SPECIAL REPORT

The Youth Of Today: Neo Zhizhong and Alicia Cheong

by Anton D. Javier
Photography by Chino Sardea
21 Jun 2019

Mr. Neo Zhizhong and Ms. Alicia Cheong, 35, are the co-founders of Geniebook

“As tutors, both Zhizhong and I noticed a gap in the education sector where our students struggle to grasp concepts despite attempting countless rounds of worksheets,” says Ms. Cheong. By identifying this problem, Ms. Cheong, together with Mr. Neo, wanted to find ways to not only help students learn more efficiently, but help teachers streamline revision time in order to better allocate their resources to helping students. With that realization, Geniebook was born.

What is Geniebook all about and what is its main goal?
Mr Neo:
Geniebook is a personalised online learning platform aimed to revolutionise the way students revise. Using the power of patented technology enhanced by AI, Geniebook is the only EdTech platform that is capable of personalization at a detailed level, going so far as to analyse and identify not just the user’s weak topics, but the sub-concepts within.

With more than 80,000 questions available on the platform that caters to students from Primary 3 to Secondary 4 in Mathematics, Science and English, we are happy that it has helped over 80% of our users improve in their weak areas within three months of using the platform.

Ms. Cheong: The main goal of Geniebook is to make education accessible to all students, regardless of their progress and socioeconomic status. Our team also wants to provide them with a personalised learning experience that is based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and through the Geniebook platform, help make learning enjoyable again.

Walk us through the steps you took leading up to the official establishment of Geniebook. 
Ms. Cheong: It has always been our passion to teach, and we got started as private tutors more than 10 years ago. In 2007, we opened our first learning center, School Plus, after graduating from University, and quickly expanded to 2 more locations in Singapore.

To provide our students with a different learning experience, we decided to make use of technology to better increase the efficiency of learning. We began working on developing a platform that could enhance student’s learning and serve as a tool that teachers can tap on to provide a more efficient session for themselves and their students.

Mr. Neo: In the initial part of the business, it was just Alicia and I running the whole show. On top of teaching at the learning center, we also spent a lot of time developing Geniebook. We handled administrative matters, business development and sourcing for developers and curriculum team members to help grow Geniebook into the platform we envisioned.

We were both young and this was our first venture into the business world after graduating from University. We both made many mistakes, such as forgetting to sign a contract with our first platform developer, and he quit on us just one day before the launch. But we both knew that our main goal was to put out a platform that best fits our goal to help students have a better learning experience. That was our drive to push through despite these challenges we faced and helped us grow as entrepreneurs.

Initially, we only offered Geniebook to our students in School Plus, but we made it available publicly in 2017 after noting the improvements of our students’, and with the goal of making learning more accessible to students.

Since the establishment of Geniebook, did you find that a young age was ever an issue?
Ms. Cheong: Both Zhizhong and I decided to start our business immediately after graduating from university. Because of our age and with this being our first venture, we were inexperienced and did not know the ins and outs of setting up our own business, much less developing a learning platform from scratch. We also had a limited cash flow using our own personal savings, and had to juggle both the overhead costs of the learning center and the costs of developing the app.

Being young founders of a startup in Singapore, it can be challenging to rope in customers to have confidence in the product we are putting out. However, we believe that the Geniebook platform and what it stands for speaks for itself. We are grateful to have worked with a great team to help develop Geniebook and to get where we are today.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring entrepreneurs that you wish someone told you when you were getting started?
Ms. Cheong:
Do not jump into creating a startup blindly. You should properly research the market you want to enter, see the gap in the industry you want to help solve, and whenever possible, speak to those who have done this before to hear from them.

Mr. Neo: Another thing that is important would be passion. Many can create their own business, but it’s the ones who live and breathe the notion of wanting to improve the industry that are in it for the long haul.