Academic exams are a big deal in China, as they determine the kind of universities, high schools and elementary schools that students get into and, to some degree, the future that awaits them.
Parents are thus willing to invest generously to help their children get ahead in school. One startup capitalizing on this is Yuanfudao, a six-year-old startup that has attracted a line of big-name investors. The company announced this week that it has raised $300 million in a funding round led by existing investor Tencent, China’s largest social networking and gaming company.
Other participants from the round include Warburg Pincus, Matrix Partners China and IDG Capital. The fresh injection raised Yuanfudao’s valuation from around $1 billion at the time it pocketed $120 million in 2017 to exceed $3 billion.
China’s exam-oriented culture has given rise to a billion-dollar tutoring market. As affordable mobile internet becomes common, a lot of that teaching effort is happening online. A report by research firm iResearch shows that China’s online K-12 market will reach 44 billion yuan, or $6 billion, by the end of this year, and will more than triple to 150 billion yuan by 2022.
Yuanfudao, which means “ape tutor” in Chinese, administers a suite of services, including live courses, a database of exam problems and a popular homework help app. The latter scans homework problems and solves them instantly with the snap of a camera. The startup also operates a research institute for artificial intelligence, which could train its homework app to be smarter.
Yuanfudao claims to serve more than 200 million users, which include students and their parents who use the startup’s apps to check the learning progress of their kids.
Yuanfudao told TechCrunch that it derives the majority of its revenues from selling live courses. It plans to use the proceeds from the latest round to fund investments in research and development of AI as well as improve its apps’ user experience.
The startup is in a heated race to fight for Chinese students and parents. Other companies with similar homework help services include Zuoyebang, which is backed by Chinese search giant Baidu, Coatue Management, Sequoia Capital China and Goldman Sachs. Another one is Yiqizuoye, which counts Singapore sovereign fund Temasek as an investor. A wave of Chinese companies that started with a focus on adult education have also come into the K-12 fray, including New Oriental and 51Talk, which are both listed on the New York Stock Exchange.