Yichi Zhang is the Co-Founder of 1Checker, an automatic English proofreading tool designed specifically for non-native speakers.
I believe at different stages of your career, you should exhibit different leadership qualities that make you more effective. As an entrepreneur, the ability to make decisions despite of ambiguity and the ability to adapt your decision is very important. We recently released our Mac version as a beta on our website while we are waiting for the launch on the App Store. (For now the user cannot use default setting to install our checker on Mac. The Gatekeeper would stop the program from running since we are “an unidentified developer”. Some of the team members thought we should wait for a little bit longer, because the first impression is very important.) I made the decision to launch the Mac version early so we could get more feedback and run product iterations faster.
Initially, we planned to run a Freemium (Free + Premium) business model for 1Checker, just like most of the grammar checkers available on the market. But in the end, we decided to offer basic proofreading service for free to end users and generate revenue from products targeting business partners in the education market (e.g. 1Course/1Test). The machine learning engine behind 1Checker has a network effect: its performance gets better with more users. In other words, although 1Checker is free, it helps us to create a barrier to other competitors in the education market.
We’ve spent less than $8,000 on marketing. We rely on the Word-of-Mouth marketing strategy. We usually follow all our pioneer users on all kinds of social media. Communicating and discussing with them is very rewarding.
This is a hard question for me. I’m not sure if I used any specific technique. I guess showing others your vision and passion is important. Moreover, you have to make significant commitment yourselves. I dropped out of my PhD program in my third year so that I could better focus on my start-up because I was really passionate about 1Checker. I think for us, being passionate about what you do is most important for people who are interested in running start-ups and working for start-ups.
Our structure is very flat and we give people freedom to make decisions. We are a small company and we need people to act fast instead of spending a lot of time on policy and procedures. To be a lean business and cut some internal processes is very helpful.
You have to stay focused on the ultimate goal and the big picture. “Quick money” always comes with unexpected situations. I think I was too conservative and too eager to find revenue last year. As a result, we took some consulting works. To be fair, the income from the consulting was okay, but we had to spend quite some time to solve non-technical problems for our clients, it just slowed down everything.