RareJob: Using Skype to teach English
Last week, we announced the results of the Skype for Business Competition. We promised to share more details about how the winners (and other entrants) are saving time, saving money and staying ahead by using Skype in their businesses.
Here’s a detailed case study about RareJob, the second place winner in Asia-Pacific:
RareJob was established in Tokyo in 2007 based on the idea of using Skype to create unique job opportunities linking Japan with other countries around the world. The inaugural project the company took on was teaching English as a second language, or ESL, employing tutors from the Philippines.
ESL instruction is a major industry in Japan, valued at ¥316.6 billion (about US$316 million) in 2007 according to Yano Research Institute Ltd. This is also a highly competitive market dominated until recently by several large nationwide chains of privately operated schools.
RareJob entered the fray armed with Skype. Gaku Nakamura, Chief Technology Officer, knew Skype well before he started the company with partner and CEO Tomohisa Kato.
“Before starting RareJob, I was involved in software development using the peer-to-peer technology at the heart of Skype. I used Skype at work everyday, so I knew its potential as a low-cost, high-quality communications tool,” said Nakamura.
Great tutors without exorbitant costs
Skype enabled RareJob to build a strong base of highly qualified tutors in the Philippines, and at the same time sprint ahead of the competition by keeping operating costs down.
“All of our tutors are students or graduates of the University of the Philippines. We select tutors who have the highest English capability and most natural accents. We then help them get set up on Skype if they do not yet have an account, and train them in using Skype as an educational medium.”
Unlike most of the major players in the Japanese ESL field, RareJob avoids the cost of maintaining schools in high-rent districts around train and subway stations. These areas have traditionally been the most convenient locations for busy commuters. And while the company pays competitive salaries to its Philippine tutors, labor costs are noticeably less than in Japan, and the tutors do not have to travel to Japan to do their jobs.
All this means savings to students without sacrificing profitability for RareJob.
“We use Skype for all our internal communications with tutors, as well as with our office in Manila. This lets us provide online lessons to Japanese students at ¥5,000 (US$50) per month. If a student does a 25-minute lesson everyday, that’s ¥129 per lesson, about 40 times less than what the same student would pay for one-on-one lessons in a classroom.”
The home advantage
What can be more convenient than studying in the comfort of your own home? RareJob users reserve time slots in advance over the web. When the reserved time arrives, one of the company’s tutors calls the user, and the lesson begins. It’s that easy, and another key reason for RareJob’s popularity. In the economic climate since late 2008, more Japanese are going straight home from work, dining in rather than spending money outside. RareJob provides the cost-conscious Japanese with an easy, interactive means toward gaining a new skill, and perhaps contributing to future career development.
With an average of more than 2,000 ESL lessons per day and 700 registered tutors, RareJob is Japan’s largest independent provider of online ESL instruction. Registered students have steadily risen, from about 1,000 in April 2008 to more than 13,000 in August 2009, and if anything the economic crisis is driving new growth.
“Other online service providers use different technologies, such as dedicated videophones the students have to lease or buy. This makes them less expensive than the classroom-style schools, but still a lot more than RareJob.”
RareJob’s students can also take advantage of Skype features not available with other online technologies, such as very high-quality audio and fast file sharing.
The future is video?
RareJob is only a year and a half old, but it has quickly emerged as a promising entrant in Japan’s ESL market and a company with a bright future. Nakamura sees his brand of ESL instruction as continuing to evolve with Skype.
“Most of our students use voice calls for their lessons. The Philippine broadband infrastructure is not as far along as Japan’s, so video calls are often impractical. But as we see Skype improving both audio and video quality while reducing the bandwidth needed, the potential of video instruction will grow. Video adds the dimension of visual aids like pictures. And students can observe the gestures that go along with different phrases and ways of speaking, leading to more natural conversation.”
RareJob’s mission is also only partially completed. ESL instruction is a success, but Nakamura and Kato are constantly working on new ideas for “rare jobs.” Whatever the result, Skype will be there as the company’s core utility.