More events and articles

The past couple of months I’ve attended a number of events and written a few external articles.  Below is a compilation of them.

Panels:

Interviews and op-eds:

Citations

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The evolving distributed ledger tech landscape

Yesterday I gave an abbreviated presentation based on R3CEV research first publicly shown at the GaiaX – Blockchain University event “Blockchain Summit” held in Tokyo.

[Japanese translation 日本語]

Note: below are the citations and notes for several of the slides:

  • Slide 3: The companies in the red square boxes are some of the startups that are primarily trying to create non-cryptocurrency distributed ledgers. (Source: Startup Management)
  • Slide 6: CB Insights
  • Slide 7: CNN|Money
  • Slide 9: Twitter
  • Slide 10: CoinDesk Venture Capital aggregation
  • Slide 13: The great pivot or just this years froth? and NY Post estimate
  • Slide 15: Field of Dreams image in reference to the model that you build it first with the hope that customers come
  • Slide 19: One example of this euphemism is from Adam Draper (and a similar reference point on Twitter).  Each of these five companies has a couple product lines, one of which focuses on cryptocurrencies in a non-marginal manner.
  • Slide 21: This list could include a number of others including Tezos (DLS) and a handful of other startups including a couple in Japan
  • Slide 22: Aite Group
  • Slide 23: Collective head count for these companies is just under 100 and total funding raised (that is publicly announced) is around $10 million.  There are still more companies trying to build foundational layers (some proprietary, others open) than teams building applications on top.   Legend in parenthesis: E=Ethereum, R=Ripple, CP=Counterparty, OA=OpenAssets, TM=Tendermint
  • Slide 24: Most of the large non-bank financial institutions such as clearing houses and exchanges all have working groups focused on distributed ledger technology (e.g., CLS, SWIFT, LSEG, CME, Nasdaq, Deutsche Borse, DTCC).  The Linux Foundation project is in its formative stage.
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Watermarked tokens and pseudonymity on public blockchains

As mentioned a couple weeks ago I have published a new research paper entitled: “Watermarked tokens and pseudonymity on public blockchains

In a nutshell: despite recent efforts to modify public blockchains such as Bitcoin to secure off-chain registered assets via colored coins and metacoins, due how they are designed, public blockchains are unable to provide secure legal settlement finality of off-chain assets for regulated institutions trading in global financial markets.

The initial idea behind this topic started about 18 months ago with conversations from Robert Sams, Jonathan Levin and several others that culminated into an article.

The issue surrounding top-heaviness (as described in the original article) is of particular importance today as watermarked token platforms — if widely adopted — may create new systemic risks due to a distortion of block reorg / double-spending incentives.  And because of how increasingly popular watermarked projects have recently become it seemed useful to revisit the topic in depth.

What is the takeaway for organizations looking to use watermarked tokens?

The security specifications and transaction validation process on networks such as the Bitcoin blockchain, via proof-of-work, were devised to protect unknown and untrusted participants that trade and interact in a specific environment.

Banks and other institutions trading financial products do so with known and trusted entities and operate within the existing settlement framework of global financial markets, with highly complex and rigorous regulations and obligations.  This environment has different security assumptions, goals and tradeoffs that are in some cases opposite to the designs assumptions of public blockchains.

Due to their probabilistic nature, platforms built on top of public blockchains cannot provide definitive settlement finality of off-chain assets. By design they are not able to control products other than the endogenous cryptocurrencies they were designed to support.  There may be other types of solutions, such as newer shared ledger technology that could provide legal settlement finality, but that is a topic for another paper.

This is a very important issue that has been seemingly glossed over despite millions of VC funding into companies attempting to (re)leverage public blockchains.  Hopefully this paper will help spur additional research into the security of watermarking-related initiatives.

I would like to thank Christian Decker, at ETH Zurich, for providing helpful feedback — I believe he is the only academic to actually mention that there may be challenges related to colored coins in a peer-reviewed paper.  I would like to thank Ernie Teo, at SKBI, for creating the game theory model related to the hold-up problem.  I would like to thank Arthur Breitman and his wife Kathleen for providing clarity to this topic.  Many thanks to Ayoub Naciri, Antony Lewis, Vitalik Buterin, Mike Hearn, Ian Grigg and Dave Hudson for also taking the time to discuss some of the top-heavy challenges that watermarking creates.  Thanks to the attorneys that looked over portions of the paper including (but not limited to) Jacob Farber, Ryan Straus, Amor Sexton and Peter Jensen-Haxel; as well as additional legal advice from Juan Llanos and Jared Marx.  Lastly, many thanks for the team at R3 including Jo Lang, Todd McDonald, Raja Ramachandran and Richard Brown for providing constructive feedback.

Watermarked Tokens and Pseudonymity on Public Blockchains

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What challenges arise when trying to scale watermarked tokens on Bitcoin?

[Note: the following overview on scaling Bitcoin was originally included in a new paper but needed to be removed for space and flow considerations]

Looking in the past, the older Viceroy overlay network scaled at O(logN) where N is the number of peers which is different than the contentious scaling in Bitcoin, where even Core developers do not agree on how per node bandwidth actually scales.1

For instance, one group of developers thinks that per node bandwidth on the Bitcoin network scales linearly, O(n).2

The use of O(n) is a way of capturing simply whether something scales linearly or not.   O(n) means: if it takes 5 seconds to do something when there are 10 nodes, it will take 50 seconds if there are 100. An example would be washing the dishes. It takes 30 seconds per plate and you just keep going one plate after another.

In contrast, another group of developers believes bandwidth requirements squares per node, which reads as O(n2).3

O(n2) means: if it takes 5 seconds to do something when there are 10 nodes, it will take 5 hundred seconds if there are 100. O(x) notation is an approximate. That is to say, while you have increased the number of items by a factor of 10, the time taken increased by a factor of about 100.

An example here might be if Bob needs to broker bilateral contracts between all the members of a new limited partnership fund.   Four partners would require six bilateral NDAs in total. Eight partners would require 24. Thus if Bob doubled the number of partners he would need more than four times as many contracts executing.4

One calculation (BitFury 2015a) implies that in terms of block verification time, Bitcoin scales at: N(1 + 0:091 log2 N).5 For comparison, Ripple’s consensus ledger also has O(n2) scaling.67

What does this have to do with watermarked tokens?

As described in (Breitman 2015c):8

[C]olored coins are potentially nefarious to the Bitcoin ecosystem. The security of Bitcoin rests on the assumption that miners stand to lose more by departing from consensus than they stand to gain. This assumption requires a balance between the reward received by miners, and the amounts they might stand to gain by reversing transactions. If colored coins represent valuable assets, this balance might be upset, endangering the status of all transactions.

A consequence of the hold-up problem is that it could lead to vertical integration. That is to say, to prevent this type of event (holding up the whole network) from happening in the future, colored coin platforms could acquire (or build) hashing facilities and pools.

Yet if they did this, not only would they need to increase expenditures by several orders of magnitude – which is the very reason they wanted to piggy back off the existing infrastructure to begin with – but they would effectively be building a permissioned network, with very high marginal costs.

In (Breitman 2015c) the author uses a car analogy to describe the cantankerous situation colored coins have created.9

In the analogy, the author explores an alternative universe in which the car was recently created and new owners foresaw the ability to use the car in many different ways, including a new “application” called shipping.

In this scenario, the car owners unilaterally dismissed unproven alternative “truck technology” and instead designed a solution for shipping: bolt a new wooden layer on top of four cars, much like watermarked platforms bolt themselves on top of Bitcoin.

But what about all the various mechanical challenges that came with this new ad hoc design?

Breitman makes the point that, though the same functionality of a truck can be achieved by putting a slab of wood on top of four cars, choosing it as a solution when other options exist is not effective. Similarly, in the context of a closed system, it makes little sense to rely on bitcoind, though inexperienced developers may have a bias towards it:

To be sure, they were several problems with the design. The aerodynamics were atrocious, but that could be somewhat alleviated by placing a tent over the contraption. Turning was initially difficult, but some clever engineers introduced swivels on top of the car, making the process easier. The cars would not always stay at the same speed, but using radio communication between the drivers more or less remedied the issue.

But, truck technology? Well that was unproven, and also trucks looked a lot like train wagons, and the real innovation was the car, so cars had to be used!

Where am I going with this? A large number of projects in the space of distributed ledgers have been peddling solutions involving the use of colored coins within permissioned ledgers. As we’ve explained earlier, colored coins were born out of the near impossibility of amending the code base of Bitcoin. They are first and foremost a child of necessity in the Bitcoin world… a necessary evil, a fiendish yet heroic hack unlocking new functionality at a dire cost.

One could argue that reusing the core bitcoind code offers the benefit of receiving downstream bug fixes from the community. This argument falls flat as the gist of such fixes can be incorporated into any implementation. Issues encountered by Bitcoin have ranged from a lack of proper integer overflow checking to vulnerabilities with signature malleability. Such issues can potentially affect any blockchain implementation; the difficulty lies in identifying them, not in producing a patch to fix them, a comparatively straightforward process. Of course, other bugs might be introduced when developing new functionalities, but the same is true regardless of the approach undertaken.

Basing a fresh ledger, independent from the Bitcoin blockchain, on a colored coin implementation is nothing short of perversion. It is akin to designing a truck using a wooden board bolted on the top of four cars. If, for some reason, the only type of vehicle that could use a highway were sedans, that solution might make sense. But if you have the chance to build a truck and instead chose to rig a container on top of a few cars then perhaps you should first learn how to engineer trucks.

As explored in the game theory model in Appendix B and car example above, there are real security issues with using this specific layered approach in both permissionless and permissioned systems.

The typical excuse for going such route is that building a new blockchain from scratch (e.g., Ethereum, Zerocash, Tendermint, Tezos) delays market entry and could make your startup fall behind the competition.

While it may be true that spending a year or more to purposefully design a new distributed ledger network from scratch will take significant time and resources, the reasons for doing (better security and scalabity) outweigh the downsides (systemic risks and vulnerabilities). Future research should also build models with additional agents.

It also bears repeating that based on the model presented in Appendix B, if the cost of attack is very high, the more plausible outcome is to not attack. However, if it is very attractive to attack there could have a different outcome that is worth further research.

