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No Pain, No Gain: How VIPKid Raised the Bar For Quality Education


Channeling pain into success is not unheard of, and it can be quite fruitful too! The journey from zero to hero is easily noticeable in the many stories of entrepreneurs whose personal struggles turned to financial success.

Once, Cindy Mi was just one of the million individuals cheated by the educational system. But instead of dwelling on that fact, Cindy decided to use her wits and ambition to create a place where young learners would have the opportunity to learn differently.

Combining her love for the English language and will to improve the educational process, she built VIPKid into a worldwide education provider for children. The highly successful online learning platform that we know today grew from the simplest of business ideas but still enjoyed its fair share of initial disbelief.

So where did the tides turn for Cindy and VIPKid?

Read on to learn how one woman's endeavors launched a company into a whole new playfield of business success:

The Setbacks that Paved the Way

Born in Hebei, China, Cindy Mi grew up in a modest, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary family. She's said to have been timid as a child, but with a keen interest in the English language. She nurtured that interest by teaching herself all-things English, mastering it at a very young age. Cindy even invested her lunch money in buying English lesson cassette tapes and educational English magazines. Sacrificing one meal a day, Cindy set the foundation for the business woman she would soon grow into.

Her life as a young girl turned upside down when she and her family moved to Harbin, in the north-eastern part of China. The move took them more time than anticipated, ultimately resulting in Cindy missing a whole semester of school.

At the time, Cindy was in the 11th grade, and adapting to a new environment became quite challenging for her. Finding herself lagging behind other students in terms of acquiring school materials and finding teachers willing to help her out, Cindy became even more introverted and guarded. Instead of learning, the young student would spend her classes reading science-fiction magazines wittily placed between her notebook pages.

Time went by but her learning efforts stayed the same, causing Cindy to lose all confidence in her educational growth. In math, Cindy's teacher took a visible dislike of the young girl and made sure she knew it. This stroke Cindy's enthusiasm even more - urging her to feel unworthy of the education she'd been entitled to.

All of these factors combined led to Cindy dropping out of high-school altogether. Even though at the beginning it had seemed like a downhearted choice, it ended up opening one of the most important doors in her life.

Fresh Out of the Student Table

Luckily, Cindy's passion for the English language prevailed, and throughout the years, she kept herself busy by tutoring children on the side. That's why after dropping out of high school, she and her uncle co-founded ABC English, an English tutoring company. This had been a bold choice, seeing how in the early 2000s the market was saturated by brick-and-mortar tutoring companies. And yet, Cindy and her uncle pushed through by all means and obstacles in flying colors. During this time, she learned many things from both the perspective of a young entrepreneur and a former student. Cindy had the chance to witness how crucial the role of the teacher was firsthand, and that the more she learned, the better she could teach.

The young entrepreneur wasn't afraid of having too much on her plate. She would run all kinds of errands for ABC English. From interviewing candidates to grading homework and tests, Cindy worked restlessly for what she believed was making a positive change for many young learners. Gaining even more knowledge was also not out of the picture for Cindy, which is why after long hours of work, she would focus on her English studies. With time, she earned a Bachelor's Degree in English literature from Beijing Foreign Language University.

Although their work maintained ABC English as a sustainable business, there was a rising problem that did not work in their favor. Because of Cindy's experience with inadequate teachers, the standards for the employees of ABC English were quite high. Many parents were spending a lot of money on English lessons, but through the years, Cindy came to the conclusion that there's a lack of competent teachers on the booming market.

As kismet would have it, this self-taught lesson would later on inspire Cindy's most monumental triumph!

Thinking Globally

The demand for high-quality English lessons in China hadn't stopped rising over the years. Much like today, Chinese parents then saw proper education as a needful investment in their children's future.

From 2010 to 2012, Cindy enrolled in an MBA program at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB). The program showed immense support to the students and encouraged them to start their own businesses. During her time there, Cindy came across a staggering statistic. As it turned out, parents in China spent approximately $15 billion a year on their children's English-language education. Familiar with this market, Cindy now also had better insight in the customers' needs and would use that information very intelligently.

Among other statistics she stumbled upon was also the fact that, in China, 18 million new babies are born each year, but the number of residing qualified North American English teachers was only 27,000 - a figure that didn't add up in favor of English-learning enthusiasts!

Being granted full support from the MBA program, Cindy began crafting a business model that would solve the evident problem in English language education. As soon as she graduated, Cindy dove into her second business - VIPKid!

VIPKid: The Early Stages

A massive contribution to building 's business model was the idea of connecting native English speakers with younger Chinese students. In early 2014, VIPKid became a Chinese frontrunner in online teaching. Although, at first, this might have seemed like an advantage - the unfamiliarity of the concept was the first step back for the start-up.

Cindy was aware that the outcome of the learning experience was the most persuasive reason for parents to enroll their children in the program. To help the idea, she did what she had done with ABC English - built a high-quality curriculum and found competent teachers to educate the pupils. In the early stages, they did experimental trials where Cindy herself observed the lessons in order to find ways to improve and expand them. It wasn't long until VIPKid reached the desired standard, but even so, a few other bumps in the road occured.

The next obstacle for Cindy was getting in touch with potential investors. Barely anyone showed interest in the business idea, mostly because at the time it seemed like something that wouldn't stick in the long run. Luckily, Cindy came to the idea to invite the possible investors' children to experience the products. No surprise there - the children loved VIPKid, and that interest helped roll in the investments.

By the end of 2014, VIPKid got Sinovation Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Tencent, Yunfeng Capital, Matrix Partners, Learn Capital, Northern Light VC, and Bryant Stibel to invest in them, and this joint enthusiasm launched the platform to incredible new heights!

VIPKid, Today

Along with the growth of VIPKid, Cindy's top priority is delivering high-quality education, in a virtual and supportive environment.

In 2017, VIPKid launched a new service called Lingo Bus - a similar platform teaching Mandarin to students between the age of 5 and 12. Cindy has also implemented new concepts into VIPKid's business model. The most popular one is the free access-group seminar venues, where people can go and get information for social studies, art, music, and science.

As a true entrepreneur, Cindy is constantly stepping up the game and bringing innovation into the company. It's reported that VIPKid has more than 60,000 teachers working on the platform, teaching more than 500,000 students. In 2017, VIPKid estimated revenue of $800,000 million - a huge success for the entrepreneur who builds her company based on personal pain, passion, and perseverance.

Cindy has given a glimpse of her philanthropic side during the COVID-19 pandemic - donating 1.5 million English and math classes to affected students, along with free classes to students in the city of Wuhan as well as children of medical workers.

Amidst her competition, Cindy is focused and her hard-working nature is what sets the company apart from others. This story is yet another proof that personal pain is the best way to come up wiser and stronger on the other side of the storm and offer a smart and custom-tailored solution to a worldwide educational problem.