In our ongoing interviews with e-learning experts, we now turn to Ross Cranwell, co-founder of LingoBite and People Squared. Cranwell is an e-learning expert and a resident of Shanghai whose China years began with postgraduate studies in Mandarin Chinese at Fudan University. Since then he’s worked at the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and as a marketing manager at Chinese Pod, a language learning solution company. Now at LingoBite, Cranwell has created a language solution that not only “helps busy people to learn languages,” but do it in a contemporary, timely way so lessons can focus on anything from local slang to navigating Taobao, China’s online mega-marketplace. As Cranwell related to AsianTalks, the challenges of operating LingoBite.com looms large, but the exciting pace at which the Chinese market is developing more than compensates for some of the difficulties of operating in the world’s second largest economy. “It has its ups and downs,” Cranwell explained. Here’s the rest of our interview, to be released in increments over the course of the week. (Check this space, or keep updated on Twitter by following us on @AsianTalks!)
AsianTalks: Where are you from, and as an e-learning expert, how do you view the vast transformations taking place in China?
I’m from Dublin, Ireland and I’ll be in Shanghai for seven years now. A little time in Beijing and Guangzhou, but majority in Shanghai.
To your questions about how the transformation of China affects e-learning, there’s two different kinds of people that are affected. There’s the local Chinese, then there are the foreigners. The growth of China has meant there has been a lot more wealth available to the locals so that they can invest more in education. So from an e-learning perspective it’s fantastic. And then there’s the technology that’s advancing. People have more money to purchase smart phones and things like that – tablets as well — and so they now have more access to this type of content. But e-learning still has challenges in terms of the locals’ ability to pay for these types of products.
But overall it’s good. The growth of the country means more money to invest in education, more interest in learning English, to improve their careers, and to stand above the rest.
For the foreigners, because of the growth of China, there’s a lot more foreigners coming here, and they need to learn Chinese to be able to get by. And so that’s one of the main markets I focus on. So the foreigners coming here, or who are here. They need to be able to learn before they arrive or supplement their day-to-day learning.
AsianTalks: As a 7-year resident of China, how would you rate your fluency in the Chinese language?
I can do whatever I need to do. It’s certainly not perfect but I can get by no problem!
AsianTalks: You co-found LingoBite and People Squared. Tell us a bit about each company, and any advice for expats looking to create start-ups in China.
Sure! LingoBite is my e-learning start-up, it focuses on helping busy people to learn languages. So people who don’t have time to go to school or classes, or they also don’t have time or they don’t like self-study, I try to cater to those people, by sending them daily, bite-sized lessons so that they can gradually improve over time.
I focus on Mandarin at the moment but then will expand to different languages. So it really caters to people who have very limited time, but still want to make progress in language.
And PeopleSquared was founded as a result of working on my start-up. So when I left my former company I was looking for a space to work in, and I went to some different co-working spaces because I didn’t want to get a full office.
Eventually a friend of mine was opening a space, and didn’t really know what to do with it, and I thought of a desk space for new, innovative start-ups. Because I wanted to be in that community, and he wanted to build a business, so it was a perfect match.
So whilst I was building my start-up I was also helping him to build this co-working space. And now there are two spaces in Shanghai.
AsianTalks: What are the benefits of co-working spaces?
It’s brilliant. Really, really cool. Especially when you’re working near a couple of people, it can get a bit lonely. And then, if you want to be more professional and have meetings with people, you can’t really do it in your house! So it’s great to have that space. And basically the start-up scene in Shanghai is only just growing now, so we’re kind of at the early stages of this growth.
Also, originally the start-up growth was mostly based in Beijing. It’s now starting to build up in Shanghai, which has been more of a business, financial space.
AsianTalks: What’s a major e-learning trend happening in China today, and where does e-learning or distance learning come into the rapid transformation of Chinese educational culture?
The educational market is obviously huge in China. There’s a lot of pressure on kids to be successful, and so it’s incredibly competitive. They do send them to a lot of these extracurricular, cram schools, or additional English schools. Though one thing that is tricky in China, and hasn’t quite matured yet, is that they don’t value online education as much as face-to-face education.