As former British colonies and Asian Tiger economies (alongside South Korea and Taiwan), Singapore and Hong Kong share much in common, including a highly competitive education system that has spawned a lucrative tuition industry.
In Hong Kong, this demand for tuition has given rise to the phenomenon of the star or celebrity tutor, one of whom — Arthur Kho — recently led a pre-Series A round of S$2.5 million (US$1.8 million) for Snapask, a mobile application that allows students to solicit help on problems they encounter while studying by taking snapshots of those problems.
Snapask has gained over 13,500 users and 700 tutors in Hong Kong since it launched there in January this year.
Commenting on the funding and Kho, Snapask Co-founder Bradley Chiang said, “We view him more like our partner than an investor. He [has] open[ed] some physical tuition centres [in Hong Kong]. The funding will be for developing some ideas that will make the study environments [of those tuition centres] better through our application [which has a feature allowing teachers to create quizzes for their students, assess their responses, and track their classes’ performances over the school year]. It will also be for the overseas expansion of our product.”
Besides Hong Kong, Snapask also has a presence in Taiwan and Shanghai. Its trio of Co-founders including Timothy Yu (who was also a Co-founder of Snapask’s predecessor, Appedu) and Phoebe Hung, a University of Hong Kong psychology graduate, are making Singapore the next stop for their business.
The 21-year-old Chiang, who is still an undergraduate at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and is spending his summer vacation in Singapore to oversee Snapask’s expansion here, said, “Our target users are secondary school students. We are actually crowdsourcing university students as our tutors.
“In Singapore, we plan to launch within two weeks, by the end of August. We’ve been building our database of tutors [from the likes of National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore Management University] in Singapore for one-and-a-half months and the response has been overwhelming with 400 tutors signing up.”
Recruiting these tutors has not been difficult, indicated Chiang, who majors in global business and finance. He said, “What we did is basically put out ads [on Facebook], and we really wanted to get the message out that Snapask offers flexibility, which not many other tutoring services offer. Tutors can answer questions any time they want [on Snapask]. We were able to get some traction as people started tagging their friends, so the word-of-mouth really just grew.”
When probed for his thoughts on the Singapore market, Chiang, who is originally from Taiwan, said, “We know the term ‘kiasu’ [translates to ‘afraid to lose’] and that’s our expectation – that it’s very competitive and students are very hardworking here.”
Hung, who had interned with Snapask while waiting to start her Masters degree but decided to prolong her work after buying into their vision, added, “What we understand is that people start tuition really young because the streaming process starts so early. I’m guessing parents are also very willing to pay for something that could give their kids a boost in education.”
Users (or their parents) can expect to pay S$50 (US$36) a month for the service though details of the package such as how many questions users are entitled to ask are yet to be determined, according to Chiang. Tutors, on the other hand, can expect to earn between S$1 (US$0.71) and S$1.50 (US$1.10) for each question answered.
The Co-founders (with Yu based in Hong Kong) now lead a team of 15 in four cities, and are aiming to raise a Series A round, mooted to be about US$3 million to US$5 million, by the end of the year with the assistance of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Plug and Play, a media startup accelerator, and Shanghai’s Chinaccelerator.
The Singapore version of Snapask is expected to be released on Google Play by the end of the month, and the iOS version shortly after – by next month.
Image Credit: Snapask