The New York IPO last week by after-school tutoring firm Puxin highlights the profitable market of traditional education services in China. Among other U.S.-listed Chinese education companies, Bright Scholar Education has more than 60 schools.
Jenny Lee, a managing partner at GGV Capital and member of the 2018 Forbes Midas List of the world’s best venture investors, is looking further ahead to the day when physical schools and teachers can be replaced through more online and computer-based learning. Advances in the technologies behind voice recognition and online streaming are increasingly being applied to solve traditional problems in education – a shortage of effective teachers and high costs. “How do you remove schools?” she says. “Taking them online.”
I talked to Singapore-born, Cornell-educated Lee in GGV’s 35th-floor office overlooking Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial district on Tuesday. Excerpts follow.
Flannery: What’s the state of voice recognition technology, and where is that going in the next few years?
Lee: In voice, the larger companies will win in terms of core technology. Google, Baidu and iFlytek spend a lot of time trying to do voice recognition. Today, the level of voice recognition is over 98% generally. That’s good enough for now and for applications to develop.
Say — in learning English. We were an angel investor in a company called LingoChamp. They combine education and AI. It’s an ex-Google team of returnees that are in Shanghai and came back four years ago. Their belief is that you don’t need a teacher to teach you how to speak English. You learn it through an app. They make it fun.
Flannery: As a group, how are these companies comparable to U.S. companies in terms of the commercialization of the technology?
Lee: They are very far ahead in terms of commercialization. These are all companies that have started to monetize well in the past two years. The biggest issue in education is the reliance on schools — offline schools, which is a limitation to skills. The second limitation is relying on celebrity teachers. One teacher can only teach “x” number of classes per day. Those were the two traditional issues of education companies. So our investment is centered on 2.0: How do you remove schools? Taking them online.