  1. See A Survey and Comparison of Peer-to-Peer Overlay Network Schemes by Lua et al. p. 10 and Big-O scaling by Gavin Andresen []
  2. Over the past five months there have been volumes of emails, forum posts and panel discussions on the topic of how Bitcoin can and does scale. One thread that is recommended to readers is a recent reddit debate between Mike Hearn (mike_hearn) and Greg Maxwell (nullc). []
  3. Why do people say that bitcoin scales according to O(n^2)? from StackExchange []
  4. I would like to thank Richard Brown for this example and illustration. []
  5. Block Size Increase from BitFury Group, p. 5 []
  6. See p. 9 from Ripple Protocol Consensus Algorithm Review by Peter Todd []
  7. Surveying literature we can see that historically there have been dozens of attempts to create decentralized peer-to-peer reputation systems that needed to be self-organizing, Sybil-resistant, fault tolerant as well as the ability to scale. A Survey and Comparison of Peer-to-Peer Overlay Network Schemes by Lua et al.; A Survey of Attack and Defense Techniques for Reputation Systems by Kevin Hoffman, David Zage and Cristina Nita-Rotaru; and Survey of trust models in different network domains by Mohammad Momani and Subhash Challa []
  8. Making sense of colored coins by Arthur Breitman []
  9. Ibid []
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A brief literature review

[Note: the following literature review was originally included in a new paper but needed to be removed for space and flow considerations]

How has previous research looked at information security?

Academic literature covering distributed computing and economics of information security and specifically peer-to-peer networks “Before Bitcoin” spans several decades.

Surveying literature (Lua et al. 2004; Hoffman et al. 2007; Momani and Challa 2009) we can see that there have been dozens of attempts to create decentralized peer-to-peer reputation systems that needed to be self-organizing, Sybil-resistant and fault tolerant.1

For instance, the Content Addressable Network (CAN), Chord, Kademlia and the Cooperative File System (CFS) each had a variety of characteristics that attempted to stave off abuse from attackers due to the environments they operated in (e.g., a distributed decentralized P2P infrastructure). Some used public-private key pairs, content hashes and others used NodeID.

These surveys also looked at Distributed Hash Trees (DHT) which have been known to be vulnerable to a number of attacks including Eclipse attacks, where the peering network itself comes under attack (which Bitcoin’s network is also prone to).2

What about other game theory issues? For example in (Lua et al., 2004) the authors wrote that:3

The ability to overcome free-rider problems in P2P overlay networks will definitely improve the system’s reliability and its value.

Sybil attacked termed by Douceur4 described the situation whereby there are a large number of potentially malicious peers in the system and without a central authority to certify peers’ identities. It becomes very difficult to trust the claimed identity. Dingledine et al.,5 proposes puzzles schemes, including the use of micro-cash, which allows peers to build up reputations. Although this proposal provides a degree of accountability, this still allows a resourceful attacker to launch attacks.

This is the same problem discussed above, that (Rosenfeld 2012) runs into regarding how to pay nodes on an open network.

How do these researchers believe it could be solved or fixed? According to (Lua et al., 2004):6

Having some sort of incentive model using economic and game theories, for P2P peers to collaborate is crucial to create an economy of equilibrium. When non-cooperative users benefit from free-riding on others’ resources, the tragedy of the commons7 is inevitable. Such incentives implementation in P2P overlay services would also provide a certain level of self-regulatory auditing and accounting behavior for resource sharing.

As shown above, despite rhetoric at Bitcoin-related conferences, many of the challenges facing Bitcoin today are in fact known problems facing decentralized peer-to-peer networks in general. The problem space for preventing Sybil attacks was and is relatively well-defined, Bitcoin again side-steps the actual solution by making it economically expensive, but not technically impossible to conduct history-reversing attacks, or even Sybil attacks on the gossip network.

P2Prep is a reputation system designed to “mitigate the effects of selfish and malicious peers in an anonymous, completely decentralized system.”8

How did it do this?

The system guards the anonymity of users and the integrity of packets through the use of public key cryptography. All replies are signed using the requester’s public key, protecting the identity of the responder and the integrity of the data. Only the requester is able to decrypt the packet and check the validity of the information.9

Credence (Walsh and Sirer 2006) is another peer-to-peer reputation system that uses gossip-based techniques to disseminate information.10 It defends itself:11

A key security consideration in the Credence system is the use of mechanisms to prevent spoofed votes or votes generated by fake identities. The system guards against such attacks by issuing digital certificates in an anonymous but semi-controlled fashion. The authors propose to mitigate Sybil attacks by requiring expensive computation on the part of the client before the server grants a new digital certificate. Every voting statement is digitally signed by the originator and anyone can cryptographically verify the authenticity of any given voting statement.

In (Momani and Challa 2010) the authors looked at security and trust concepts surrounding wireless sensor networks (WSN). At first glance this may seem unrelated to peer-to-peer networks but there are many similarities:12

The security issue has been raised by many researchers [14 – 24], and, due to the deployment of WSN nodes in hazardous and/or hostile areas in large numbers, such deployment forces the nodes to be of low cost and therefore less reliable or more prone to overtaking by an adversary force. Some methods used, such as cryptographic authentication and other mechanisms [25 – 32], do not entirely solve the problem. For example, adversarial nodes can have access to valid cryptographic keys to access other nodes in the network. The reliability issue is certainly not addressed when sensor nodes are subject to system faults. These two sources of problems, system faults and erroneous data or bad routing by malicious nodes, can result in the total breakdown of a network and cryptography by itself is insufficient to solve these problems. So new tools from different domains social sciences, statistics, e-commerce and others should be integrated with cryptography to completely solve the unique security attacks in WSNs, such as node capturing, Sybil attacks, denial of service attacks, etc.

In their survey they identified previous research that had looked at some of these same issues including In (Xiong and Liu 2003) where the authors attempted to build a reputation-based trust model for peer-to-peer distributed commerce platforms and use game theory to ameliorate the trust parameters by threats from malicious attacks.13

Going back more than fifteen years we can see that other researchers (Lamport 1998) and (Castro and Liskov 1999), that successful attempts were made to “use cryptographic techniques to prevent spoofing and replays and to detect corrupted messages” on a network that replicates services in the face of Byzantine faults.14

Volumes more can and will likely be written covering the research on these specific topics due in large part to the integral role that different types of information and financial networks play in the lives of consumers and businesses alike.

  1. A Survey and Comparison of Peer-to-Peer Overlay Network Schemes by Lua et al.; A Survey of Attack and Defense Techniques for Reputation Systems by Kevin Hoffman, David Zage and Cristina Nita-Rotaru; and Survey of trust models in different network domains by Mohammad Momani and Subhash Challa []
  2. Eclipse Attacks on Bitcoin’s Peer-to-Peer Network by Heilman et al. []
  3. A Survey and Comparison of Peer-to-Peer Overlay Network Schemes by Lua et al., p. 11 []
  4. J. R. Douceur, “The sybil attack,” in Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Peer-to-Peer Systems , March 7-8 2002, pp. 251– 260. []
  5. R.   Dingledine,   M.   J.   Freedman,   and   D.   Molnar,   “Accountability measures for peer-to-peer systems,” in Peer-to-Peer: Harnessing the Power of Disruptive Technologies , D. Derickson, Ed.     O’Reilly and Associates, November. []
  6. A Survey and Comparison of Peer-to-Peer Overlay Network Schemes by Lua et al., p. 20 []
  7. G. Hardin, “The tragedy of the commons,” Science , vol. 162, pp. 1243– 1248, 1968. []
  8. A Survey and Comparison of Peer-to-Peer Overlay Network Schemes by Lua et al., p. 28. Among other startups, Mnet was a peer-to-peer distributed data store, whose (former) employees would go on to help create BitTorrent and Tahoe-LAFS. This was during the same survey period. []
  9. Ibid, p. 29 []
  10. Experience with an Object Reputation System for Peer-to-Peer Filesharing by Kevin Walsh and Emin Gün Sirer []
  11. A Survey of Attack and Defense Techniques for Reputation Systems by Kevin Hoffman, David Zage and Cristina Nita-Rotaru, p. 30 []
  12. Survey of trust models in different network domains by Mohammad Momani and Subhash Challa []
  13. A Reputation-Based Trust Model for Peer-to-Peer eCommerce Communities by Li Xiong and Ling Liu []
  14. Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance by Miguel Castro and Barbara Liskov. According to Leslie Lamport, in The Part-Time Parliament, p. 23: “The Paxon Parliament protocol provides a distributed, fault-tolerant imiplmentation of the database system.” []
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Some housekeeping of events and interviews

It has been a little while since I posted the events, panels and presentations I have been involved with.  Below is some of the public activity over the past 5-6 months.

Interviews with direct quotes:

Indirect quotes:

Academic citations:

Presentations, panels and events:

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Panel from Blockchain University Demo Day

A couple weeks ago I moderated a panel at Blockchain University, wrapping up the inaugural cohort.

Panelists included Atif Nazir (co-founder of Block.io), Matthieu Riou (co-founder of BlockCypher) and Greg Slepak (co-founder of okTurtles Foundation).  All three were instructors for the course this past winter.

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Bitcoin’s PR challenges

brand

Source: agmarketing.com.au

What kind of feedback has my book received over the past week?  Here are a few threads on reddit:

I am called any number of names on these threads and stylistically was equated with “Gish Gallop” and a “word soup” thesauri.

Hass McCook (“Bit_by_Bit”) weighs in at one point in the first thread saying that these claims are only valid in August 2014.  McCook had similar sentiments as noted in Chapter 3.  However, no word on the MV=MC issue that was brought up in that same chapter, it will always apply no matter what the efficiency of the mining equipment.  This cost basis was also independently confirmed by a miner.

Today a friend pointed to a new post by Mircea Popescu which takes aim at me (not my book): “No, you don’t have something to say on the topic.”  In it he claims I am a “boneheaded teenaged male approach to learning.”  Not a word about the marginal costs of mining.  In fact, he also claims that there is no data “per se” in the book which is curious since there is actually a lot of data in the book.

This is a common rejoinder; some vocal advocates not looking at actual data from the blockchain.  In some ways their timeline looks like this:

  • 2007: First lines of BTC code written
  • 2008: Whitepaper revised and published
  • 2009: Blockchain put into production
  • 2009 – 2014: data created, but the only valid data is fiat prices, the rest is not real data “per se”

Other responses

Aside from the ad hominem’s above what has been the criticism?

Peter Surda, a researcher, disagreed with my points on inelastic versus elastic money supply but didn’t go into many details in a short email exchange.

I received a number of encouraging emails from a variety of readers and was named one of thirteen “Big Thinkers” in this space, though I doubt some of the other candidates would like me to remain in company with them.

I have had some responses with a couple others, including L.M. Goodman (creator of Tezos), on Twitter this past weekend — though this is largely unrelated to the book itself.

What does this mean?

Partisanship may be impacting scholarship, especially the Myth of Satoshi variety.

