Xiaomi founder Lei Jun has made his mark as one of China’s most dynamic CEOs, drawing frequent—and, he says, unwelcome—comparisons to Steve Jobs. His next act: splash out RMB 1 billion ($160 million) (link in Chinese) on English lessons for all of China.
The new push into online education comes from Chinese social media company YY, which Lei chairs in addition to his Xiaomi duties. YY’s new website, 100.com, will offer up English lessons that will not only be free, but will pay students RMB 100 ($16) every time they complete a class. That’s more than a day’s salary to the average university student.
It’s not like Chinese people need much convincing to learn English—McKinsey estimated the country’s English language learning market to be $2.1 billion in 2009, and it has certainly grown since then. A more pressing question might be how 100.com (the domain name was recently purchased for $950,000) will make any money.
The hope, as with many internet startups, is that the audience will come first, and the monetization will come later. So far, about 20,000 people have signed up on 100.com during its registration phase. The website says it is hiring technicians, not teachers, and YY CEO Li Xueling admitted that the company has no experience in the language industry.
The site isn’t the only one betting big on the online education sector. 360 Education Group bought www.0060.com the same week YY bought 100.com, paying $121,000 for the domain because 0060 is the Malaysian international dialing code. 360 wants to establish a portal for Chinese students who want to study abroad in Malaysia—but given the recent strife between the countries over the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, that may be one bet that won’t pay off anytime soon.