Luis von Ahn
Co-founder and CEO of Duolingo
Duolingo is a free language learning app which uses the principles of gamification to motivate learners. Since its foundation in 2011 by Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker, Duolingo has known continued success gathering over 50 million users. Since its inception as a crowdsourcing technology, Duolingo has successfully branched into over 100,000 classrooms with “Duolingo for schools” and is currently running “Duoling Test center” which provides language accreditation at the cost of 20$ USD. The motto “Learn a Language for Free. Forever”, details what is being offered to the users of this service and underlines the reasons this company is giving its competitors grief, as it is now at the top of the language learning programs on the market. Duolingo has received many awards including “iPhone App of the year” (2013), “Google’s best of the best” (2013 and 2014) and TechCrunch’s “Best Education Startup” (2014). Luis von Ahn has wisely chosen a team of engineers, designers, curriculum specialists, marketing and business managers that supports Duolingo, that shares in his vision and that brings crucial expertise to the developing business. The Duolingo team is complemented by expert advice from Severin Hacker, co-founder and Chief Technical Officier, as well as from advisors Bradford Burnham and, recent advisor, William Gordon. Gordon, founder of Audible.com, former chief creator officer of Electronic and current board member of Amazon, Ngmoco and Zynga, is an excellent addition to Duolingo and will bring gaming expertise to the table.
Luis von Ahn (age 36), professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has created other highly successful ventures before Duolingo. His previous innovations: The ESP Game (2005) and reCaptcha (2007) were sold to Google for undisclosed amounts. Luis von Ahn’s innovation and success has been acknowledged through many honors, grants and billboard charts including the MacArthur Fellowship grant (2006-2011), MIT’s TR35 (2007) and the CAREER Award (2011-2015) from the National Science Foundation. His desire to create a free language-learning program originates from his own experience learning English in his native country of Guatemala. He is currently continuing to research the depth of human computation. As innovator and entrepreneur, Luis von Ahn applies technology in a new manner and continually strives to create and maintain a high quality and competitive service.
Luis von Ahn is an innovator at heart as he constantly creates change: he is a role model for entrepreneurs. Throughout his multiple ventures, he manages to combine seemingly contrary needs from the industry and from the public together in a single service. I believe that it is this combination that makes his ideas so innovative and ensures the viability of his ventures. He has successfully navigated competitive markets (such as language learning), in spite of imposing upon his company what may seem as highly limiting constraints (such as offering add-free education at no cost to the user). I find this entrepreneur truly inspiring as an MET student because Luis von Ahn is changing not only how we look at crowdsourcing and human computation, but also how we look at education. The venture idea does not have to be overly-complicated or need to reinvent the wheel in order to be successful.