The passion for education, an understanding of the latest technology, and the willingness to risk gave birth to Snapask, a mobile application providing an online platform for timely one-to-one teaching and learning. The mobile application has attracted more than 500,000 student users from several countries/cities of Asia since its launch three years ago. Snapask’s success earned Mr Timothy Yu, founder of the popular learning platform and alumnus of the Department, a place in Forbes Asia's inaugural 30 under 30 list in 2016.
- Apart from Taiwan and Singapore (the two areas home to your first interns), may I know why you developed your business in other countries in the order as follows?
2017 Malaysia (July)
2018 Thailand (February)
South East Asia (SEA) has always been our key development focus, simply because of the rapid growth of demand in quality education which can be reflected in the average household spending in after-school tuition services (tripled in the past 10 years according to government census). We are very fortunate to have found the right partners and investors to support our launch and operation in markets like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, to infuse local knowledge into our proven business model, delivering great success in these regions and provided a high-quality learning option for local students.
How do you manage your staff members in other countries to ensure that work and responses are provided with desired quality?
In Snapask, we structure the team into squads, each squad operates with a single set of objectives that addresses the company goal as a whole. For example, we have User Engagement Squad, consist of marketers, designers, engineers and business development managers, their objective is to run fast iterative experiments to improve our product on increasing user retention rate. By setting assumptions on impact in change of product feature to user retention rate, with fast prototyping and usability testing, we are able to validate the effectiveness before investing resources to implement. The cross-functional structure with a clearly defined goal enables groups to operate with autonomy and perfect alignment to company goals.
- How did you assess the optimal time for development of your business in any one of the countries?
Typically, we launch Snapask to a new country within a 9-12 months time frame, which consist of 3 months research & preparation stage, and 6-9 months of brand development and awareness build-up, until we can validate the localised business model with the right product-market fit. Research & preparation stage is skewed heavily into scouting for the right team members and finding local market entry point. As for ramp-up period subsequently, we invest our manpower and resources into running brand awareness campaigns through advertising, viral referral campaigns and partnership build-up, school partnership is one of the key driver in brand awareness for instance, which dominates a big part of our outreach focus in the beginning of a launch.
- Would you mind sharing some of the problems or obstacles you face when expanding your customer base in other countries?
Online learning tools are still a new topic to most parents, and pitching the idea of digitizing learning journey does not appeal to the majority of educators. However, we can observe changes during the past 3 years with a more intensive push from government and private sector to promote the benefits of online learning, allowing personalisation and real-time performance tracking possible.
- Would you mind letting us in on your possible plan for the next country you would like to conquer with your application? Why is this country the next in your plan?
Vietnam and US is part of our development plan 2019 onwards, with our current plan in working with local partners and investors in these regions.
Apart from having the right support in SEA and US market, we hope to capture the growing potential whilst competition is not as fierce as it could be, considering the market size and opportunity available. For instance, the mobile penetration rate in Vietnam exceeds 80% in all population and almost 1:1 especially in age group of 15-22, enabling mobile learning feasible. On a business strategic point of view, our move to expand into US market despite the advance learning structure and online tools available is quite apparent; we have captured a sizable pool of Asian audience who aspire to further their study in the west, rooting a great demand hence excellent market opportunity to capitalise moving forward.
- Would you consider expanding your business into countries in other continents (e.g. European countries, USA)?
Yes as mentioned in Q4, we consider expanding our business to U.S. in the coming year.
- We understand that you went to France for exchange for a semester.
- How would you compare your life as a student in France with that in Hong Kong?
- Does the experience influence your management style?
I did something different during my exchange in French, I went door to door in the dormitories, offering my services as a chef. Every night I would cook for the students. That experience made me realise that starting something from zero excites me a lot. That I enjoy the process of not getting supported and figuring a way out. It was a great experience for me to free from all the things in Hong Kong, to consider what I want to do and how I can actually work it out.
Snapask is appreciated for its provision of swift matching of students and tutors online.
- Does the process involve artificial intelligence (AI)? Would you mind sharing if there are features of Snapask other than the above involving AI?
It would be much more accurate to describe our technology as machine learning driven, predictive learning approach. In simple terms, we learn how student learns, and suggest to best effective learning plan for each individual. Imagine a student working on their homework assignment, asking questions, and practicing for test & exams everyday, all the interactions are captured and analysed based on a structured learning roadmap, to depict students strengths and weaknesses to optimise follow up actions, it serves similar to the purpose of having a personal learning coach, but more accurate, cost-effective and scalable. This is what Snapask is evolving into in long run.
- What is your belief in the future of AI, in shaping online platforms and all other aspects of life of human kind?
To completely mimic human cognitive ability and apply comprehensive logic to solve a complex task, we could all agree there is still quite a journey until AI can mature. However in shorter-term, the specific AI does perform with much higher precision and efficiency comparing to a human on specific tasks such as identifying defects in human cells or facial recognition technologies. I believe the future of AI would be a hybrid of human effort leveraging on the precision and efficiency of machine-learning powered logic to create a scalable and practical use-case.
The article was written on 30 November 2018.