Y Combinator: Cindy Mi and Qi Lu Share Advice for Entrepreneurs Building Global Companies

  • Why did you start VIPKID? I believe in life long learning. The reason I believe in life long learning was because one of my teachers thought I was the stupidest student on the planet. She didn’t believe I could learn. But I learned that every child is curious and we should help connect them to the best teachers and a positive learning experience.

  • How did VIPKID start: It was a very lean startup experience. We rented a classroom in the middle of nowhere. We sent out flyers. We said you don’t have to pay. You get a gift. If you like it you can continue to learn with us.

  • It was very hard to persuade parents to start with VIPKID: We started with 4 students. We added about 10 new students a month. [They have over 500,000 students today]. We had very limited resources. We could only afford to spend our resources where it mattered most.

  • We needed to guarantee the quality of the whole experience: When we got to 200 students and 20 teachers we stopped growth. We locked ourselves in a little room and really figured out all the fundamental challenges. We had to put quality first.

  • The market is huge but that’s also a challenge: Teacher supply has been a huge challenge. Today VIPKID has more than 60,000 teachers. But there are 17 million new babies born every year in China. There are over a million elementary school kids in Beijing alone.

  • Parents are paying $40 per hour for one on one learning experience: Around 15% of household income in China goes to supplemental education. Compared to 2% in the US. The overall market size is $15 billion.

  • Two mistakes we made at the beginning: (1) We tried to build out too much technology right at the beginning. (2) We were not ready for fast growth. When one of our parents posted on Weibo about VIPKID, 2,000 people signed up in one day. It took us 3 months to handle all of those requests.

  • What is your one piece of advice for the next generation of founders? Invest most of your time on the most important thing: customer success. Stick to it every day.

  • Full podcast here.