Lingoda, an on-demand online language school with live instructors and Zoom classrooms, raises $ 68 million – TechCrunch

A Berlin-based startup that has built and developed a successful online language learning platform based on live teachers and virtual classrooms is today announcing funding to continue growing its business.

Lingoda, which connects students who want to learn a language – currently English, Spanish, French or German – with native-speaker teachers who run thousands of 24-hour live immersion classes and 7 days a week in different language levels, raised $ 68 million (€ 57 million). CEO Michael Shangkuan said the funding will be used both to continue improving its technology platform – with more tools for teachers and additional asynchronous hardware – and to expand its footprint in more distant markets such as United States.

The company currently has some 70,000 students and 1,400 teachers, and operates more than 450,000 classes each year covering approximately 2,000 lessons. Shangkuan said its turnover rate was 10 times higher than a year ago, and its customer base grew 200% with students in 200 countries.

“We want the whole world to learn languages,” Shangkuan said. “This is our vision.”

Funding is led by Summit Partners, with participation from existing investor Conny Boersch, founder of Mountain Partners. The rating is not being disclosed.

Founded in 2013 by two brothers – Fabian and Felix Wunderlich (now CFO and head of sales respectively) – Lingoda had only raised around $ 15 million previously, with one brand of the company being quite capital efficient.

“We only run profitable courses,” Shangkuan (who is from the United States, New Jersey in particular) said in an interview. That being said, he added, “We can’t answer if we’re profitable, but we’re not hugely. UNprofitable. ”The global language learning market is around $ 50 billion, so this is a great opportunity despite the competition.

Much of the innovation in edtech in recent years has focused on automated tools to help people learn better in virtual environments: technology designed for scalability, better analytics, or acquisition of knowledge. knowledge in mind.

So it’s interesting to meet edtech startups that can use some of these same tools – the whole of Lingoda is based on Zoom, which he uses to run all of his classes online, and he wants to bring more analysis and analysis. ‘other technologies in the to improve learning between lessons, to help teachers get a better idea of ​​student engagement and progress during class – but they basically also retain one of the more traditional aspects of learning: humans teach other humans.

This is quite on purpose, Shangkuan said. At first, the idea was to disrupt face-to-face language schools, but if the startup had ever considered how and if it would move to more automated courses and exclude teachers from the equation, it decided not to. was not worth it.

Shangkuan – himself a language enthusiast who moved to Germany specifically to immerse himself in a new country and language, from which he then sought employment – noted that his students’ comments showed a strong inclination. and preference for human teachers, with 97% saying that learning languages ​​in the Lingoda format has been more effective for them than the wave of language apps (which include Duolingo, Memrise, Busuu, Babbel, Rosetta and many more ).

“For me, as an entrepreneur trying to deliver a great product, that’s the barometer, and that’s why we are focused on achieving our original vision,” he said, “a vision in which takes quality teachers and real experiences and being able to repeat that online. Indeed, it is not the only tech startup that has identified this model: VIPKid outside of China and a number of others have also based learning around live teachers.

There are a number of reasons why human education may be more suited to language acquisition – starting with the fact that language is living knowledge and therefore learning to speak it requires a level of commitment. quite fundamental on the part of the learner.

Add to that the fact that the language is hardly ever spoken in life the same way it is in textbooks (or apps), so hearing a range of people speaking the language, like you do with the format. Lingoda, which isn’t focused on matching a student to a single instructor (there’s no Peloton-style tracking around instructors here) works great.

As far as teachers go, it’s an interesting format that taps into the concept of the gig economy a bit, although it’s not the same as being employed as a delivery driver or cleaner.

Lingoda notes that teachers set their own schedules and call classes themselves, rather than being ordered to do so. Students during this time pay the lessons on a sliding scale based on various factors, such as whether you opt for group or private lessons, how often you use the service and what language you learn, with prices per course typically varying between 6.75 $ and $ 14.30 depending on what you choose.

Students can request an education level if they wish: there is always a wide choice, but with dozens of levels between basic A1 and advanced C1 skills, if you can’t find what you want and can’t Do not order it, it can take between a day and a week for this to happen, usually with one to five students per class. But in all cases, a teacher must define the class himself. This format causes it to fall into more standardized language learning work models.

“We closely mirror the business model of traditional (brick and mortar) language schools, where teachers work part-time in accordance with local laws and have the flexibility to schedule their own lessons,” a spokesperson said. “The main difference is that our model offers in-person classes online, but we still follow the same local guidelines. “

After students complete a course, Lingoda provides them with certification. In English, you can take a recognized course Cambridge Assessment to check your skills.

Lingoda’s growth comes at an interesting time in the world of online education, which has been one of the great behemoths of the past year. Schools closing in-person learning, people spending more time at home, and the need for many of us to feel like we’re doing something at a time when so many restrictions have pushed people to spend time learning online have all led electronic technology companies. to develop, and the technology that is used in order to continue to evolve.

To be clear, Lingoda has been around for years and was not born out of pandemic conditions: many of the learners she has attracted are those who would otherwise have attended an in-person language course run by one of the many schools over. little ones you might encounter in a typical city (London has hundreds of them), learning because they are planning to move or study abroad, or because people have just arrived in a country and need help. ‘learn the language to get by, or they have to learn it for work.

But what’s been interesting over the past year is how the services created for one type of environment have been integrated into our ‘new normal’. The classes Lingoda offers become the promise of a time when we can once again visit more places and hopefully order coffees, chat strollers, and chat a little easier with strangers here and there.

“The language learning market is increasingly turning to online offerings that provide consumers with a more convenient, flexible and cost-effective way to improve their foreign language skills,” said Matthias Allgaier, MD at Summit Partners, in a press release. “We believe Lingoda has developed one of the world’s most comprehensive and effective online language learning solutions and is positioned to benefit from the continuing and accelerating trend of digitization in education. We are delighted to partner with the entire Lingoda team and are delighted with the future of this company. Allgaier joins Lingoda’s board of directors with this round.

Updated with an additional investor and a slight change in funding amount due to conversion rates.

Sylvester L. Goldfarb

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