Online School Hahow Gathers 220K Students from around The World
Dec 08, 2019

Wearing a simple gray T-shirt and black jacket, Arnold Chiang holds his notebook computer and quickly browses the website of the “school” he co-founded to find courses offered by more than 300 teachers and student comments.

Different from traditional schools, the online learning platform founded by Chiang called “Hahow” has gathered more than 300 teachers, nearly 400 courses and 220,000 students from around the world.

Among the teachers are balloon artist Sung Chun-lin, who won a global creative balloon competition with his “Taiwan Blue Whale” design; photographer Yvonne Lu, who won IPPA awards from 2013 to 2015 and was named one of the IPPA Award photographers of the year in 2015; Yang Yuan-ching, holder of a Guinness World Record for most napkins snatched from a table with a yo-yo in one minute; and Yiling Chang, who was unable to do jobs where she had to work long hours because of an illness and operation, and became an online English teacher. Their involvement with Hahow has created new paths for their lives.

Creative balloon artist Sung has been able to develop his personal interests and talent and make a name for himself internationally because of his association with Hahow. By being able to earn money through the online school, Sung says, he can compete in international competitions, and he earned four prizes in the second half of 2018.

Photographer Lu, a longtime resident of the United States, uses Hahow to pass on her experience to photographers in Taiwan who still harbor dreams. She encourages people to “learn together to become image storytellers who can think independently and possess a style uniquely their own.”

Unlike the three other co-founders of Hahow, who are all engineers, Chiang, the soul of the platform, has a liberal arts background.

Becoming an Entrepreneur

After graduating from Wego High School, Chiang gained admission into National Taiwan University’s Department of Sociology. When school started, he was stunned by the variety of campus clubs and those who excelled at “pursuing personal interests while also studying hard,” discovering that there were many students who were more active and good at having fun than him.

He saw upperclassmen prepare art festivals or concerts every weekend; walking around campus, he had skateboard club members glide right by him, leaving him with a strong desire to get in on the cool pastime. He would also occasionally hear about a classmate designing or creating something, giving off an artistic vibe.

“At the time, I was beginning to be aware of exploring who I was and what my interests were,” Chiang recalls. It was then that he came to a life-changing realization: many Taiwanese students were under such heavy pressure from the traditional mindsets of their parents and the expectations of the system to further their education that they never thought about the kind of person they were and what they were interested in.

“I remember often wondering at the time that with the world so big, what was it that I didn’t know or could not do? I began to envy those who were aware of their interests and understood what they were good at and passionate about,” he says.

Chiang tried to extend his learning to areas outside his major, but struggled to find teachers with real expertise who were a good fit and were available at times and places convenient for him. Gaining access to the resources he needed proved to be a major challenge.

He had no choice but to resort to posting notices for language exchanges or learning by asking classmates questions to save money. At the same time, however, the idea of becoming an entrepreneur and setting up an online learning platform began to take shape in his mind.

In his fifth year at NTU, he went to Switzerland as an exchange student and met another NTU alum, Austin Huang, and they immediately hit it off when talking about building an online learning website.

When Chiang was 25, they rolled out the “ObeyO” (a play on the Taiwanese term roughly meaning “casual learning”) language exchange platform and “Skillhopping” talent exchange website to test the market. In a short time, they matched up more than 1,000 talent exchange users, giving Chiang confirmation that there was demand for online learning.

In 2015 at the age of 27, Chiang and Austin Huang, Peter Huang and Daniel Wang cobbled together NT$800,000 and formed Hahow.

Hahow’s website now draws more than 1 million visitors a week, originating not only from Taiwan. Roughly 20 percent of the site’s traffic and 10 percent of its sales come from Chinese-speaking students from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan and the United States.

Chiang explains that Taiwan’s teaching methods have yet to be optimized through internet technology, leaving a huge opportunity for the digital transformation of Taiwan’s physical teaching and continuing education environment.

Some prominent businesses, such as Taishin International Bank, Cathay Financial Holdings, Starlux Airlines, the Uni-President Group and Trend Micro, have all discussed partnerships with Hahow on training programs.

Though Hahow’s business has now achieved a degree of stability, Chiang acknowledges the company still lacks experience when it comes to expanding and making the most of its funds. Entrepreneurship remains a challenge to him, requiring constant learning and trial and error. At times, he feels overwhelmed and unable to go on, but the positive feedback from teachers and students has given him the motivation to grit his teeth and continue pushing forward.

Once, for example, a mother living in a rural township wrote a letter saying how Hahow had made it possible for her son to take a yo-yo class he was really interested in, making up for the lack of qualified teachers in their rural area and allaying her son’s sense of alienation.

A New Way to Think about Learning

“Actually, everyone feels they lack learning resources, regardless of their family background,” Chiang says. The key to learning, therefore, is to maintain a flexible mindset and be willing to search for resources and find ways to learn wherever they may be.

The year he decided to start his own business, Chiang originally wanted to study programming. But since becoming an entrepreneur, he has had to learn about fundraising, equity design, intellectual property, financial analysis and other management skills. “It has meant constant change. I’m always adjusting how I position myself and my learning path.”

Chiang believes that the emphasis of the new 2019 curriculum – “nurturing talent based on aptitude” – is a good direction, and he suggests that students “should dare to be different.”

In fact, human beings inherently like to be “different,” something Chiang has observed on the job.

“People have different souls, so you should develop a different ‘you.’ You will discover that this will be your biggest advantage in becoming more valuable,” he observes.

“Being able to concentrate on your versatility and being different and the things you are interested in and are good at is really great!”

By Hannah Chang