LAIX, Chinese Developer of the Liulishuo AI-Powered Online Tutor, Takes in $71.9 Million with IPO

By Henry Kronk
October 01, 2018

LAIX Inc, the company that developed the English learning app Liulishuo, is hoping to disrupt the English language teaching and tutoring market with AI software intended to replace human instructors. Traders and investors see a good deal of promise in that model. Last Thursday, the company raised $71.9 million with their IPO.

By the end of the day, shares closed 1.2% up at $12.65 on the New York Stock Exchange. They have since dropped closer to $12.

“LAIX refers to Life empowered by AI to reach (X) infinite possibilities,” said CEO Wang Yi, according to China Daily. “The listing will make us a more international company and help us to attract customers all over the world.”

Speaking Fluently with AI-Delivered Language Instruction

Wang founded LAIX in 2013 after leaving a managerial position at Google. The word ‘Liulishuo’ means ‘speaking fluently.’ Wang is betting that the tutoring solutions provided via the app will be more accessible and affordable than traditional language education in China.

The company plans to use the funds generated from their IPO to continue to research and develop their products. It will also begin to market the products more intensively and in regions where it has not yet established itself.

Liulishuo has already proven itself in China. As of June, it claimed 83.8 million registered users. Using a freemium model, the app has over 1 million customers paying for its advanced offerings.

The app works by recording users speaking. It then analyzes what they have said and delivers lessons based on areas in which they can improve. In other words, it’s a full on AI-powered personalized learning app as dreamed of by numerous tech executives.

Language learning, along with early literacy and math, mark areas in which educators generally agree that AI can deliver positive learning results. These topics are more discrete than others: mastering one concept leads easily and logically to mastering another, etc.

While researchers still struggle to effectively track things like human engagement and other less apparent qualities, analyzing speech remains within the current abilities of AI.

AI Expands Beyond Liulishuo in Chinese Online Tutoring

LAIX, furthermore, is not the only company hoping to use AI to teach English. This June, online gig economy-style Chinese English tutoring giant VIPKid raised $500 million in Series D+ funding. Much like LAIX, CEO Cindy Mi said her company plans to use the funds to develop their content, teaching tools, and develop AI solutions.

The company is already using AI to help manage tutors. The algorithm tracks learners to ensure they remain engaged in their studies. As VP of Technology Zhang Yanjing told the China Global Television Network earlier this summer, “Interactivity and involvement are crucial in online education. We developed a complicated algorithm to analyze students’ eyes and how they move. And we train the model through deep learning. Each student has different ways to express feelings, so the feedback could be very different.”

Yanjing, Mi, and others have hinted that AI development at VIPKid will go beyond ensuring the quality of tutors. In a separate press release announcing the funding round, Mi said the funds will partially go to harnessing “latest advances in machine learning to explore and pioneer the future of learning.”

LAIX CEO Wang has also hinted that the AI developed by their company may be used for other purposes.

“From day one we have not ruled out the possibility of delving into other realms using AI. But English learning is the one area that we would like to focus on right now,” Wang told China Daily.

Featured Image: Usukhbayar Gankhuyag, Unsplash.