On April 16th, street dance company Sinostage received a generous round of funding from WooFoo Capital and Zhejiang Culture Development Fund, for an unspecified amount “over 10m RMB.” The company has said that the money will go towards the expansion of their core team, physical instruction locations, as well as the development of class-leading street dance IP.
Sinostage was founded in 2014 in Chengdu and now has a roster of over 100. Founder and CEO Ren Keke had been a dancer before founding the company and was appointed as the ambassador of China-US street dance cultural exchange by the US consulate, as well as the vice president of Urban Dance Alliance. Ren also worked as the director of the entrepreneur program at the Harvard Business School. She founded Sinostage as a street dance instruction company first and foremost, but the company quickly expanded into dance apparel, dance competitions, video content, IP creation, and cross-industry collaboration.
Founder and CEO, Ren Keke.
Since the company’s initial focus was instruction, it is not a surprise that Sinostage now owns three “experience centers” in Chengdu, providing services ranging from regular instruction to professional choreography and planning. The experience centers are all located in upscale malls, with a combined area of 1,800 sq meters. Ren tells us that Sinostage has over 20,000 active students, helping the company cross the 10m RMB threshold for its 2017 gross revenue. This round of funding will help with the construction of its Sanlitun flagship store in Beijing, as well as the groundbreaking of its planned LA store.
It is worth noting that the majority of Sinotage’s instructors are full-time, which helps them stand out from the plethora of dance instruction companies, as well as assure the quality of each lesson. The company has also hired many quality instructors from overseas while maintaining constant collaborations with over 150 of the world’s top dance instructors.
The company believes its target demographic includes aspiring artists, influencers, and young white-collars. The lessons cost anywhere from 80-200 RMB, and its number of students has seen a steady month-to-month growth of 25% since the end of 2017.
Another important aspect of Sinostage’s business is its exclusive rights (in China) to the industry-renowned competition, Arena. The popular competition has been held in more than ten countries, with hundreds of teams battling for the title, attracting over 1m simultaneous viewers. In China, Arena partnered with popular video hosting/sharing websites like Youku, Tencent, and Mai Pai. It is speculated that in 2018, Arena will expand into Chengdu, Singapore, and Los Angeles. iQiyi is very likely to be its exclusive partner for promotion and operation in China. Currently, the competition earns most of its revenue through sponsorships, ticket sales, and training camps.
For the longest time, the (street) dance industry has been a largely offline industry in China. Sinostage was able to secure the large investment mainly because it has figured out its path in the highly internet-connected world.
The company is currently developing its own app and SaaS system. The former will help connect instructors and students, and the latter instructors and studios. In the future, the company is looking to incorporate social media and e-commerce to become the “Weibo+Taobao” of the dance industry. In Ren’s analysis, she thinks that the industry is in a state of severe imbalance where professional instruction is not easily accessible by the general consumer, a problem that Sinostage is aiming to solve.
As of now, the Sinostage team has produced over 1,000 different videos, netting over 1 billion views combined, due in no small part to the collaborations with Justin Bieber’s dancers Keone and Mari, as well as one of the world’s top dance crews, Kinjaz.
As hip-hop culture continues to gain popularity in China, street dance companies are benefiting from the increased opportunities. On the topic of investing in Sinostage, one of WooFoo’s founding partners, Geng Kai says, “compared to the extreme diversity of hip-hop music, street dance has been more ‘focused,’ if you will. In my opinion, Sinostage isn’t just an instruction company; we have high hopes for its reputation as a brand that is associated with hip-hop culture.”
“Street dance is largely undergoing a revolution. Compared to Old School, the newly-evolved urban dance kind of lowered the price of entry for the average Joe. Combined with the catchy music and impactful visuals that are usually associated with the genre, it helped street dance gain a lot of popularity and accessibility,” says Zhejiang Culture Development Fund’s Yu Wenchao, “we think that street dance is a very natural offspring of the modern hip-hop and workout cultures–an elevation, so to speak.”
Of course, street dance has only just started to become a recognized industry in China, which means that there are many holding large amounts of capital, observing the growth of the industry. But in this “year of the street dance,” Sinostage successfully grasped the opportunity to ride the wave to become one of the industry-leading companies in China.
Translated by Kane Ge.
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