came to a conclusion to build a platform — a mobile app for now — to package foreigners to sell their talent or interests on an hourly basis to Chinese. Some activities include microbrewing beer, learning violin and baking.

The husband and wife team of Pingo Space: Sophia Su and Yunkai Weng (Photo by Wendy Tang)
The husband and wife team of Pingo Space: Sophia Su and Yunkai Weng (Photo by Wendy Tang)

Four months into the voyage: “Pingonauts” standing by

Pingo Space’s mobile app was launched last December in Beijing. Sophie Su, co-founder of Pingo Space and Weng’s wife, said they have 500 expatriates on the platform and 2,000 Chinese users at the moment. The company refers to all of their clients and employees as “Pingonauts”.

17 members are on the Pingo Space team. The team interviews all expatriate candidates along with a photo shoot before they set up a profile on the platform.

Su said an ordinary activity on Pingo Space costs about RMB 250 (USD 38.6). Each activity has a compacity of a maximum of three people who are usually friends of the user, she said.

“It’s been very helpful to convince someone to download our app,” Su said. “It’s either through someone experiencing it [the activity] or have friends to go with you together.”

She said on average expat users get five bookings per Chinese user on Pingo Space. One Polish violinist known as Kasia on the platform holds a record of teaching six violin lessons a day, Su said. “That means she is making nearly RMB 6000 a day,” Su added.

She said the activities that need recurring practice such as drawing, painting and sketching receive the most bookings so far.

Pingo Space charges its expatriate clients RMB 5 for each activity transaction. Su said one activity typically lasts an hour. Baking is an exception which  for three hours. She said the platform would charge RMB 15 for this transaction. She said the fee is only to cover the WeChat processing fee.

On a single-track

Pingo Space released two separate apps — one for expatriates called Pingo Space and the other one for local Chinese called Ping Xing Guo.

The one for Chinese users mainly serves as a marketplace for activities. The expat version acts as a means for the service providers to keep track of their services and income. The app requires a phone number to register. The expat clients and the Chinese users are siloed. Pingo Space does not encourage a user to become an expat client and a Chinese user at the same time.

“With investment and business model, we want to find one area to do first,” Su said. She said Pingo Space’s area is the connection between expats and locals.

“If we go outside of that, that means we are doing the whole skill share. That will eliminate our cultural aspect,” Su said.

Su stated that they get many requests from expats who want to book another expat’s services.

“No for now, I must say, because we have to focus on one thing at a time,” Su said.

The Pingo Space and Ping Xing Guo apps are only available on iOS at the moment. Su said they would develop an Android version when they receive the next round of funding. They are looking for pre-A funding now.

Pingo Space received seed funding of USD one million from Beijing-based English learning institute Elite Learning last April, Su said.

The story was published on AllChinaTech.

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