a UNSW Business Society official publication
Image courtesy of Culturestride
Student Start-up Stories: Culturestride and Tribespot – An Interview with Michael Liang
Written by Varun Amin
Date Published: 25/10/2020
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Michael Liang, I’m 23 years old and the founder behind Culturestride, an online language school offering Mandarin and Cantonese taught exclusively by native teachers from China.
I’m a UNSW graduate who finished mid 2019 with a B Commerce/Information system. Whilst at uni I was most involved with BSOC as its 2017 VPI and had also built software that 80 societies across Australia use for leadership recruitment called Tribespot.
In the last 3 years, I’ve lived and worked across the US (Los Angeles), China (Shanghai) and Singapore on student exchange and the New Colombo Plan where I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in new cultures and societies.
I’m trilingual (English, Cantonese and Mandarin) and am currently learning Lao to communicate with my Laotian girlfriend’s parents. I also worked in technology and tech startups (Microsoft and Atlassian) prior to starting Culturestride.
What is the fundamental premise behind your start-ups?
Culturestride is an online language school taught exclusively by native teachers abroad. The company was started because I believe language learning in Australia is grossly inefficient and there exists an opportunity to help students become proficient in languages faster by a factor of 2-5x.
I’m building the company to help Australians (in particular Chinese-Australians at uni) pick up Chinese fast irrespective of what the student believes to be their language learning skills with special teaching techniques and a tech-first approach.
The students thus typically reach conversation fluency within 1 year and come out more connected to family, heritage and better positioned for global career opportunities.
Tribespot was also a project started in 2017 which automates student society recruitment (i.e. subcommittee, directorship, consultant roles). The project has now processed 5000+ applications across 80 societies in Australia.
What inspired you to pursue entrepreneurship?
My parents are small business owners too, so I was surrounded by entrepreneurship growing up. Seeing what they’ve achieved and how hard they work from literally having $1000 to their name to now inspires me because even with all the cards stacked against them, it was possible for them to succeed.
In my current situation, I just don't want to waste the opportunity here to solve something important having had all the advantages they didn't have.
What are the most rewarding experiences of being an Entrepreneur?
I'm Cantonese-Australian and whilst living in Shanghai during 2019, I was lucky to have got the opportunity to learn my mother tongue, start to understand my heritage and see business opportunities in Asia. Seeing other students who are in similar positions to me go through that same journey with language learning and love who they are after it is honestly the most amazing reward in itself.
For example, for me a big moment was being able to communicate and read my extended family's Chinese WeChat group chat because I finally had a low touch way to actually get to know my family as people. And just recently one student came to me about how she's also begun to have so much fun talking in her own family's group chat which puts a huge smile on my face.
What is the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur as opposed to working for another company?
The most challenging part of being an entrepreneur as opposed to working for another company is the inner demons that come with making decisions in situations of high uncertainty.
The constant "Should we do this?", "What is the most important thing right now?", "Am I a success or failure?" Is sometimes paralysing and overwhelming. I've lost days like this because I like having answers to problems so when it's a grey area with uncertain probabilities or limited data, it all hits the fan.
At larger companies, success and fail conditions are much more well defined so this is never a problem.
What quote do you live by?
“Only take advice from those you’d swap places with”. The theory is that their ideas got them to where they are today and will take you to that same point if you take it in.