What do you think will be the future core business of Bytedance? Contrary to current trends, it may not be Douyin-based advertising or gaming. In fact, the future of Bytedance could very well be something less popular with China’s younger generation—education.

This week, we provide an overview of Bytedance’s education business ventures. We’ll take a look at how the company has tried to replicate its TikTok success in the education sector—with less than stellar results thus far.

Bytedance may have made its name with short-video and news aggregator apps, but it seems unusually determined to break into the education sector.

Over the past two years, the TikTok owner has made several attempts to gain a foothold in online education through the launch of new apps, acquisitions, and investments. Underperforming apps are being abandoned even as new ones keep appearing, fresh off the production line.

Analysts contend that Bytedance is merely pushing ahead with its usual cash-burning strategy while leveraging its massive user base to expand into online education. However, edutech is more complicated than simply rolling out apps.

In December 2017, before the company had made any kind of foray into education, Bytedance held an educational industry conference to talk about the potential integration of the sector with technology. The event marked the first hint dropped by the Beijing-based unicorn about its pedagogical ambitions.

In focus / ByteDance #12

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TechNode’s ByteDance newsletter, one of the first in-depth looks in English at the now-giant upstart startup, was published from March 13 to Oct. 23, 2019.

Since then, the company has actively moved into the online learning sphere.

Timeline

  • In March 2018, Bytedance acquired OpenLanguage, an online English course provider.
  • In May 2018, it launched Gogokid, a one-to-one tutoring platform for Chinese children to learn English online with foreign teachers.
  • In July 2018, it launched Haohao Xuexi, a knowledge-sharing app that features content covering career advice, parenting, culture, and wealth management.
  • In August 2018, Bytedance led a $49.5 million Series C funding round in San Francisco-based education technology company Minerva Project.
  • In December 2018, it launched AiKID, a foreign teacher live-streaming platform.
  • Bytedance licensed some patents in January from now-defunct smartphone maker Smartisan, which the company indicated was meant to expand and develop its online education business.
  • In May, it launched a K-12 online education platform Dali Ketang, which offers courses from primary school to high school. Chinese tech news outlet 36Kr reported that Bytedance acquired another online teaching platform named Qingbei Wangxiao to help with the development of Dali Ketang.
  • In July, it was reported that Bytedance was testing a short-video-based English-learning app named “Tangyuan English.”

Setbacks

Of all of its online education offerings, Bytedance has invested most money into Gogokid. China Entrepreneur Magazine reported in January that Bytedance has plowed over RMB 400 million (around $56.7 million) into the platform since it was founded last year.

But that didn’t prevent the platform from suffering setbacks. In April, Bytedance reportedly laid off over half of Gogokid’s employees, including reducing its sales team by around 70% to 200 employees.

At the same time, Chinese media reported that AiKID had suspended its operations four months prior to the Gogokid layoffs.

Technology and a massive user base (total monthly active users just reached 1.5 billion) are Bytedance’s core strengths, which have led to the company’s success in mobile apps; however, that success has yet to be replicated in the education sector, said Pan Xin, vice president at the online business division of New Oriental, the first Chinese learning company to list in New York.

Nevertheless, the education mogul suggested that Zhang Yiming, the founder and CEO of Bytedance, has a “passion” for the education business, adding that Bytedance would eventually disrupt the education market following a period of “trials and errors.”

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. He writes a monthly newsletter tracking...

Tony Xu

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail: tony.xu@technode.com