One more possible initiative related to evaluating creditworthiness of students for financial institutions using unique database of students provided by the Ministry of Education. A valuable direction of development was also to perform verification of candidates for college recruiters located overseas. As these companies had almost no means of verifying the student’s academic background and information, they were eager to pay for such services. Furthermore, it would be possible to develop resumes basing on student profiles in Dorm99.com (Kirby & McFarlan & Manty, 2009). Finally, one more direction of development emerged when the Ministry of Education expressed interest in a feature which would allow students to analyze their CET test scores and to determine weak areas in their English knowledge (Kirby & McFarlan & Manty, 2009). The major problem for Li and Pao at this stage was to follow the milestones set by the investors, to generate revenue for their operating expenses, and to determine strategic directions for the startup development.
In the strategy and tactics chosen by Li and Pao, there were both significant advantages and disadvantages. The entrepreneurs managed to divide their responsibilities in an effective way: they managed to make the most use of Li’s business relationships and Pao’s ability to generate new strategic decisions and to get things done represent a powerful combination. However, the entrepreneurs did not manage to take into account all stakeholders and did not foresee a possibility of government intervention. However, it is common knowledge that China’s business climate and e-commerce are strongly affected by government decisions (Fannin, 2011), and for Li in particular it was a significant error not to pay enough attention to this. It is likely that both entrepreneurs currently possess Western business approach; however, in order to become successful, Li and Pao should perform more in-depth analysis of Chinese business reality.
An initial advantage of the startup was that both entrepreneurs chose to focus on markets and on social groups they already knew, and could tailor their product to the interests of these groups. However, they set rather stressful deadlines for their IT team: it is likely that the team did not have enough time for high-load testing and had to work in highly dynamic conditions. While the startup is at the development stage and it really needs quick growth, it is also necessary to build the core of the team now, because it would be much expensive in future to replace key developers if they decide to leave in critical moments. Furthermore, the project should not rely on individual team players (Fannin, 2011), and it is necessary to set the process so that replacing a key employee would not lead to the crash of the whole project.
Finally, it is likely that Li and Pao have not yet outlined a vision for their website, and are not exactly sure what target audience they are willing to attract. This lack of awareness does not let them create a clear focus, and might hinder future development. Li and Pao should better analyze the needs and interests of students and precisely define the characteristics of their target group.
There are two short-term goals which should be addressed by Li and Pao in order to secure the future of the project. It is the problem of meeting the goals of Zero2IPO Partners, and the issue of gaining additional operating capital in order to avoid overreliance on Zero2IPO funding. The first requirement of Zero2IPO Partners is to develop a clear marketing plan which would encourage existing subscribers to visit Dorm99.com daily and stay there, and the second requirement is to continue expanding the base of customers.
In my opinion, Dorm99.com has already been associated with CET scores and education, and this initiative should be pursued further. If the Ministry of Education agreed to provide test data for student review and analysis, the startup could easily fulfill the second requirement of the vendor as the students would be very eager at least to determine their problem areas. Since this information is already presented in digital form, the team of Dorm99.com would only have to process and secure it, which might be implemented during a reasonable period of time. Moreover, the students would be eager to pay for that information, and by pursuing this project, the entrepreneurs could secure the financial future of their startup a bit more. However, Li would need to ensure all details with the Ministry of Education, and mitigate all possible risks of government intervention. Furthermore, in order to encourage existing subscribers to login every day to the website, the team of Dorm99.com could develop a application which would train students in their problem areas. Even if it was a simple software focusing on such broad areas as English grammar, vocabulary, spelling and spoken language, students would be eager to use it, as this information could be customized to match their learning needs (basing on the data provided by the Ministry of Education). Li and Pao could also consider partnering with some online English learning startup in order to provide such services.
With regard to strategic development, it would be best for the entrepreneurs to broaden the educational and career perspective of the website, and to provide verification of Chinese students for foreign companies. Customizing student profiles in resume-like style, allowing students to place their portfolios and career interests, and cooperating with major western employers would create a unique competitive advantage for Dorm99.com. Thus, it is possible to recommend to Li and Pao to focus their attention on the areas of career and education since their target audience would likely be highly interested in such services, and these services also have a high revenue-generating potential.
Chaffey, D. (2006). E-business and e-commerce management: strategy, implementation and practice. Pearson Education.
Fannin, R.A. (2011). Startup Asia: Top Strategies for Cashing in on Asia’s Innovation Boom. John Wiley and Sons.
Kirby, W.C. & McFarlan W.F. & Manty T. (2009). The Challenges of Launching a Start-Up in China: Dorm99.com. Harvard Business School Case 307-075.