Cambridge MBA alumna founded an online platform that connects qualified bilingual talent to companies aiming to do business with China.
Ting Zhang, CEO and founder of Crayfish has more than 20 years’ experience in facilitating investment and trade between the UK and China – and has observed that many small and medium sized businesses in the West can’t afford to pay consultancies for projects such as translation or setting up social media accounts in China.
So Ting thought a global platform model could help: “A lot of businesses are looking to trade with China which is one of the fastest-growing markets. This is especially relevant after the Brexit vote when companies are looking for new opportunities outside Europe.”
After doing market research, Ting concluded that there is an “untapped pool of Chinese talent in the UK and globally” who could form an effective freelance network if linked online to companies – much the way the Uber platform links car drivers with customers needing a ride.
Crayfish was launched in 2017 as a digital platform that connects bilingual (English-Chinese) freelancers with businesses for project work. For example, if a health tech company needs to translate a press release into Mandarin, they can post their project on the Crayfish website and freelancers then start bidding for it. Instantly the company can choose a freelancer for the project or can ask the Crayfish team to choose the best candidate for an extra fee. There’s no subscription, so companies can pay as they go for one-off projects.
If the freelancer wants to bid for a job or project, she or he needs first to register on the website, upload their CV and showcase their work experience in relevant area, for example translating technical texts. The Crayfish team then will check their credibility and approve their profile on the website, so they can start bidding for projects as they come in.
Ting says the platform is a great opportunity for people to get extra work: “We have people ranging from PhD students, to professionals with many years of expertise in consulting, web design or marketing, to stay-at-home mums.” Currently there are hundreds of bilingual freelancers registered with Crayfish, from various countries including the UK, China, US, Turkey, Finland and Germany.
Crayfish offers services in areas such as translation, interpreting, market research, public relations, recruitment and business logistics. After a proposal is accepted, Crayfish receives a fee from companies for the work and then distributes the money to the freelancer – minus a commission – once the project is completed.
Argon Design, a Cambridge-based technology development company, has been regularly using the venture’s translation services: “We have found Crayfish to be really useful in supporting our business development efforts in China. The platform is easy to use and we had several bids for the translation of our highly technical product sheets.”
The startup is based in Cambridge with a core team of five. As a Cambridge Judge alumna (MBA 1997), Ting is using her network connections to promote and run the business: two other Cambridge MBA alumni are working with Crayfish – Mei Han (MBA 2002) as the VP Operations and Zhengyu Chen (MBA 2012) acting as the Tech Advisor – and a few other people with Cambridge connections are among mentors and early investors.
Although she graduated from Cambridge Judge Business School a while ago, Ting says what she’s learnt is still relevant: “I think the core modules, such as strategy, marketing, finance and accounting, are all essential for starting up and growing a business. Also, the two MBA consulting projects were very helpful in putting theory into the context of real business.”
Current challenges for Crayfish include recruiting the right people with relevant skills and qualifications, and scaling up the business over the next few years to meet the project demands of firms seeking to serve China’s huge market of 1.4 billion people.
This article is part of Venturing Forth, our new series on the aspirations and challenges of ventures connected to students, alumni and others associated with Cambridge Judge Business School.