This post is part of our series Say Hello To China’s Expat-preneurs, where we will talk to a mix of foreign founders and tech veterans who have tackled China’s growing tech space and won. Stay tuned over the coming three weeks as we talk to foreign founders from Beijing to Shenzhen about what it takes to thrive in China. You can follow our updates at @technodechina, or check back here for new stories in the series.
If I didn’t meet him in person, I wouldn’t have believed that Daniel, the maker of Hiway was a Laowai (a foreigner in China).
I’ve seen many expats entrepreneurs in China who speak Mandarin, but Daniel is the one who’s best at the language. He speaks Mandarin and several dialects fluently – perhaps better than a native Chinese, and he’s now helping more to get there with his project Hiway, a language exchange app.
Daniel Mathieu, CEO of the company was originally from Midlothian, Virginia. After college, he came to Xiamen for vacation, intending to only stay for two weeks but ends up starting a new life and later a new company there.
“I decided to make Hiway because of my dissatisfaction with other language learning platforms. On most language learning platforms, learners can talk and interact with native speakers, but what happens once you learn a useful word or phrase? You still have to switch to another app to review and remember that word. ” said Daniel.
Hiway is a language community that lets you chat with native speakers, and pick up the new words without leaving the chat. Every word and phrase you typed in the app can be turned into a vocabulary card. You can look up a new word and learn it while you are chatting with your friends.
In addition, Hiway is focusing on another problem that most current language learning tools might miss– what to talk about? When we find a language partner, our instinct tells us to say Hi, how are you? Where are you from? Mostly after the cliche topics, you might….run out of words to say.
So to avoid the boring part in speaking with a language partner, this platform offers a lot more to help them connect and share. For example, it has a section called Discover, where you can see your friends’ posts about their life (similar to Wechat’s Moment Timeline), and every phrase or word composed in this app displays in bilingual translation and vocabulary card.
Daniel himself was not majoring in Computer Science or any subject related. He taught himself the coding language and everything he needs to build a mobile software.
“None of us were particularly fluent in Java or Objective C, so we were learning it as we went. The development process was slow, bogged down by various design issues we encountered.” Daniel recalled. After about 1.5 years into the project, the team finally finished on the iOS version.
Being a foreign entrepreneur in China, Daniel said that “You must be very, very, very patient to get anything done here. In many situations, friendships must be formed before business can take place.”
Speaking of Chinese copycats that most foreigners are afraid of , Daniel is not worried at all. “Copycats usually don’t have the vision that the original team has. The logic that the original team used to create its idea isn’t available to the copycat, only the final product. So, if the initial team is strong enough, they will always be one or two steps ahead of the competition.”
image credit: Hiway