Luo Zhenyu, founder of Dedao, speaks at the company's New Year's Eve speech on Thursday. [Photo by Zhang Canlong/For China Daily] The pandemic year of 2020 has shown the only certainty these days is the presence of persistent uncertainty, experts said. This realization is forcing some Chinese firms to embrace the new year with discussions on serious topics ranging from the Chinese economy to international relations. Luo Zhenyu, founder of Dedao, a lifelong learning platform, quenched people's thirst for insights, forecasts, estimates and predictions with a four-hour-long New Year's Eve speech in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, which was hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. "The city epitomizes how Chinese people join forces to combat difficulties and has shaped up to be the symbol of the era," Luo said. The New Year's Eve speech has become something of a tradition. Titled "Time's Friend", the annual event was the sixth in a row, and is one of Dedao's iconic offerings to keep users "hooked" to the platform. Luo has pledged to hold the session for two decades. Lecture participants could enroll for any of the conventional online or app-based courses on entrepreneurship, wealth management, psychology and self-enhancement. "Some members of the audience have already bought the 20-year pass in order to attend the planned series of speeches," Luo said. "I simply provide them a tool through which they believe that lifelong learning is value for money." This year, Luo's speech touched upon a wide spectrum of issues and new perspectives like understanding China's social fabric, tackling the pandemic and handling hardship and potential of indigenous R&D of key technologies. He also identified a number of trends such as carbon neutrality and the resurgence of offline business as opportune growth areas that people can leverage in the years to come. These have undoubtedly helped address anxiety of middle-income earners who are typically Dedao's target audience. Luo's approach of citing entrepreneurs and experts on specific issues has lent credibility and authenticity to his speech, said Cao Lei, director of consultancy Internet Economy Institute. "For people looking to hone a particular skill or quality, they long for avenues offering multi-skill courses taught by qualified teachers at reasonable prices," Cao said. "Most important of all, they want the platform to be stable. The annual speech serves to create that 'predictable' image." Dedao started out as an obscure media account, where Luo repackaged complex historical, philosophical or economic topics into a daily 60-second voice message and weekly one-hour video lectures. Soon, they all morphed into a comprehensive knowledge-sharing portal where people pay for a torrent of classes, books and offline events. Platforms such as Dedao have mushroomed on the back of a trend of people paying for online content they deem useful or valuable. Data from iResearch forecast the education industry will expand to 4 trillion yuan ($619.2 billion) in 2023. The lifelong education sector will expand quickly as 5G telecom technology can provide educators with an avenue of new possibilities, upgrading e-learning systems, and brightening prospects for the sector. But concerns linger, with nearly half of respondents to consultancy iiMedia's survey attributing homogeneity of content and lack of practicality as the dual culprits capping both user growth and payment willingness for these platforms. To overcome the tricky situation, Luo has adopted a two-pronged strategy: offering corporate courses to secure massive and stable sources of users and extending options to offline venues by giving regular lectures at high-end shopping malls to enlist new individual customers. For instance, in October, the company launched a program dedicated to companies that offer their employees an opportunity to hone a particular skill or simply broaden their horizons in their spare time. Corporate clients can choose from the library of courses, mix and match, and customize their orders. "Compared with general social media platforms like WeChat and Douyin, traffic growth bottlenecks are plaguing some vertical knowledge-sharing sites, given the fierce competition and explosive growth of the previous years," said Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia. "Attracting top-tier lecturers and influencers to these platforms seems to be a way out to help restore growth and unlock greater potential."