No, Leah Goodman did not uncover who Satoshi was.  But one thing was clear from that episode in February was that some partisans do not want the individual who created Bitcoin to be taken down from the pedestal they have put him on; they want their caricature to be immutable.  Just like some historians have tried to revise history to make their heroes look impeachable, so to has the veneration of Satoshi.  If Bram Cohen had anonymously released BitTorrent a decade ago, would BitTorrent have had a similar following due to its mysterious beginnings?

I hold no ill-will to the person or group that comprised Satoshi, but it is clear from the evidence cited in chapters 9 and 10 that he, she or they did not consult an actual economist or financial professional before they created their static rewards and asymptote money supply.  This is a mistake that we see in full force today in which the quantity of money available has shrunk due to theft, scams, purposeful burning, accidental destruction, etc.  Satoshi recreated a deflationary inelastic economy and much to the chagrin of the self-appointed purity police, it is not being used the way he expected it to (actual commerce) and is instead being used for things it is relatively useful for (e.g., donating to Wikileaks, gambling).

What other economic and environmental issues are still being ignored?

Jake Smith, creator of Coinsman recently published a new article on mining in China.  Yet despite being, in his own words, a “true believer” and interviewing other “true believers” in the mining space, he missed the unseen calculation, the economics of extracting and securing rents on this ledger unit which consume scarce resources from the real economy.  This is not something that it is unknown, there is an economic formula to explain it: MV=MC (as described copiously in Chapter 3).  There is nothing magical or mysterious about mining as other people in the reddit thread point out how mining is currently an environmental albatross or as Fred Trotter dubs it, a “black hole.”

Moving forward

Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued its Consumer advisory: Virtual currencies and what you should know about them.  The advisory (PDF) gives a cursory look, in layman’s terms of what are the challenges and risks of participating in this space.

What does this mean?

While it is unclear as to the motivations of some of the “true believers” are, they collectively did underestimate the costs of consumer protection and/or did not put it as a top priority for mass consumer adoption.  But why would they?  Consumer protection is usually expensive, its unglamorous and its centralized (which apparently is a “no-no”).

For example, generally speaking, most people do not like having their possessions stolen.  And in the event something is stolen, in practice, individuals prefer to take out insurance and even sue those responsible for damage (torts). If instead of promoting and building illicit markets (like Dark Market and Dark Wallet), these same developers and early investors had funded a start-up that helped track down these stolen funds, or start a non-profit to help get stolen coins, it would have been an amazing public relations coup.

To be balanced, theft takes place across the spectrum of services.  It also happens on the edges of Visa’s network. The difference is Visa offers insurance which is built into their cost structure (highly recommend reading Richard Brown’s recent post).  Insurance alone is just another product and has nothing to do with the protocol.  And this specific point (for the individual user) could be resolved sooner or later (e.g. Xapo already offers some home-made insurance).  However, insurance does not change the economics behind Bitcoin, especially since lost coins are permanently and constantly removed from the money supply.

Then again, there is a built in incentive to allow this theft to occur — stolen coins need mixers and exits which could potentially benefit developers and investors of those services; and simultaneously as more coins drop out of circulation this increases the value for those holding the remaining supply.

In addition, a vocal group of these “true believers” do not think Bitcoin has an image problem.  Yet it has a massive PR problem, for similar (albeit smaller) reasons that Tylenol had in 1982: customers and their families do not like getting burnt.  The only group I am aware of that tried to immediately help the victims of the Mt. Gox debacle was Goxcoin (here’s the LTB interview of it).  In contrast, thread after thread on reddit was filled with bullies saying “no big deal.”   It is a big deal to normal people with real responsibilities beyond downvoting skeptics on reddit and pumping stories about Bitcoin curing cancer and ending wars.  And Mt. Gox liabilities won’t be resolved for at least another year.  Instead of cyber bullying merchants into adopting bitcoin payments, these same hectors could have created a company catering towards recovering stolen property (e.g., loss recovery specialists).  It was a lost opportunity.

my wallet transaction volume

Source: Blockchain.info

In contrast, Blockchain.info has a mixing service called SharedCoin based off the CoinJoin feature from Greg Maxwell.  Blockchain.info recently crossed the 2 million ‘My Wallet’ mark but as I noted in Chapter 4, the vast majority of these likely go unused.  This past spring, one of their representatives claimed that they receive about 15 million visitors a day, but what this actually is, is largely API traffic (external websites pulling charts from their site). They probably do not have close to 2 million users let alone 15 million visitors.

How few?  We have an idea based on their own internal numbers, MyWallet transactions is flat over the past 12 months.  If there were 2 million or 15 million users, we would probably see a gigantic uptick in usage elsewhere on the blockchain (e.g., TVO would skyrocket, tx fees to miners would skyrocket, etc.).

What this all means is that, while they do not release actual user numbers, that at least a minority of wallets are probably ‘burner wallets,’ dumped immediately by individuals wanting to mix coins.  This is great for those who need to mix coins but not so great for consumers who just had their coins stolen.  How to resolve this going forward?

Incidentally in May, Roger Ver (an angel investor including in Blockchain.info) was extorted by a hacker who had figured out a vulnerability in Ver’s security.  Ver put a 37.6 bitcoin bounty on the hacker and the hacker eventually backed down; Wired and CoinDesk each did an article on it.  Yet during the same month, coins were stolen from others and when the users came to reddit for help, they were ridiculed for not having done the 27 steps to make a paper wallet.  No Wired article was written for them and in turn — speculatively — their coins could have been mixed on a site like Blockchain.info.  As a result, why would normal consumers ever want to use Bitcoin after that experience?

Perhaps user behavior and therefore the data will change in the future.  Consequently blockchains in general will probably find other niches beyond what Bitcoin is being shoehorned to do today.  This includes, other chains and platforms that may be able to help firms like Wageni Tech accomplish its goals in Kenya by helping farmers move, manage and track produce to market in an attempt to bypass middlemen and introduce transparency.  Bitcoin may be able to do that one day, but maybe not at the current $40 per transaction cost structure.  Start-ups such as Pebble, Hyperledger, Tezos, Tendermint, Dogethereum (Eris), Salpas, SKUChain, Stellar and several other funded projects in stealth mode may be able to as well (remember, Google was the 15th search engine and the iPod was at least the 9th MP3 player).

This is not to say that “Bitcoin” has collapsed or will collapse, nor is this to single out Ver (he has done a lot to try and create value in this space and even donated 1,000 bitcoins to FEE last year).  Instead it may continue to evolve into is something called Bitcoin-in-name-only, (or BINO as I refer to it in chapter 16) and it probably will continue to be used for what most risk-tolerant consumers use it for today: as a speculative commodity and as a way to pay for things that credit cards cannot be used for.

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Future Opportunites and Economic Challenges for Cryptoledgers

On March 27, 2014 I gave a presentation at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto.

I covered a number of topics including some of the governance challenges surrounding the protocol, the tragedy of the commons surrounding the development of the system as well as how the network pays for itself through token dilution (seigniorage).

This is based on the following research paper:

  • Bitcoin Hurdles: the Public Goods Costs of Securing a Decentralized Seigniorage Network which Incentivizes Alternatives and Centralization (pdf)

I made at least one error in the presentation.  Regarding microtransactions, this was not specifically stated in the original 2008 white paper but was subsequently discussed by adopters as an area for potential opportunities.  Here is one thread at StackExchange that discusses this further.

Currently only off-chain solutions like Coinbase support the ability to transact at the satoshi level.

[Note: this presentation was made prior to the announcement of “Sidechains” which is a Blockchain 2.0 company that could ameliorate some of the governance issues]

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What is a Merkle tree?

James D’Angelo has an excellent series of tutorials on the inner workings of blockchains and cryptoledgers.

One of my favorites is by far his explanation of what a Merkle tree and Merkle root are, breaking them down step-by-step.  He bases his code off a really cool blog post from Ken Shirriff: Bitcoin mining the hard way: the algorithms, protocols, and bytes

[Quick endorsement of Ken, I found several of his posts very helpful and cited a number of them in GCON.]

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What about English in China?

A director of studies (DoS) for a foreign education company in China contacted me today and we discussed the conundrum of college education, specifically English education, in China.  I devoted part of chapter 9 in GWON to this segment.

His view was that there are indeed opportunities and reasons for why English learning should be encouraged, that professions that interface with foreigners and foreign companies need to be proficient in English.  This is true, but the reality is that there are not that many positions that do this, perhaps just a few million such positions including notably the hospitality industry and IT off-shoring companies.  For comparison there are approximately 300 – 390 million English language learners in China and roughly 600,000 – 650,000 foreigners permanently residing in China.1

This is not to say that students in China should not have the option to learn or should not be encouraged to learn other languages, such as English.  Rather this is to say that learning English is no longer an end in itself.  It is not a “get rich quick scheme” yet much of the marketing done in the segment continues to promote this view.  Whereas 20 years ago being a fluent English speaker or an EFL company, may have been a very profitable profession and sub-industry, today it is quite competitive and very mature with salaries being arbitraged to international labor rates.  Instead, learning English is just another tool for high-skilled workers, to interface with their international peers and colleagues.  If you do not work in such a position or have such skills in the first place (e.g., semiconductor engineering) but instead interface solely with Chinese colleagues in China, you will likely have no additional monetary incentives for mastering a foreign language.

This ties in with the conversation with the DoS because he planned to give a presentation to several college groups about the utility of learning English.  I had previously given a presentation last December (video) (slides) and discussed some of the challenges that college students currently face, including a skill-set gap that exists.

For example, according to the Los Angeles Times:

By some accounts, the unemployment rate for Chinese college graduates age 21 to 25 is 16%, nearly four times that of blue-collar workers. An Education Ministry survey of 500 firms found that employers had trimmed the number of jobs available for new hires this year by about 15%. In Beijing, an estimated 98,000 jobs are available for the 229,000 new graduates, a city education committee study found.

“The manufacturing sector is still seeing labor shortages,” said Geoffrey Crothall of China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based research group. But many college graduates in major cities are ending up taking poorly paid jobs in areas such as telemarketing or real estate sales, he said, “and often these wages are lower than a factory worker in Shenzhen.”

I have written about this skill-set mismatch several times before.2 It is currently exacerbated by social promotion within institutions (e.g., degree inflation) and will likely continue into the near future.  One of the problems that the company the DoS represents is that the bulk of its operations is still geared towards traditional brick-and-mortar facilities.  While it was not mentioned in the conversation, two years ago the company had intended to grow and open several hundred training centers on the mainland.  This has not happened for several reasons:

  •  the EFL education tuition is unaffordable to most of the target audience (urban middle-class consumers)
  •  on top of inflation which erodes their purchasing power, a relatively “slow” economy has put pressure on wages of these working adults who have to cut back on services such as EFL education
  •  lack of a visible return-on-investment for most customers (i.e., after taking the courses it does not lead to instant seniority or new career opportunities)

However, there are other areas for businesses to expand, including the online sector, which is expected to grow by leaps and bounds.  In fact, TutorGroup (which the DoS does not work for) just closed its Series B round of financing last month, raising $100 million to build out its online language education platform that targets (among others) Chinese seeking to learn English.

