Kaoru Kikuchi, Co-founder, Sexy Mandarin happier with bad publicity

Learn Mandarin from semi-clad women! Kikuchi on the ingenious method of motivating students, and the fuss about it which cannot deter her plans

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Kaoru Kikuchi is one elusive, busy woman. Not only does she have to nurse an 11-month-old infant, she also runs Sexy Mandarin, a three-year-old Hong Kong-based business that uses sex appeal to educate consumers.

Or just men.

In fact, she told this author over a Skype call at 10 PM, “100 per cent (are men).” Later, she changed her mind as a thought popped into her head. The Japanese model-turned entrepreneur said, “Oh, my mom is a student.”

It is one thing to tell your mother that you help men learn Mandarin through the aid of provocative poses and scantily-clad women. But it is another thing to have her as a student of the said website.

Most people would have disowned their children right away upon finding out about such a novel idea, but Kikuchi’s mother was different; She commended her daughter and said, “Good job.”

It all started with Kikuchi and her husband, Michael Gleissner, trying to learn Mandarin together. She said, “He tried to learn, but failed miserably.” According to her, he had attributed the reason to the teacher’s “ugly” outward appearance. The hypothesis is: If the teacher is sexy, the student would be even more motivated to do well.

“Won’t the students get distracted by the sexy teachers?” I asked. There are more than 45,000 students on the website, but their intentions are dubious. Are they really there to learn?

“It depends on the person,” replied Kikuchi. She added, “They will feel embarrassed if they look stupid. It motivates them to please the girls.”

With conferencing technology that enables a virtual classroom setting, students can choose to learn privately or in a group session. As seen on the website, there are four pricing tiers: US$9.95, US$39.95, US$59.95 and US$74.95. All tiers come with access to full videos and tests as well as email, chat and phone support.

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She also explained the reason behind having an office in Hong Kong and another in Miami, US. “Most of our clients are in the US,” she said. Thus, customer service and support for those customers during respective business hours is extremely crucial.

Hiring and expansion plans

In February 2014, Sexy Mandarin was reported to have hired its first Singaporean team member. Angie Ng, a 21-year-old local polytechnic graduate, joined the ranks as a teacher.

However, hiring in Singapore proved to be quite a feat, given that fluency of Mandarin as a first language is rare. “We have not found people who can speak proper Chinese,” said Kikuchi. That said, looks do matter, and it can be difficult to find both brains and beauty in one person.

While their responsibilities might often overlap, a teacher does not have the same job scope as a model. The former has to go through lessons and make sure students learn to the best of their ability, whereas the latter will only have to act in the educational videos. Thus, not all the models featured in video clips are teachers, and vice versa.

“Our best teacher has a PhD in Physics,” she added. “She’s very motivated. She said that in the future, she wants to teach Physics in high schools.”

The company is also hiring in the Philippines, where most of the video clips were filmed. There, they work with Bigfoot Entertainment, a production studio with headquarters in Miami, US. It is likely that hiring efforts will be channelled towards its next raunchy launch — Spicy Japanese.

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“We had our first meeting two weeks ago,” noted Kikuchi, who shared with e27 that she and her sister are looking at hiring two high-profile adult video (AV) idols to star in upcoming productions for Spicy Japanese. A Facebook page for the Japanese branch was set up in May 2012. However, updates were halted for a good two years, before they returned last week.

“In Japan, men look so asexual but I don’t know… just look at the AV industry,” she said. In 2011, The Tokyo Reporter published an article on a producer’s estimation of the number of women in the local porn industry: one in 200 Japanese women have performed in pornography.

Will this move just lead to more controversy around the idea of Sexy Mandarin or the future Spicy Japanese? After all, hasn’t the website garnered enough vitriol from naysayers who complain that having women teach languages while showing (too much) skin is “demeaning” and “inappropriate”?

Kikuchi dismissed my soothsaying with a laugh and concluded, “The more bad things people say about Sexy Mandarin, the happier I am.”

Lead Image Credit: Kaoru Gleissner’s Facebook Page

Elaine Huang

Elaine is a fervent believer that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, we will all be snapping away at them with our phones and posting them onto Instagram. A Mass Communication graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies, she enjoys writing about technology and entrepreneurs. When not hashtagging her way through all sorts of trouble, Elaine is probably contemplating how to write in the third person.

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