Zhang was one of those students, a migrant from Beijing who invested in the website along with a successful businessman from China.
Fast forward to today, and the SkyKiwi forum has expanded. No longer only monetised through advertisers, it's diversified its operations into event and function management and turned its attention to overseas markets.
Clients are in China, Australia, Singapore and Canada, and all want to connect with SkyKiwi’s userbase.
The team is now around 70 people, and includes journalists producing original content alongside that translated from mainstream media.
It’s also spread across the country with offices in Wellington, Southland and Christchurch.
Why speak New Zealand
Since SkyKiwi’s early days as a forum, its founding audience has grown up, graduated university, taken up jobs, bought houses and started families. Their lives are now fully immersed in New Zealand.
So why is it they need a Chinese website to visit to read news and connect with other Chinese living in New Zealand.
Zhang explains SkyKiwi’s audience isn’t exclusive, and sees the website as complementary to New Zealand’s mainstream media.
She says after a day speaking English, they come home and want something easy to take in. It’s also used by families wanting their children to grow up speaking both languages. In 2013, census data showed 78.8 percent of Chinese spoke English.
On top of their bilingual ability, Chinese who speak Chinese at home consume a lot of digital media and SkyKiwi can satisfy this.
Not surprisingly, Chinese have the greatest access to the internet when compared to the Asian ethnic group and the New Zealand population.
According to Stats NZ, in 2013, 90.7 percent of Chinese had access to the Internet, compared to 90.2 percent of Asians and 82 percent of the New Zealand population.
Beyond New Zealand skies
Beyond those living under the New Zealand sky, SkyKiwi also services Chinese living in China, so much so, 20 percent of its daily active users are based there.
While the digital nature of the platform makes it easy for SkyKiwi to reach Chinese in all countries, in China it’s working with the country’s major domestic airlines to inject video into their inflight entertainment as well as domestic bus companies that also have passenger screens.
Through this, Zhang explains it’s connecting Chinese people with New Zealand and New Zealand products.
“If I’m thinking of going to New Zealand for travel or whatever reason, where am I going to go? SkyKiwi.”