According to its write-up of the funding announcement, TechCrunch noted that:

TutorGroup says that it expects the adult English language-learning market within China to grow 25% annually and reach more than $21 billion by 2015. In China alone, the company expects sales to experience a triple-digit annual growth rate in the next few years.

According to Ambient, a competitor:3

China is now the top buying country of digital English language learning products, not only in the Asia region, but in the world, according to a new Ambient Insight report called “The 2013-2018 China Digital English Language Learning Market.” The five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for digital English language learning products in China is 23.6% and revenues will nearly triple over the forecast period. […] Revenues for these products will spike to a breathtaking $931.8 million in 2018, up from the $323.1 million reached in 2013.

Thus, these two data points suggest that there may still be opportunities in the education and training segment, but likely in the online-only space an area that the DoS’ company is trying to rapidly expand (by opening up a new Boston office for freelance instructors).

What does this have to do with English-learning?  I suspect that the online segment will likely benefit and recoup the costs of the investment due to the always-on nature of the urban consumer willing to try out one of these new platforms.  Yet whether or not the language and educational knowledge transfers over and translates into higher productivity or more proficiency is another matter entirely.

The last example that ties into this is based on a conversation I had last November with a center manager at the same company that the DoS works at.  The manager explained that the ayi (阿姨), an “auntie” custodian, at the headquarters office he worked in paid 20,000 RMB (~$3,400) to learn English through the company’s internal program.  Less than six months later she was burned out due in part to the unrealistic expectations (i.e., “overpromised and underdelivered”) that is unfortunately the modus operandi that this segment in China still suffers from.  This will likely change as the industry continues to mature, yet it would be in the students best interest to hear the challenges — in addition to the opportunities — that a second language can provide.

Tangential coda: in a slight twist, while English tutoring has been a relatively low-barrier to entry position in China, it looks as if Shanghai is now exporting math instructors to England.4 The UK is spending $18 million to fly 60 Chinese math teachers (proficient in English communication) to help improve the math abilities and scores of learners in England.5

  1. A census was conducted and the results were published 3 years ago, see Almost 600,000 foreigners counted in China from China Daily.  Another unsourced estimate is that 80% of the approximately 650,000 foreigners in China work as teachers, see China Average Pay & Salaries For Expats & Foreign Teachers… from Salon []
  2. Are MOOCs a solution for the skillset mismatch? and The market for massive open online courses in China []
  3. China Digital English Language Learning Market Booming from PRNewswire []
  4. See English tutors in China — well-paid, not always qualified from UPI and Shanghai teachers flown in for maths from BBC []
  5. Chinese teachers sent into English schools to boost results from The Telegraph []
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Futureproofing your English with Technology: Getting the most return-on-investment in an automated world

A week ago I gave a guest lecture at a local college discussing three high growth areas in China: artificial intelligence, robotics and elderly care.

I also explained to the college students majoring in foreign languages such as English they should continue learning other skills, instead of merely mastering English proficiency. This was given on December 4, 2013 at Shanghai University of Sport. All citations are included in the notes (the PPT is up over here at Slideshare.net). Note: about 5 minutes are missing in the middle of the video due to technical issues. [Here is the same video on Youtube]

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The world’s second language: English

Over the past few days I’ve had talks with a couple of business people regarding EFL opportunities in China.  While there are still many (see Chapter 9), I think entrepreneurs should be aware that there is global demand for this language.

Several years ago Jay Walker gave a short TED presentation that highlights the fact that there are around 2 billion English learners globally now.  While he doesn’t cite sources he probably drew it from the British Council which publishes a similar number on its website (or perhaps it was from research done by David Graddol).

For more information about teaching and demand, be sure to check out Dave’s ESL and Angelina’s ESL.

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Are MOOCs a solution for the skillset mismatch?

While few people have a desire to be unemployed (or unemployable) the current higher education system in China has a number of issues in that many of the programs students have enrolled and graduate from do not prepare many of them for the labor market.  For example, roughly 6.99 million students will graduate from a Chinese college this summer (exams are typically held at the end of June, early July) yet in large cities like Guangdong, Beijing or Shanghai, only ~30% or so of new graduates have signed contracts for employment.

This is not a new issue or discovery, in fact, I wrote about it last year (as did the WSJ).  In Chapter 9 I discuss several of the opportunities that comes from this skillset mismatch, namely the need for retraining — some of which may take place online.  Massive open online courses (MOOCs) could be one solution.

Below is a very interesting, very concise write-up of the current problem as shown at a recently held Shanghai job fair, where neither candidate nor employer is incentivized by the other.  From MarketPlace education:

Hundreds of HR managers carefully eye prospective employees who, resumes in hand, crowd the floor at a Shanghai job fair.

Here’s the problem: neither group is interested in each other.

Nicole Li is looking to hire college graduates for her property management company. “We need technicians to fix software problems, but college grads don’t have these skills,” says Li, frowning. “We need people for exhibitions who can do presentations in English, but they can’t do that, either.”

Li needs to hire people for 60 high-skilled jobs. She says among the thousands of candidates here today, she’ll be lucky if she finds one.

Tong Huiqin comes to this job fair every Friday. He graduated from the Shanghai Finance University six years ago. Since then, he’s jumped from one job to the next. “It isn’t hard to find a job,” says Tong.  “It’s hard to find the right job.”

He’s worked as a supervisor for a bunch of companies, but hasn’t found the right fit. “You could have five hundred graduates and five hundred job openings here, and none of them would match up,” he says.

Tong blames Chinese universities. He says they need to do a better job at preparing people for the country’s rapidly changing labor market. Xiong Bingqi is the deputy dean of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Beijing. “The scale of China’s higher education system has developed so fast that we’re failing to produce college graduates with the right skills for the jobs that are out there,” says Xiong.

For those with means, that’s meant sending your college-age children instead to universities in the U.S., Australia, or Europe. But most young Chinese can’t afford that, so they’re stuck in a Chinese university. And after they graduate — according to a recent state survey — their unemployment rate is four times higher than for those who didn’t get past elementary school.

Inside the job fair, young graduates linger in front of a booth for Bao Steel, China’s largest steel manufacturer. A big sign says that people from parts of Sichuan, Henan, Anhui, and Hunan are not allowed to apply. A guy applying for a job says people from those provinces can’t be trusted. It’s sort of like a booth at a New York job fair banning applicants from, say, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. But this is typical in China, where even state-owned enterprises don’t bother to hide their discrimination.

At a neighboring booth, Jason Zhang is hiring people to work at a chain of nightclubs. He doesn’t care where his job candidates are from. He’s more concerned whether they’re willing to work. “I think today’s graduates are less appealing than people who were born in the ’70s and ’80s,” says Zhang. “They tend to be overly confident and they don’t want to work very hard.”

I turn around and ask 22-year-old Wang Qianmin, who’s about to graduate from Shanghai Normal University with a teaching degree, what she’s looking for at the job fair. “I don’t know,” she says with a pout. “Most of the jobs here aren’t really interesting. I’m looking for a company that’ll give me a high salary, money for meals and that’ll pay my rent — a place where the working hours aren’t too long.”

Wang says she wants to be a teacher. Or maybe a wedding planner.

She can’t decide.

Jason Zhang, the recruiter who has years of experience hiring people, rolls his eyes at this type of candidate. “Chinese college graduates these days think they’re really special,” he says with a smile. “The problem is — they’re the only ones who think that.”

Zhang says Wang and many others in China’s class of 2013 will go all summer thinking they’ve got lots of options, and will probably end up unemployed.

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Working as an educator in China

[Note: below is a guest post from a friend, Glenn Howlett, who is originally from the UK.  As mentioned in Chapter 9, due to the high demand, there are approximately 100,000 foreigner teachers and experts working in China.  For comparison, there are about 600,000 foreign residents currently living in China.  Should you come to China and work in one of these positions?  Unlike the transient backpackers that come and go, Glenn is a focused professional and was awarded a teacher of the year award in Anhui three years ago and thus gives a unique perspective to this labor segment.]

I’ll start by stating that I’ve been in China coming up to 7 years and I’m 29 years old. I’ve worked for 4 years in a small city (but excellent University) in Anhui province and approaching 3 years in a “private University” in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province. In addition to these full time jobs I’ve helped colleagues by teaching someone on their behalf (helping my colleague to build their relationship with someone, this is called guanxi (关系) and is vitally important in China) and also worked in an established training centre during summer vacations.

The term I’m probably labelled by is a “Foreign Expert” which usually means some kind of EFL or English teacher. This has been my role in my two Universities, and also occasionally been handed a “Cross Culture Communication” course. At the training centre I’ve taught both Oral English to students preparing an IELTS examination (International English Language Testing System) and Oral English to children at a summer camp. From what I’ve found teaching “Oral English” is whatever you choose it to be, I consider myself to be a responsible individual so I prepare thoroughly and always try to improve both my teaching and lessons… however I’ve found that you’re never really put under any pressure, never have a curriculum provided and whenever you approach a colleague or liaison to ask then the common response is always “to just do anything.” Therefore it seems that many “Foreign Experts” really do take that to heart and do whatever… or nothing at all. In my experience Universities are quick to show appreciation if you’re exceeding their expectations and in Anhui I received a provincial award for my efforts.

I don’t believe that I’ve faced too many problems here, compared to others. As already stated a lack of direction, curriculum and teaching materials are just the norm. You will probably receive a textbook but really I only find them of use when teaching extremely low level English learners. Possibly two inconveniences that I’ll mention are salary and problems being solved.

  • In my first position, I was to be paid monthly at “around” a certain date. This proved to be extremely inconsistent as if the “boss” was away (which was common) then you didn’t receive the salary on time. I remember one time I wasn’t paid for 7 weeks! Then just a week after I was paid on time for the following month. In my current University no such problems exist.
  • With regards to problems being solved… maybe I’m being specific to living accommodation problems. If there’s a problems you contact the correct person, he/she’ll have a look to clarify the problem, then they’ll contact a guy to come and take a look, again just to clarify. Then after sometime action will be taken, this can be extremely frustrating as many of these problems could seem minor to them but to “us” are huge… like a broken shower, dodgy plumbing, dodgy door lock, broken air-conditioner or shower etc. From my experience you really need to point out the obvious: “OK my shower/air-conditioner/toilet is broken, you expect that it won’t be fixed for 3 days — give me a key to another flat.”

