Cindy Mi, the founder and CEO of VIPKid, has built a lot of admiration while building her online learning business. Cited as one of the Top 100 CEOs in 2019 by Glassdoor, and one of The 50 Female Entrepreneurs You Should Know by Crunchbase, Cindy turned her personal passion for accessible education into a business that’s connected 700,000 students in China and around the world with over 100,000 teachers. In just six years, her Beijing-based business has become a leader in online English language education in China. VIPKid is supported by full-time staff in China as well as in the US in offices from California and Texas to Washington, DC, and New York.
At the heart of the business is a real-time video-based learning technology that brings personalized English learning right to the homes of its learners — from the homes (or coffee shops, travel destinations or anywhere with good internet services) of independent contract teachers. VIPKid technology also does learner/teacher “matching:” showing kids and their parents the educational backgrounds, teaching styles and successes from its wide network of teachers, to select the best fit for each learner.
But finding the best fit with an HR solutions provider proved to be a tougher process for this quickly-growing company.
One advantage of being a technology-based company is that VIPKid is good at building tools to solve business problems. Therefore as the company grew, they built their own tool for tracking HR data in its Beijing headquarters. However, due to the expansion to the US, it realized that to meet employee compliance regulations here, it needed a tool to help them cover their bases— especially as the US team quickly scaled to more than 50 people with offices in four states.
But VIPKid soon learned that finding a solution that was both easy to use and had robust coverage for ensuring security and compliance across HR, Benefits and Payroll was not an easy fix. VIPKid tried twice, without success. First, they tried a large payroll vendor, but found that without well-integrated HR tools, it was too complex to use and the organization was just too big and disconnected to help them. Second, they tried a high-profile start-up, which couldn’t scale its own services to support the intricacies of tax compliance as VIPKid grew.
In November 2018, Erika Louie, HR Director at VIPKid, chose Zenefits for it’s “just right” balance of ease of use, plus a secure all-in-one platform for covering all the company’s people operations process and compliance needs for its growing staff across the US.
Zenefits is the Goldilocks of HR. Some platforms were too big and cumbersome and some were too small to service our growing needs. By contrast, Zenefits just fits for where we are and where we want to be.
Connecting kids to their potential
VIPKid was born from Cindy Mi’s vision to build a global online classroom that will inspire and empower every child for the future. This conviction came from her own childhood educational experience. So the self-starter turned necessity into invention. She started tutoring at 15 and left school at 17, eventually starting a brick-and-mortar language learning company. In 2013, with great traction in China’s largest cities, she launched VIPKid to scale the idea even further, and put English language learning at the fingertips (and laptops) of kids across China and other parts of the world.
There are four parts to the business today that have earned VIPKid a leadership position in online English education: teacher growth, awareness marketing to parents and students, curriculum and assessment development, and the learning technology engine that seamlessly connects teachers and learners via video from opposite sides of the planet.
Connecting US staff to onboarding, benefits and payroll
With the addition of staff in the US, came numerous employment regulations that the company couldn’t use its own homegrown HR solution to manage. This has become more complicated as the US team has grown across multiple states and locations.
“We grew past 50 employees in the US last year,” says Susana. “That size brings with it even more compliance requirements. I love the compliance notices I get within the Zenefits system to help ensure we stay ahead of the rules. And, I am a fan of Zenefits tax management too. For example, we hired staff in Pennsylvania recently, which has a whole new set of tax requirements. Zenefits takes the tax stress off our shoulders.”
In addition to using Zenefits for its all in one HR, Benefits and Payroll applications, VIPKid leverages Zenefits’ technology integrations for recruiting with Greenhouse, and Financial Savings Accounts with Zenefits. And it also relies on the benefits counsel from Zenefits’ certified broker partner, Sequoia, for health, dental and vision care options for its US staff.
“I appreciate that Sequoia can use the Zenefits dashboard to support its benefits recommendations and field any questions we have, by using data in the platform,” adds Susana. “And our recruiter can seamlessly ensure that new hiring information in Greenhouse is reflected in Zenefits from day one.”
Further, Susana also likes that she can access other perspectives and ideas on HR management within Zenefits ClubZen online community. “ClubZen is a little like the Office Ninjas community for office managers: a wealth of insight, access, and tools all in one place from others in similar positions.”
As VIPKid plans for continual growth in its business, the team recognizes that the culture and mission it supports will continue to be a big recruiting draw, not only for employees but also independent contractors teaching on the platform. Teachers are passionate about the mission and dedicated to the relationships they build. Not only are these connections with their beloved students on the other side of the world, but also with other teachers they meet through the online community and in-person meetup events.
Additionally, VIPKid’s culture of connection and compassion extends through its seed-funded nonprofit, VIPTeach, a charitable organization that empowers educators with technology and professional learning to drive innovation and equity in education.
VIPKid’s organization is connecting people, passion, and ideas to power the potential for the world to rise. No wonder it has also been further distinguished with workplace awards like a Most Innovative Company from Fast Company, and a Best Place to Work from Glassdoor.