5 Things Needed For an Education Startup in China

3 min read

Terry CrawfordTerry Crawford is the founder of InitialView. InitialView was founded in Beijing, China in 2009. InitialView provides interviews of applicants to U.S. and U.K. universities and job seekers to multinationals. InitialView serves two primary markets: that of U.S. and U.K. universities which want to have a more authentic look at their international applicants, and that of job seekers who want to set themselves apart. For both, they use in-person, unscripted interviews which are then uploaded to the proprietary interview platform. The proprietary platform allows viewers to, within seconds, determine the interviewee’s English ability and interpersonal skills. Their technology is currently patent-pending in both the U.S. and China.

Terry first came to China in the early 2000s to study Chinese at Tsinghua University in Berkeley’s intensive Chinese language program. After practicing mergers & acquisitions as a private equity lawyer in Hong Kong and New York, he came to Beijing with the law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he worked with some of the most prominent companies in China. While he was a lawyer, Terry founded his first technology venture. In 2007 he launched Hitchsters.com, a website that connected fellow travelers so they could share taxis to and from airports. It was named one of Time Magazine’s Top 50 Websites of 2007, and it was sold in 2010. He currently lives in Beijing with his family.

Terry is a speaker at TechNodeTouch meetup on Education on January 19, 2014 in Beijing, where he will be sharing his insights and tips on founding and running an education startup in the Chinese market. Click here to register to attend the free-to-attend meet-up.

Below are the 5 things entrepreneurs ‘should get’ for their education startup in China, according to Terry:

1. GET A SENIOR ADVISOR: Go find the most senior person in your industry (i.e., someone who is very respected by target customers). Get him or her excited about what you are doing, and get them to associate their name with it. If you can’t get that, then chances are that what you are doing will not get over the high barrier that accompanies selling something new to institutions. If you can get that, then you are much closer to either getting a first-adopter or getting a track record (see #2 and #3).

2. GET A FIRST-ADOPTER: Education startups (or tech startups like ourselves that serve the education market) usually involve large institutions. In the situation where you are “selling” to institutions and not individuals, it is much harder to find a customer who will be a first-adopter. Once you do have one–and this means a customer who will pay you money on an ongoing basis for your product–then you are already halfway there. If you don’t have a clear path to the first-adopter institutions, then you might need to rethink what you are trying to do. “Just throw something up and see what sticks” might work if you are doing an app, but it doesn’t work when you are dealing with some of the most prestigious and conservative institutions in the world.

3. GET A TRACK RECORD: Once you have a first-adopter, you can move to the next stage: building a track record. This is key because having a successful track record means you can go to other institutions (i.e., those who are not first-adopters) and have them take you seriously. In education, it may be that no one wants to be first, but no one wants to be last, either.

4. GET A LAWYER: The education area contains a lot of specialized law that founders often don’t anticipate. Since you are dealing with institutions, you will at some point have to deal with their legal department, and you want to make sure that you have responded to all of their concerns and have not given them any reason to say no. A champion for you in your target institution can get things passed through their legal, but you have to make it easy on them. Never underestimate how conservative institutions can be.

5. GET ON THE ROAD AND START SELLING: It’s still all about relationships, and educational institutions want to talk to the founder, not a salesperson. Perhaps because I spent the first part of my professional career in a law firm where execution mattered more than relationships, I’ve always been astounded about how it is all about the relationships, even when dealing with a large institutions.