Most immediate opportunities open to foreigners in the education industry are as “Oral English” teachers, occasionally overlapping with other courses. However in big cities there are many teachers employed in Chinese public High/Middle Schools, Kindergartens and International Schools. In my opinion only the large capital cities will see options other than an “Oral Teacher.”

You can probably maintain usual hobbies here, especially in the large cities. I regularly play football (soccer) on a foreign team that I joined and also with students in my University. Traveling must be an important hobby here — China is so large and varied, you really must make the effort to get out and see this country while you’re here, especially since most don’t know if they’re here for 6 months or 10 years.

The overall lifestyle will be completely different for everyone, I started in a small city of a “poorer” province (compared to it’s Eastern neighboring provinces) so everything was a complete culture shock. Luckily there was often a pool of 3-6 foreigners who were in the same boat and all got along. This is an excellent environment to understand the Chinese ways, culture and language, sadly for most they’re always missing “home comforts” or long for the foreign lifestyle again. In the large cities you can probably find many ex-pat areas/bars and circles of friends, sports groups and organisations, even western restaurants and supermarkets. This of course is much more comfortable but at the same time you probably won’t experience the Chinese way of life, and the cost of living a foreign lifestyle here is quite high. In my mind it’s not worth the cost of such meals or drinks. I’m much happier doing my own thing with my wife, playing football (soccer) or going to the gym and travelling.

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The market for massive open online courses in China

A quick update and illustration regarding online education in Chapter 9.  South China Morning Post published an article this morning about massive open online courses (MOOCs) which are increasingly popular in China.

If you are from North America you have probably heard about a couple MOOCs including edX and Udacity.  The SCMP piece noted that Chinese University of Hong Kong is “committing” (does that mean developing?) some classes to the Coursera platform, which was founded by two Stanford professors last year.  For reference, Khan Academy is probably the best known as it has served more than 200 million classes and Wendy Bao cited it specifically in her interview as a future model for education in Chapter 9.

While millions of students are enrolled in these classes globally, it is difficult to track and measure the Chinese matriculation in terms of marketshare because, unfortunately the GFW (Great Firewall) blocks most of these sites.

What are the opportunities then?  What can be done about this?  Are there any domestic startups? From the SCMP piece:

NetEase, a leading China-based internet technology company, said that the number of open course subjects had doubled from last year to the present 12,000. It reported 4.6 million subscribers via PCs and smart phones and about one million student visits a day.

However, John Zhang, co-founder of mainland-based online career and recruitment consultancy Guolairen.com said open courses delivered by internet portals simply served as a “media platform”.

In contrast, he said Mooc platforms provided students with a classroom-setting learning experience and opportunities to receive credit and recognition for their work. Already five subjects provided via Coursera had been recommended by the American Council on Education.

“This is a moment of historic significance in higher education because Mooc is not just a complement to existing higher learning, it opens up a new era of online teaching,” Zhang said.

Guolairen.com which unveiled its own Mooc platform in a low-key launch in October, the first on the mainland, has recorded 35,000 enrolments for 200 courses from 100,000 sign-ups.

Zhang said the company would invest US$30 million in its Mooc platform over the next three years, in co-operation with leading international universities such as Harvard, Columbia University and MIT, to provide a specialised platform for career-minded Chinese youth.

Potentially large numbers

Upon looking at the Guolairen ( 过来人) site right now, it is not very obvious that MOOC is a central part of this portal.  In fact, it is currently geared towards job-seekers, primarily for new graduates (including info about cover letters and interviews).  Thus, if 过来人 is the go-to model, it may be too early to declare any domestic market leader yet.

Again, as I remind readers repeatedly (for good reason), it is incredibly easy to get caught up when big numbers are thrown around or when it comes to potential customers in the middle kingdom.

What are some actual estimates for clientele in this segment?  At the tail end of Chapter 9 I note the following data:

Yet for those willing to face these technical challenges, the financial rewards could be lucrative.  According to one recent estimate, up to 380 million people in China will “need high-quality education and training resources across the country” from 2012 to 2017.1 And a large percentage (~30%) of these people are expected to utilize online services and tools, creating a potential market worth an estimated $11 billion in revenue.  However, to temper any get-rich-quick enthusiasm, the amount of investment into Chinese education companies fell to $46 million in 2012, less than a quarter of the previous year.2 Why?  David Chen of AngleVest – a venture capital group focusing on angel rounds – noted that “the timeframe for growing an education business can be drawn-out, and a challenge for fund managers who have to achieve returns by a specific date.”3 Thus once again, while there is potential revenue there is also required patience for returns on investment.

In addition to infrastructure issues another challenge that MOOCs may face are cultural stigmas attached to learning from non-traditional, non-accredited sources (also discussed in Chapter 9).  This may change though, as the country develops and the middle class begins to seek ways of self-help and autodidactism (e.g., their upcoming Wikipedia generation).  For what it is worth, my current employment is involved on the periphery of this industry, though not at the scale of an MOOC though.  If you are looking to work in this area I would keep your eyes open and try to attend events like 500 Startups or Barcamp Shanghai to find young techy entrepreneurs wanting to create a domestic MOOC.

Odds and ends

I mentioned it several times in Chapter 9, but there are roughly 300 million English learners in China primarily because of institutional inertia at this point (e.g., taught from primary school on up).4  And while there has always been some amount of resistance to teach this subject due to factors like nationalism, over the past few weeks I have noticed a number of op-eds published in a few national newspapers which for me, is a first.

For instance, about 10 days ago, Zhang Shuhua, a CPPCC deputy and head of the Intelligence Research Committee said that Chinese education was facing an unprecedented “destructive” crisis because of the English language requirements.  Another more recent one is from today’s China Daily which discusses reform and removing English requirements from core curriculum and examinations for college majors that do not use it (such as Chinese literature researchers).  While this probably will not be changed over night, it is something to also keep you eye on.  Or maybe you can capitalize off this nascent sentiment and create training centers for those niches.

Via Sinocism

  1. Tencent Eyes Growing Online Education Market in China from Caijing []
  2. China Investors: We Don’t Need No Edukation from The Wall Street Journal []
  3. Ibid []
  4. Chinese Learn English the Disney Way from The Wall Street Journal []
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Chapter 9 – The education market

[Note: below is Chapter 9 from Great Wall of Numbers]

Over the past four years I have had a chance to live and work throughout China.  This was done in the capacity as an instructor, teacher and professor at a variety of colleges and schools across the country.  Along the way I have met numerous fellow travelers, international teachers and businesspersons who have worked across the wide expanse of China’s educational systems.

I say systems because there is a cornucopia of private international schools, public schools, specialized Montessori schools and a seemingly infinite amount of training centers called bǔxíbān (companies and institutions that typically offer after-school programs such as EFL, GRE, GMAT, art, business and math training).  These all exist to meet the demand of an extraordinarily large population that culturally values formalized schooling for educational attainment.

For example, in 2006 there were an estimated 16.7 million students studying at 336,200 elementary schools and 21.2 million students studying at 361,300 junior high schools (the reason for the relative decline and difference in the cohort sizes has to do with the one-child policy).123 More than 9 million high school seniors take the national college examination (gaokao) each year, the top percentage of which typically then study overseas.4 And approximately 8 million college students now graduate each year in China, a rate that has quadrupled since 2002.5

In addition, as I mention below, there are a number of extra-curricular training centers called bǔxíbān that cater to the growing domestic demand for foreign educational services.  For instance, in 2011 more than 20,000 Chinese high school students took the SAT as part of their quest to study overseas.67 With 58,196 test-takers from the mainland, one in five people who took the GMAT in 2011 was from China – a 45% increase from the previous year (and up from 11,000 in 2008).89 Both tests are conducted entirely in English.  New Oriental Education – among many other training centers – alone trains and tests up to 200,000 students a year in standardized tests like TOEFL and SAT.1011

EFL market

In January 2009, then-Premier Wen Jiabao stated that there were roughly 300 million English learners in China.  For perspective, there are 600 times more Chinese studying English than Americans who study Mandarin.12 From primary school through the first two years of college, nearly every student in China is required to take English.  One of the subjects tested during the gaokao, the annual national college entrance exam, is English.  And with great commitment comes great costs.  In 2002 the estimated price tag on EFL education was $1.4 billion and according to a 2009 McKinsey & Company report, “China’s foreign-language business is worth $2.1 billion annually.”13 As I mention below, this is substantially lower (5x) than their peers such as Japan and South Korea.

Who teaches these EFL courses?  According to People’s Daily, approximately 100,000 foreign teachers and experts are recruited each year to work on the mainland.1415 But before jumping on a plane and starting a new EFL division of your company overseas consider that not only would you need various licenses to start up a new firm, but that the EFL market is already sorting the wheat from the chaff.16 For example, a large number of nation-wide EFL providers including: Disney English, Wall Street English and English First (EF) are owned and operated by foreign companies.  EF is actually the world’s largest EFL company, with 34,000 employees and more than 500,000 paying students globally.  New Oriental Education and Ambow Education were both founded by Chinese nationals.17 They rank among the top EFL providers in China and are even traded on the NYSE.

So like all business startups, be sure to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and identify what your company can provide that is not already being serviced.  Even with these well-funded incumbents, a case could be made that entrepreneurs (both foreign and domestic) can still create a profitable business model, catering to specific niches (e.g., first-contact health care providers, hospitality managers, financial and securities traders, lawyers and paralegals).18

While some have argued that EFL might be bubble activity, there is arguably a lot of organic, bottom-up support for this drive into English.  For instance, according to Jun Liu, English professor at the University of Arizona, as of 2007 about “40,000 foreign companies have been set up within China and employ 25 million people.”19 As a consequence a lot of the day-to-day operations are conducted in English, such as emailing, accounting, finance and sales.  And this outward push from within organizations can be illustrated by firms such as Air China – the third largest carrier in China – which has introduced an incentive program for its employees to learn English from a large TEFL provider.  Similar incentive programs exist at foreign-owned multinationals such as Eli Lilly, Metro (a large German supermarket chain) and Intel.  On a governmental level, in a bid to help tourists and foreigners, one such firm – English First – was even hired to teach taxi drivers and volunteers during the Shanghai 2010 Expo; they were also the official trainers for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

And with a goal of becoming distinguishable and eventually an international brand, most businesses and large SOEs have adopted English names such as China Unicom, Lenovo, Agricultural Bank of China, China National Petroleum, State Grid and China Railway.2021 As I mention later in Chapter 12, this push outward presents an opportunity for US companies and institutions to help market and educate Chinese firms looking to do business overseas.  On this note, in June 2012, Shaun Rein, the author of “The End of Cheap China,” made the case that China will continue to need American education and American educators.22 He makes a persuasive call for US-based educational entrepreneurs as well as educational companies and institutions to set up shop on the mainland.  And if you do not, someone, perhaps even your competition will.

