By Jon Russell
Baidu, China’s largest search engine and an investor in Uber, is giving its Zuoyebang ‘after school’ service, which helps school students with their studies, wings of its own after it revealed that the business raised an undisclosed Series A funding round.
The new capital was provided by Sequoia China and Legend Capital, and is part of an ongoing Baidu initiative to open some services to external investment opportunities. The company has enabled investment in Baidu Takeout Delivery and 91 Desktop, two companies it span out this summer — with the former raising $70 million.
“This strategy aims to promote the independent quality assets, and to foster Baidu’s open ecosystem,” the company said.
Zuoyebang, which began life as part of Q&A site Baidu Zhidao, is a platform where students can seek answers to study-related problems, and also provide solution to peers who are looking for assistance.
Rumors of the service’s impending independence made the rounds in Chinese media this week, so word of this deal is not a huge surprise. Baidu said that the one-year-old service has over 50 million registered users, some three million of whom use it daily. Available for Android and iOS, the service has seen more than 950 million questions and answers on file. Baidu said also that it is operational within 113 schools and educational centers across China.
It’s pretty clear from this move that Baidu wants some of its promising business to operate with a more startup-like structure. Zuoyebang, for example, has less than 100 employees, nearly two-thirds of whom are focused on R&D, Baidu said.
While it isn’t going to the lengths of Google, with its Alphabet reshuffle to help the U.S. firm’s more innovative projects operate with greater freedom, Baidu’s approach to spinning out some services is nonetheless notable. Combining links to the parent company with quality, external investors and their networks could, on paper at least, boost these businesses. It also decouples them from the Baidu which, like all other public firms in the country, is affected by the collapse of the Chinese market.
The education market is a crowded one in China. Zuoyebang’s competition includes offerings from close rivals Tencent and Alibaba.
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