I’ve been using Duolingo lately in an attempt to learn Japanese. I’ve really been enjoying it – although I do admit to supporting my studies through the app with YouTube videos – and I decided to explore it for this week’s Founder’s Parade.
The Learning Technology Venture – Duolingo
Duolingo is a not-for-profit (freemium) science-driven language-learning platform that can be accessed as a website and as an app. Their mandate is to give everyone a chance to receive “Free language education – no hidden fees, no premium content, just free“, “giving everyone access to a private tutor experience through technology”.
As of 2 years ago, Duolingo had USD$83 million, including investments from Google. It supports tens of millions of users each day. Operational costs were ~USD$42000/day at the time, and they have only grown since. These costs are what led Duolingo to introduce ads in between language lessons.
The Founder/Leader – Luis von Ahn
Luis von Ahn is the Co-Founder and CEO of Duolingo (founded in 2009) and serves as an excellent example of a successful entrepreneur.
Luis was born and raised in Guatemala. He came to the US in 1996, receiving a B.S. in Math from Duke University in 2000 and a PhD from Carnegie Mellon in 2005, becoming faculty there in 2006 in the School of Computer Science. While there he worked on projects used by millions of people, much of which served as inspiration for what we now call “crowdsourcing“; leveraging crowds (like the average internet user) to do work for the good of everyone. He is also the co-inventor of CAPTCHAs.
Luis’ poor upbringing allowed him to see that high-quality education opportunities are often limited to those with money. He dedicated himself to transforming education and became laser-focused on a single area: language learning. His efforts with Duolingo serve as an example of an entrepreneur creating disruptive change and have resulted in a continual generation of a phenomenal amount of social value.
Luis seems to have mitigated risks in his company by hiring and working with a variety of smart, talented people, delegating them to head a variety of branches within his business such as:
- Business Development
- Company Culture
- Content & Studios
- Marketing and International Development
Von Ahn clearly has the background, skills and motivation found in successful entrepreneurs. He has been shown to be an effective leader; he has grown with his company and remained as its head ever since it was founded. He’s an excellent communicator, as evidenced by his interviews, publications, written articles and TED talks. These also demonstrate his strong networking skills, while his elaborate updates on the Duolingo community forums show that he is willing to listen to, interact with, and grow the Duolingo community.
The team behind Duolingo seems to be diverse and extremely competent. Their platform is intuitive and easy-to-use, and the company and the people within it seem to genuinely care about generating social value. Running a not-for-profit venture is a risky venture, and introducing ads to their platform did not go over well with all of its customers. However, by keeping an eye of the data generated by their platform, watching user trends closely, and listening/responding to user feedback, Luis and Duolingo have set a strong foundation upon which I expect this business will continue to grow, evolve, and thrive. And as an added bonus – the app is honestly quite fun to use!
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Duolingo. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.duolingo.com/info
Duolingo – Current Team | Crunchbase. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/duolingo/current_employees/current_employees_image_list#section-current-team
Forum | Duolingo. (2018). Retrieved from https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/15695026/State-of-Monetization-at-Duolingo
I’m Luis von Ahn, CEO of Duolingo, and This Is How I Work (2018). Retrieved from https://lifehacker.com/im-luis-von-ahn-ceo-of-duolingo-and-this-is-how-i-wor-1791884794
Luis von Ahn. (2018). Retrieved from http://duolingo.wikia.com/wiki/Luis_von_Ahn