What you and your firm can do

For perspective, South Korea, which invests more on EFL education than any other country, collectively spends between $10-$15 billion a year on EFL education; one 2005 estimate put the figure even higher, 1.9% of GDP (approximately $16 billion).23 And with a number of domestic programs similar to its neighbors, Japan spends about $8 billion a year on EFL.24 Thus with a population ten times the size of Japan and a GDP six times the size of South Korea, there is a lot of potential room for EFL growth in China, which as noted above, spent $2.1 billion on EFL in 2009.

How much do these programs at a language center typically cost?  I spoke with a high level Chinese manager in charge of operations at a large EFL training center in Pudong, Shanghai who has had 20 years of experience working at Disney English, Wall Street English, EF, Web English and Huapu (the latter two are Chinese-owned and managed).  According to her, “ten years ago it was a seller’s market as there were relatively few language centers and as a consequence they could charge enormous tuition fees, upwards of 400,000 RMB [$64,000] a year primarily because there was and still is a large demand for authentic face-to-face experiences.  In return the centers provided one-on-one intensive training with laowai – native English speakers – for hours each day.  Today, because the market has matured over the past decade, the average high-end language package now costs about 30-40,000 RMB [$4,800-$6,400] annually in larger cities like Shanghai and Beijing – which is still a somewhat high amount considering the annual wages for most urban residents is less than $9000 a year.  Yet, there still a number of firms such as RISE and baite (百特英语) that specialize in providing English-only, total immersion environments for their customers – at a substantial cost.”

One of the ongoing issues that any service provider in any country must continuously deal with is figuring out the right price point for attracting potential customers.  Online education is one way to create flexible rates; as a consequence several EFL programs are now available at substantially lower costs compared with ten years ago (e.g., 500 RMB per month).  Another example is while the value of an EFL package is subjective based on each individual’s preferences, there are ways to make repayment easier.25 Take for instance, payment plans.  At some language centers they are now allowing customers to pay by installment.  And according to this same source, even though 10-20,000 RMB [$1,600-$3,200] a year is now considered a “reasonable sweet spot” in the mind of the typical middle class worker in a Tier 1 city; some of these consumers still would like flexibility and assistance and thus providing month-to-month billing allows them to achieve a win-win compromise.

Catering to specific clientele

In November 2012 I spoke with Cathy Su, a six-year marketing veteran at English First (EF) and Fujian native, about education-related business opportunities in China.  According to Su, “parents will go to great lengths to sacrifice themselves for their child’s educational future.  For example, in order to send their children overseas, many are essentially price inelastic.  Some are willing to invest and spend substantial amounts in order to help their children get an overseas education.  They do this for multiple reasons, yet in every case, the students all need both coaching and training to prepare for standardized tests like the SAT, GMAT and TOEFL in order to matriculate overseas.”

While there are cultural components (such as li or 禮) to this seeming inelasticity one of the key issues that Chinese families currently face is as Charles Zhang (the founder of internet giant Sohu) recently explained in an interview,

“I believe the US system is definitely better than the Chinese system. First of all, China just has way too many people. The entire system becomes very competitive and thus opportunities are limited. Education in China is not education; it is selection. Of course, the biggest selection process is the national college entrance exam, the Gaokao. The Chinese system naturally must prepare children to study for this inevitable exam, but the preparation is the complete destruction of creativity.”26

Zhang’s comments were similarly echoed by Paul French, the Chief China Market Strategist at Mintel who recently noted that, “[t]here simply aren’t enough places at enough good universities for all the Little Emperors capable of attending and passing the required exams.”27 Little Emperors (八零後) are single children born and raised under the one-child policy.  And due to this confluence of scarcity and demographic pressures, this ultra-competitive labor market has motivated parents to push their only child to accumulate other degrees and certificates (see below).  For example, according to a report from Mintel, “three-quarters of middle-class Chinese parents expect their child to earn a postgraduate degree, while only 32% said they would be happy if their child stopped at the undergraduate level.”28

This sentiment was similarly noted by Wendy Bao, with whom I also spoke in November 2012.  She is originally from Zhejiang and has worked throughout EF over the past 10 years in positions such as a product manager, market analyst and in business intelligence.  According to Bao, “Chinese parents care more about education for kids than themselves.  Or rather, if there was an investment decision between the two, Chinese parents will invest more in their children’s education and extracurricular activities because they see their progeny as more important than their own personal achievements.”

Such sacrifice is illustrated by the family of Wu Caoying, who now attends a three-year polytechnical school.  Growing up in Shaanxi province, she is the only child of her parents.  Her father works in a coal mine, earning $500 a month and her mother earns $12 a day “tying little plastic bags one at a time around 3,000 young apples on trees, to protect them from insects.”29 Together they have scrimped and saved for their daughters education and spend more than 50% of their monthly earnings so that their daughter could attend a boarding school during high school and can now matriculate to the polytech.  In return, Caoying is expected to help take care of her parents after they retire.

While part of the education-centric ethic stems from various Confucian teachings (e.g., xiushen or修身) that most Chinese are taught from a young age another reason why foreign degrees are sought is that this highly competitive labor market has led to credentialism (e.g., obtaining a certificate or degree merely to collect it for your resumé and CV).30 As a consequence Cathy Su also thinks that because of this education ethic, that in addition to traditional EFL training there is essentially an insatiable demand for niche services such as SAT coaching.  This may be especially true since the middle class is expected to grow from 300 million today to an estimated 600 million by 2020.31 And as I noted in Chapter 6, with a growing middle class comes growing disposable incomes.  Furthermore, wealthier Chinese families are increasingly looking to send their children abroad in part because of the hyper competitive domestic climate and due to the perceived creativity-friendly environment at Western institutions.  For example, a 2012 report from Hurun regarding high net worth individuals (there are approximately 2.7 million HNWI in China), “85% plan to send their children abroad for education.”3233

And what do these Chinese students do after completing their degrees?  While many of them obtain permanent residency, others return to the mainland (see ‘brain drain’ in Chapter 19) as future innovators and policy makers.  For instance, several of the largest internet companies in China were founded by Chinese nationals who attended US institutions for college and graduate school.  Charles Zhang (Sohu) graduated from MIT; Robin Li (Baidu) graduated from SUNY Buffalo; Joseph Chen (Renren) graduated from University of Delaware, Stanford and MIT; Gary Wang (Tudou) graduated from Johns Hopkins and the College of Staten Island; James Liang (Ctrip) graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology; Victor Koo (Youku) graduated from Stanford and UC Berkeley; and numerous executives in the management teams at Sina and Tencent attended a US college.  In addition many others at Alibaba attended other Western institutions or joint ventures like the China Europe International Business School, the first business school to offer an MBA on the mainland.3435 Harvard has several programs designed specifically to educate and facilitate information exchange with future Chinese policy makers.  One of its programs called China’s Leaders in Development brings in “50 to 60 official each year.”36 Its Kennedy School has trained 150 Chinese officials since its program began in 1998.  All told about half of the 668 Chinese students in the 2012-2013 school year at Harvard are enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.37

In fact, while the legal issues are still being sorted out, there may be opportunities for both non-profit and for-profit traditional brick-and-mortar schools in larger mainland cities.  For example, many Chinese families are faced with a dilemma in terms of educational options on the mainland.  On the one hand they can send their children – or usually the only child – to public schools.  While some of the public schools are opening special classes for students wanting to study abroad (SAT, AP, A-level prep), public schools are usually considered substandard due to lack of funding and rote memorization learning methods.  Another viable choice is for families to try and help send their kin overseas yet this is financially cumbersome to most middle-class families.38 A third option is private schools, yet there are currently very few private schools on the mainland, thus the other two options above place many families in an uncomfortable bind (e.g., they would like their children to receive the best education possible but have limited choices).

This may be changing however.  Two years ago Wellington School, a 150-year old British school, was replicated in Beijing.39 For £15,000 a year ($23,800), Beijing parents can now send their children to this new school based on the British public school system.  Oxford International College (unrelated to Oxford University) charges up to $41,700 a year in its private schools located on the mainland and also emulate the British education system.40 And while it take  some time before such imports are more widely accepted, the only other alternative currently is international schools, though while relatively popular, they are also both very exclusive (you typically need to have a foreign passport to be eligible) and prohibitively expensive ($10,000-$35,000 a year).41 Yet the trend towards international schools is growing.  According to Reuters, there are now 338 such schools (up from just 22 twelve years ago) whom collectively enroll 184,073 students.42

Or conversely perhaps your firm can help place Chinese students in American schools.  For example, according to the Association of Boarding Schools, “about 5,600 students from China [are] enrolled in its 285 member schools in the US this academic year [2012-2013].”43  According to the US Department of Homeland Security, in 2010-2011 the amount of Chinese students studying at private schools in the US was 6,725, up from 65 in 2005.44 In terms of costs, some international programs like Leman Manhattan Preparatory School in Manhattan cost $68,000 a year (30 out of the 40 international students at Leman are currently from China).45 Other boarding schools in the New York metro area cost an average of $46,875 a year.  As a consequence, the opportunities for foreign experts and entrepreneurs looking to wade into both sides of the market may be viable, even for administrative tasks.

For instance, US institutions and organizations collectively spend $980 billion annually on education, twice as much as China.4647 Due to a variety of factors including large spending per capita, US institutions continue to attract foreign talent.  For example, there were 765,000 foreign nationals studying in the US in 2011 – including 158,000 Chinese (there are now 194,000 Chinese studying in the US).4849 And according to the US Department of Commerce, these foreign students contributed $22.7 billion to the economy and many stay after graduation (Chinese students alone added $5 billion to the US economy in 2012).50  Thus in an effort to  improve both the quantity and quality of its graduates as well as raise its standing on league tables and rankings, every level of the Chinese government is implementing plans to invest ever larger sums of funds into education; including recruiting foreigners (for comparison, 24,000 Americans studied in China in 2011).51

Yet, with the administrative, marketing and teaching prowess gained from over six decades of being at the top of the international educational marketplace, managers and entrepreneurs at US institutions could conceivably capitalize on their skill bases and leverage them in China’s expanding market.5253 A year ago, in March 2012, Stanford University opened the doors to a new joint venture, Stanford Center at Peking University making it one of the first permanent higher education facilities to open on a Chinese campus.54 NYU has set up the first Sino-US joint venture university that will award a double bachelor’s degree (from both the local Shanghai branch and NYU in Manhattan).  Classes began in the fall of 2012 and students from the mainland will pay 100,000 RMB ($15,948) a year to attend.55 And Julliard, the performing arts conservatory, is building a campus in Tianjin (southeast of Beijing) catering to students aged 8 to 18.56

At the same time however, enthusiasm should be tempered as a joint Yale University – Peking University undergraduate program “collapsed” this past July due to “high expenses, low enrolment and weaknesses in its [Yale] Chinese-language programme.”57 Similarly, Duke University’s venture with Wuhan University has run into several major problems.  The construction of the new Duke Kunshan joint campus has been delayed five times over the past three years due to “slow” and “shoddy” workmanship.58 Thus success in this segment is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

Another role that foreign administrators may be able to utilize is that of an agent, or admissions consultant.  According to one estimate, “8 out of every 10 Chinese undergraduate students use an agent to file their applications.”59 These agents in turn will help candidates fix their admissions essays, find the best references to write recommendation letters and otherwise guide clients through a streamlined process to foreign-based colleges.60 Maybe you and your company can utilize your expertise to work with new clientele.

