Business / Technology

Skills app helping to bridge cultural divide

By Emma Gonzalez (China Daily) Updated: 2016-04-05 10:10

Sophie Su feels like a bridge connecting two very different worlds.

Born in Australia, the young entrepreneur has always considered she belonged to two separate communities, because of her Chinese heritage.

But now, having already spent half her life in China, she has created an app which she said it's an excellent way of helping to bring those two different groups of people closer together.

"My foreign friends always asked me to introduce them to locals because they wanted to be more immersed in the culture and because they wanted to do business here," said Su.

"At the same time, my Chinese friends were after the exact same thing."

So aware of the lack of tools to break the cultural barriers, she not only created a tool to do it, but realized at the same time she had found a way for expats to monetize and share their skills and experiences with locals.

Her app, Pingo Space, has two different interfaces depending on whether it is used by an expat or a local.

Closely resembling Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's Taobao marketplace, expats can build their own portals by adding pictures and information to their profiles, similar to creating their own stores.

Chinese customers can use the platform to buy services and write reviews.

Every transaction is carried out using the online payment service WeChat Wallet, a service offered by Tencent Holdings Ltd.

The app, which is named Ping Xing Guo in Chinese and translated into Pingo Space, allows foreigners to share what are considered less-conventional skills.

"I realized there were many foreigners in Beijing who had good skills, like playing piano, cooking or dancing, but they were sadly only teaching English here," explained co-founder Su.

Its parent company, Ping Xing Shi Kong Technology Co started developing the app in 2014 with the help of an initial angel investment of $500,000, raised with the help of Su's husband and co-founder Weng Yunkai, a foreign-language education entrepreneur.

Last year, the company received an undisclosed second round of investment from education mogul Michael Yu, chairman of New Oriental Education & Technology Group.

Bruce Pan, who previously worked for Chinese search engine Baidu Inc, and Gordon Feng, a former employee of tech group Microsoft Corp, also joined the founding team and helped the couple with product design.

Despite language teaching still being the most sought-after service, the platform offers a broader range of skills and abilities, which currently include those as diverse as ballet, American football, skydiving and beer brewing.

Lamiya Safarova, a student from Azerbaijan, uses the app to teach English as well as help Chinese students deal with their applications for studying abroad.

"I can teach English but I also think I might have other skills that I could teach others," said Safarova.

"I am fluent in Turkish and Russian. I can teach business people conversational skills in those languages too."

For the app to be successful, it is crucial that expats set their own prices and have complete control over their work.

Su, who has spent eight years in the education industry, complains that intermediaries in the education industry usually charge disproportionate costs to introduce teachers and students.

"In the education industry, there is a 300 percent markup but Pingo Space only charges expats 5 yuan for every transaction done on the app," said Su.

Pingo Space calculates that if an expat teaches two hours per week, with the average cost of a lesson at 298 yuan in the platform, the earnings would allow them to pay a monthly rent of 3,000 yuan.

It already has around 100 foreigners registered on the platform offering services to around 500 local residents.

With more than 1 million expats living in China, mainly concentrated in Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province, however, there is still huge scope for growth.

It now expects to expand into Shanghai and Guangzhou within the next six months, boosting its customer base to 100,000 Chinese users and 400 foreigners.

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