However, as touched on above, the mainland education industry can also be tricky.  For example, in order to be granted a license, certifications have to be recognized by the Ministry of Education.61 Online-awarded degrees and certifications are typically not accredited by the Ministry.  As a consequence you may have to set up a physical brick-and-mortar office in order to do business within the Chinese marketplace.  In addition, alternative certification programs such as Microsoft’s MCSE, Cisco’s CCNA, Huawei’s HANA and others like Certified Nutritionist are increasingly prevalent – so as long as they are recognized by what the Ministry deems as a legitimate institutional authority.

For instance, what if your company trains and educates workers in an ISO management process in the US?  If you wanted to expand into China you may need to reinvent your firm on the mainland by creating a brick-and-mortar office location before you can legally market within China.  A consequence for failing to do so would be the trials faced – according to a source at the company – by the University of Phoenix, which despite its 35 years of history, was originally not seen as a legitimate degree awarding institution in China.

National Quality Assurance (NQA) is one of the largest ISO registrars in the world and an Accredited Certification Body (ACB) that coordinates with regional sub organizations to train, audit and certify organizations and companies in ISO 9000 family of quality management certifications.  SNQA is the organization in charge of verifying, confirming and auditing ISO 9001, ISO 13485, TL9000, BRC-CP and several other standards on the mainland.62 In January 2013 I spoke with Jason Jia, who is managing the new Wuhan, Hubei office for SNQA.  Jia is originally from Anhui but has spent the last 3 years working in sales for SNQA.  He noted that, “there are long-term opportunities for foreign ISO experts that can provide to mainland firms such as training and auditing services.  However one of the challenges facing these same companies is that communication issues are usually a big problem.  In addition, the maintenance and foreign labor overhead expenditures relative to local labor are usually cost prohibitive and as a consequence the daily maintenance fees are typically so high that most Chinese firms cannot afford it.  For example, we as a certification organization pay the auditor company a daily training and on-site verification fee and this quickly adds up when taking into account the relatively higher per hour costs charged by foreign companies.”

Recruitment

One lively human resource area within the education labor market provides large compensation packages yet has relatively few candidates: if you have internationally recognized awards, Chinese institutions will hire Western superstar teachers to improve their table rankings.63  For example, three years ago Jiao Tong University in Shanghai scored a coup, recruiting French virologist Luc Montagnier, who discovered HIV and subsequently received the Nobel Prize in 2008.  Another case is, Rao Yi, who grew up in China but spent 22 years at Northwestern University before being lured back to become the dean of Life Sciences at Peking University.64 All told, the Chinese national government in a project dubbed the “1,000 talents program” (see more below in Chapter 15) is offering perks and bonuses up to $150,000 in an attempt to lure “foreign-educated Chinese scientists, academics, financial experts, and M.B.A.s.”65 And according to Wang Huiyao, head of the Center for China and Globalization, approximately 15,000 individuals have come to the mainland through this program.66

At the same time, if your goal is acting as an intermediary and talent recruiter, expectations should be tempered with a dose of reality.  For example, Pat Sullivan, an accountant and chairman of international recruiting at Young Harris College told me in March 2013 that there are a number of obstacles created by current US immigration policies, which put numerous roadblocks in the way of foreign students seeking to study in the United States.  According to her, “The paperwork required for US Visas, health certificates, assurances of financial solvency, and other forms are always more time consuming than one would expect.  Planning for the arrival of foreign students must begin months in advance and requires the active participation and assistance of the host educational institution.”

Consequently, for those entrepreneurs looking to open up a new seminar or class room system, several questions need to be answered: where will you find customers who are willing and able to pay?  How will you build, manage and incentivize a sales force team to convert leads into customers?  Who will teach and design the curriculum for the courses?  Where will these seminars and courses be held?

In terms of taxes, there is one other challenge for foreign-owned companies that is not entirely unique to the EFL industry, yet should be recognized and addressed.  As mentioned above, each province has its own legal requirements for business licenses and certifications.67 For example, in Shanghai, in addition to a college degree a foreign teacher is required to have at least 2 years of previous teaching experience as well as a TEFL certificate from an authorized institution.  On the business end, due to relatively strict capital controls (e.g., individuals are limited to $50,000 in transfers annually) it can be relatively complex to repatriate your profits and assets from schools as there are also numerous taxes, tariffs and levies that do and do not apply specifically to educational companies.  While not explicitly discouraged, creative accounting, subcontracting and the “Hong Kong shuffle” (see Chapter 10) have become increasingly popular tactics by EFL firms to reduce tax liabilities.6869 Thus it is recommended that you speak with an attorney or tax expert before you invest in a new EFL program.

Cloud education

In terms of educational activities irrespective of being indoors or outdoors, according to its September 2012 report, Distimo noted that the popularity of English-based apps in China for the iPhone still remains very high.70 It is the 2nd largest installed language for apps overall and thus foreign entrepreneurs – including those in the education industry – may be able to turn this embedded built-in language base to their advantage.  Because the userbase is already largely familiar with Romanization, that is one less problem to be concerned with.  You might consider creating online virtual EFL classrooms based on apps for smartphones and tablets or rolling out cloud-based video courses that can be viewed by anyone with an internet connection.

In fact, one point Wendy Bao explained to me was that online classes and programs like Khan Academy will be the future of education.  Khan Academy is a popular non-profit educational organization that focuses on making micro lessons on a variety of topics and has delivered more than 200 million lessons online.71 In Bao’s words, “while online courses may have a slower uptake in China due to a limited – yet growing – telecommunication infrastructure, because of their inherent flexibility for being offered and accessed throughout a wide variety of time slots, this will enfranchise rural and urban students who can now utilize global knowledge databases.  These same students – who due to their inland locations and schools lacking the funds would otherwise not have access to experts including foreign instructors whose language skills are highly sought after and could be substantially cheaper via telepresence.”

Yet again, one challenge, as Bao mentioned, is that the telecom infrastructure is still relatively limited in bandwidth.  For example, as I note later in Chapter 15, according to their Q3 2012 speed survey, ChinaCache, the largest domestic content delivery network (CDN), notes that while the overall speeds are a little slower than previous speed rankings, Shanghai currently leads the country in average speeds at roughly 3.44 Mb/s and Beijing is 10th at around 2.5 Mb/s.7273 Akamai Technologies (a global  content delivery network provider) ranked China’s average internet-connection speed at 94th globally, at 1.6 Mb/s.74 In addition, depending on the regulatory and monitoring issues discussed in Chapter 20 with the Great Firewall, quality of service and bandwidth may decline as you leave the larger Tier 1 cities.  Thus entrepreneurs should take these factors into account while making a business plan.

In December 2012 I spoke with Eric Azumi, vice-president of information systems at EF.  According to him “the online market is just now beginning to be tapped.75 There have been limitations that continue to be overcome including computational and bandwidth issues that arise in every country but especially in China.  Voice recognition services similar to Siri will probably be the next technology incorporated into this segment and eventually, as the online industry matures, it will be commoditized.  What I mean by that is that at some point all competitors will have very similar software stacks in terms of features and functionality, yet there is always room for value-added services – especially as more direct-teacher training is replaced with mobile learning.”

Azumi gives as an example, the technical changes over the past 15 years as online classrooms evolved from text-only, to incorporate audio, then video via telepresence (e.g., webcams) and as he predicts in the near-term, real-time voice recognition.  Yet again even with all of these competitive forces with large, well-funded, experienced incumbents he thinks that “because of the relatively low barriers to entry just about anyone can still set up an educational center in China and elsewhere, especially if they cater to niche groups or provide a unique environment such as how coffee shops in Japan have been turned into English conversation centers that provide both relaxed and informal way of improving language skills.  And because people by-and-large still insist on face-to-face time, the general acceptance of online education will take time to diffuse here and around the globe.  Furthermore even with the advent of on-demand instructional services there are still many opportunities for traditional schools in 2nd & 3rd Tier cities which are still nascent markets that have not been exploited yet.”  These technological challenges and opportunities related to cloud computing are further expanded on in Chapter 13.

Yet for those willing to face these technical challenges, the financial rewards could be lucrative.  According to one recent estimate, up to 380 million people in China will “need high-quality education and training resources across the country” from 2012 to 2017.76 And a large percentage (~30%) of these people are expected to utilize online services and tools, creating a potential market worth an estimated $11 billion in revenue.  However, to temper any get-rich-quick enthusiasm, the amount of investment into Chinese education companies fell to $46 million in 2012, less than a quarter of the previous year.77 Why?  David Chen of AngleVest – a venture capital group focusing on angel rounds – noted that “the timeframe for growing an education business can be drawn-out, and a challenge for fund managers who have to achieve returns by a specific date.”78 Thus once again, while there is potential revenue there is also required patience for returns on investment.

Takeaway: The education market in China has the potential to be both large and profitable.  However, gone are the days when you could merely jump on an airplane, get off and instantly set-up a market-leading company.  The industry has become increasingly competitive with both professionalized workforces and various rules and regulations such as licensing and certification guidelines.  But as long as the Chinese economy and population continue to grow, there should be continued opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies who have done their due diligence.  This chapter does not discuss guanxi, a cultural phenomenon involving personal connections within the hiring and deal making process in all Chinese business transactions.  But that is a very complex topic worthy of several copious volumes and touched on in Chapter 10.


Endnotes:

 

  1. Number of Elementary Schools Shrink in China as Population Ages from Xinhua []
  2. Age will weary the Chinese miracle from BusinessSpectator []
  3. More specifically, “Despite a 40% increase in population since 1976 the number of primary school students has gone down by 33%, from 150 million to 100 million, and there were half as many primary schools in 2010 as there were in 2000.”  See 停止计划生育政策的紧急呼吁 from Eduzx.net []
  4. The peak was 9.5 million in 2006.  It has declined in part because of the one-child policy and also because many students are matriculating overseas for education.  See More students choose to study abroad from People’s Daily and The gaokao: still life’s most important test? from China Daily []
  5. The number of higher education institutions doubled in ten years, from 1,022 to 2,263 in 2011.  This includes a combination of both universities and junior colleges.  For comparison roughly 3 million students graduate from US universities and junior colleges each year.  There are now 11 times as college students in China as it had in 1989.  See China’s Ambitious Goal for boom in College Graduates from The New York Times, China’s Graduates Face Glut from The Wall Street Journal, Chinese Graduates Say No Thanks to Factory Jobs from The New York Times and A work in progress from The Economist []
  6. Testing time for study abroad from China Daily []
  7. Currently there are no SAT test centers on the mainland due to restrictions by the government.  Thus students wanting to take the SAT must go elsewhere, typically Hong Kong.  See ”洋高考”来势凶猛国内高校面临挑战 from Sohu []
  8. See Chinese Flock to the GMAT from The Wall Street Journal and China Outperforms U.S. on GMAT from The Wall Street Journal []
  9. This growth in GMAT testing and overseas matriculation is one of the reasons why US institutions that provide MBAs have grown from 26,000 to more than 168,000 annual graduates from 1970 to 2009.  There are a number of mainland based MBA schools as well including the top ranked Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing.  See Is the MBA Obsolete from Forbes, China Best Business School Leadership MBA from Forbes and Game Changers: Guanghua Cai from Fortune []
  10. China’s Test Prep Juggernaut from BusinessWeek []
  11. New Oriental is currently involved with a class action lawsuit that alleges the company did not clearly state that students in franchises (which the company does not own) were counted among the overall headcount (e.g., headcount inflation).  See New Oriental faces class law suit in the US from China Daily and New Oriental Sinks as Block Renews Allegations: China Overnight from Bloomberg []
  12. An education exchange would strengthen ties with China from Politico []
  13. Chinese Learn English the Disney Way from The Wall Street Journal []
  14. China to recruit foreign experts through Internet from People’s Daily []
  15. In addition to traditional formats and courses, the EFL market in China also includes: IELTS, TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT and LSAT. []
  16. For a step-by-step procedure, see Starting a Business in China from the World Bank.  See also New Path for Trade: Selling in China from The New York Times []
  17. Ambow is currently facing a lawsuit by investors who accuse it of fabricating acquisitions to bolster its revenue numbers.  See Ambow Education Investors Pursue Lawsuit as Shares Plunge from Bloomberg []
  18. Teaching English in China: What You Need to Know from Yahoo! Voices []
  19. The Impact of English in China by Jun Liu []
  20. As I note in Chapter 14, through the mass consumption of Western entertainment, the Romanization and Latinization of both mainland businesses and cultures continues.  And yet this is not the only area in which Western culture is absorbed on the mainland.  According to Yasmin Haskell, “The Chinese already appreciate the importance of these sources [European sinologists]. Several years ago they were sending local students on scholarships to learn Latin at European universities. Today, as I am reliably informed by a senior American colleague, they are training up thousands of Chinese teachers of classics – not the Chinese classics of Confucius and Lao Tzu, that is, but those of ancient Greece and Rome.”  See We must look to an ancient tongue to understand Asia from The Australian []
  21. Another on-going long-term opportunity for brand marketers is working with these large SOEs as they internationalize and go abroad.  While they typically dominate their specific market segments domestically (in part because of their monopolistic privilege) they have had uphill challenges in expanding abroad.  See BCG: Chinese State-Owned Firms Not So Muscular Abroad from The Wall Street Journal []
  22. China Needs American Education. Here’s How to Bring It There from Forbes []
  23. See English language education in Korea, fad or the future? from Yonhap and The Economics of English by Hyo-Chan Jeon []
  24. See Japan Launches primary push to teach English from The Guardian, The Economics of English by Hyo-Chan Jeon and Elementary Schools to get English from The Japan Times []
  25. The economic term for this is the “subjective theory of value” in contrast to the classical “labor theory of value.”  See Chapter 4 entitled The Subjective Theory of Value by Thomas Taylor []
  26. An Interview With Charles Zhang, CEO of Sohu from Agenda []
  27. China’s Middle-Class Parents Underwhelmed by Undergrad Degree from The Wall Street Journal []
  28. Ibid []
  29. In China, Betting It All on a Child in College from The New York Times []
  30. As one of my Chinese mentors in Singapore explained, the cultural component should not be overlooked or downplayed.  There is a Confucian virtue called xiushen (修身 or self-cultivation, improvement, rectification) which has been enshrined at a deep cultural level across the Chinese populace that Western education, especially at tertiary levels, and particularly in the fields of science, technology, management, marketing and finance will probably see strong demand for years to come.  This is not simply a calculation concern (to improve one’s income potential), but even more so a cultural phenomenon. []
  31. 600 million middle-class Chinese by 2020: think tank from Xinhua []
  32. See p. 10 The Chinese Luxury Consumer White Paper from Hurun []
  33. The target schools abroad, especially in the US are elite institutions like the Ivy League.  See Chinese flock to elite U.S. schools from CNN []
  34. To be even handed there are also several successful domestic tech firms founded by homegrown talent that did not matriculate overseas such as Jack Ma (Alibaba) and William Ding (NetEase). []
  35. USC’s Marshall School of Business has a joint international venture with Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, offering an executive MBA since 2004. []
  36. Harvard Trained Communists Vie for Power as Party Gathers from Bloomberg []
  37. Ibid []
  38. Some of these new “special” programs (preparatory courses often taught by foreigners) are called “American-Chinese cooperation programs” and are being implemented at public schools, yet they also have their own admissions hurdles.  For example, they all require their own entrance examination and some of these programs charge up to 100,000 RMB ($15,000).  See “洋高考”来势凶猛国内高校面临挑战 from Sohu []
  39. See British public schools exported to China from BBC and China creates a replica of famous British public school Wellington College near Beijing from Daily Mail []
  40. An Oxford in Changzhou? International schools spread across China from Reuters []
  41. SMIC Private School in Shanghai is estimated to cost around $11,000 a year whereas the British International School in Shanghai purportedly costs $30,000 per annum. []
  42. An Oxford in Changzhou? International schools spread across China from Reuters []
  43. Spreading their wings early from China Daily []
  44. Ibid []
  45. Ibid []
  46. Can U.S. Universities Stay on Top? from The Wall Street Journal []
  47. Various levels within the Chinese government are attempting to recreate the education boom laid forth by the G.I. Bill through their own $250 billion a year initiative.  See China’s Ambitious Goal for Boom in College Graduates from The New York Times []
  48. Chinese boost for US colleges from Shanghai Daily []
  49. It is not just US colleges that have benefited from this international student pool.  According to an Al Jazeera report, “British universities receive more students from China than any other country outside of the European Union.”  There were 67,235 Chinese international students in the 2010-2011 cohort in the UK.  See Chinese students choosing to study abroad from Al Jazeera []
  50. Students from China add $5b to US economy from China Daily []
  51. Ten Years of Rapid Development of China-US Relations from Xinhua []
  52. Prior to World War II, the leading institutions of both the sciences and social studies were in German-speaking countries.  German, not English, was the lingua franca of the academic world for nearly a century. []
  53. One tool that all administrators and application departments in any country can now utilize to screen potential candidates is IntialView which is an interview platform that is becoming increasingly popular among both by applicants and administrators (38 out of the top 50 US colleges now accept interviews from this platform).  See China’s InitialView gains traction as most top US universities now accept its candidate interviews from The Next Web []
  54. Stanford research center opens at Peking University from Stanford []
  55. Shanghai NYU will open for fall of 2013 from Shanghai Daily []
  56. Juilliard to Bring New York-Style Teaching to China from The New York Times []
  57. Foreign universities: Campus collaboration from The Economist []
  58. Duke Kunshan University delayed again, following communication and funding problems from The Chronicle []
  59. Forged Transcripts and Fake Essays: How Unscrupulous Agents Get Chinese Students into U.S. Schools from TIME []
  60. While there are many genuine applicants, foreign admissions consultants should be aware that considerable amounts of fraud have taken place in this subindustry.  In fact, one report in 2011 based on a survey of 250 Beijing high school students matriculating to the US “concluded that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit false recommendations, 70 percent have other people write their personal essays, 50 percent have forged high school transcripts and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive.”  See A Chinese Education, for a Price from The New York Times, The China Conundrum from The New York Times and Busted: Fraud in China by Tom Melcher []
  61. For a step-by-step procedure, see Starting a Business in China from the World Bank.  See also New Path for Trade: Selling in China from The New York Times []
  62. SNQA []
  63. Chinese Universities Send Big Signals to Foreigners from The New York Times []
  64. ‘Sea turtles’ reverse China’s brain drain from CNN []
  65. Steal this Scientist from The Daily Beast []
  66. Reverse brain drain: China engineers incentives for “brain gain” from Christian Science Monitor []
  67. For a step-by-step procedure, see Starting a Business in China from the World Bank []
  68. For a concise explanation see PRC Taxes on Hong Kong & Foreign Companies: Clarifications, Changes, Challenges & Opportunities from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.  And while not exactly the same, there is a similar method of reducing tax liabilities used by numerous multinationals; see ‘Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich’ from The New York Times and Google Revenues Sheltered in No-Tax Bermuda Soar to $10 Billion from Bloomberg []
  69. See In Reversal, Cash Leaks Out of China from The Wall Street Journal and The Mechanics of Moving Cash Out of China from The Wall Street Journal []
  70. According to Distimo, “Applications with Chinese as a language in the top 200 were responsible for the largest share of the free downloads in China at 73 percent. English was responsible for only 69 percent of the free downloads among the top 200 in China.” See App Distribution Becomes A Global Game: The Shift Of Power & Impact For Developers from Distimo []
  71. One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education from Forbes []
  72. ChinaCache Releases Third Quarter 2012 China Internet Connection Speed Rankings from China Web Report []
  73. For comparison, the average download bandwidth in the US is 11.6 Mb/s.  See International Broadband Data Report (Third) from the Federal Communications Commission []
  74. China’s ‘Wall’ Hits Business from The Wall Street Journal []
  75. To be balanced I should point out that there are several other competitors that offer online language learning services including TellMeMore and GlobalEnglish. []
  76. Tencent Eyes Growing Online Education Market in China from Caijing []
  77. China Investors: We Don’t Need No Edukation from The Wall Street Journal []
  78. Ibid []
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