In today’s EdTech Startups Japan Edition we take a look at three startups that are based in Japan, two of which founded by immigrant entrepreneurs from the US.
Translation platform Gengo surpassed 200 million translated words, Eigooo wants to teach English via text chat to shy students and Mana.bo wants to disrupt the $10 billion Japanese cram school industry.
Kuailexue, a Chinese startup that builds a mobile Q&A platform for students around smartphones, raised a $5 million Series A led by Matrix Partners China, with follow-on funding from Crystal Stream reports Tech In Asia.
Bhutan’s e-learning project iSchool, a cooperation of Swedish telecommunication solutions provider Ericsson, Bhutan Telecom, Bhutan’s Ministry of Education and the government of Bhutan, launched with six pilot schools bringing high quality education to some 250 students in remote areas.
Faculty from the so called master school will connect via video lesson to interact and collaborate directly with the students in the pilot schools. The ninth graders will be taught in a variety of science subjects, but also English, Mindfulness and Environmental Studies are on the lesson plan.
Curious, a video platform that enables teachers to upload, share and sell bitesized video lessons raised a $15 million Series B led by GSV Capital with participation from its existing investors, including Redpoint Ventures, Bill Capbell and Jesse Rogers.
This week busuu made the news having achieved 20 million downloads. And while this surely is a nice number we all (should) know that vanity numbers alone don’t say anything about your business. Just ask Livemocha. Luckily busuu has more to offer than the glitzy baits that get you on TechCrunch.
If you look deeper into the press release you should notice something that is far more interesting.
The general shift to mobile learning is further demonstrated by the fact that busuu users now complete 33% more exercises via the app than online.
There has been written a lot about learning sprints and mobile learners but having hard data to prove that people are actually learning and completing tasks on their mobile devices is pretty fascinating.
If you take the time and look at people during their commute in public transport you will notice that over the years the number of people looking down on a smartphone of some sort has risen dramatically. It has become a somewhat personal zone of privacy in an increasingly noisy and hectic environment. And this is what makes it perfect for learning sprints.
You know exactly how much time you’ll have to spend and frankly, there is nothing much you could do otherwise. I mean talking to people? Come on. Hence people either check their email; social media or catch up with the latest news. And while some people add a round of Words with Friends (is this still a thing?) or any other popular mobile game, some actually use this time bubble to learn a language.
It really is a perfect learning environment. Nothing that may distract you and a fixed amount of time to complete a task. When you are doing the same thing at home in front of your computer, a lot can and will happen to interrupt the learning from spouses to children and pets. But don’t write off learning on a computer just yet.
I asked busuu’s co-founder and CEO Bernhard Niesner whether there was a difference in the time people spend learning on mobile devices compared to computers and he told me that the session time on a computer is twice as high than on mobile devices. On the other hand, busuu now has more users that learn with its mobile products.
Learners now can also further personalize their learning experience by setting their own goals. Niesner told me that for now most users choose the beginner levels which might indicate that people find language learning more entertaining when they are not drilled too hard.
This of course leads to the inevitable question of how serious most people are about learning a foreign language and what most learners feel is good enough, but I guess this has always been the case. For the vast majority language learning was a tedious task. Now startups like bussu, babbel.com, MindSnacks and others turned the basics into an enjoyable, game like experience.
More serious learners will always go deeper and probably prefer learning on a computer where it is easier to type, interact with more complex tasks or set up a video call with a language partner. Mobile learning is an essential part of the overall process, it can be an “entry drug” but for now it won’t replace the web based experience.
Now that is indeed something that does not happen everyday. A German startup acquires an US based startup for parts, in this case language learning startup babbel.com from Berlin the user base of San Francisco based PlaySay which is pretty telling as neither the PlaySay team nor the technology will be integrated into babbel.com products. Only PlaySay’s founder Ryan Meinzer, whom I interviewed in October 2011, is going to join babbel.com in the role of an advisor for the US market.
So let’s break this one down. PlaySay started at TechCrunch Disrupt as a Facebook application for learning Spanish, and eventually pivoted its way to a mobile application to learn Spanish. It even ranked #1 in the education category of the iTunes Store in ten different countries including the US at one point.
But babbel.com does not seem to be interested in the technology or applications but merely in the PlaySay users who now have 45 days to switch over to using babbel.com instead.
babbel.com is part of a group of three language learning startups which all emerged at about the same time and have battled to become the next Rosetta Stone. Besides babbel.com the others are Livemocha out of Seattle and busuu who just relocated their HQ from Madrid to London after raising a Series A round.
Similar to busuu, babbel.com did not take on tons of funding at this point which probably helped the team a lot to figure out the business model and how to sell best. A strong factor in the growth of both busuu and babbel.com have been the respective mobile applications. In fact, babbel.com’s first acquisition was the mobile app developing startup that had built the first babbel.com applications.
The only real problem babbel.com seems to have had is growing its footprint and finding success in new territories. Both Livemocha and busuu succeeded early on to grab market share in key markets like the US and South America.
Taking all this into consideration I suppose that babbel.com got PlaySay for a pretty reasonable price as the press release states
Deal fueled from operative cash flow.
PlaySay have only raised $820k since 2008 which means that even if babbel.com paid a bit more, like in the range of $1.5m to $2m it was still kind of cheap. It also shows that PlaySay did not manage to get enough traction to make it worthwhile for the founder and his team to keep on working on the product or to raise another round of funding. I think the following sentence from the press release why PlaySay sold to babbel.com is pretty telling.
“It’s fun, social and mobile, just like PlaySay…only better!”
I don’t know how many users PlaySay actually has in its database but if we assume that 1 million people have downloaded the application or signed up for the Facebook application at one point, babbel.com may have paid about $2 per user. I am also not sure what the cost per acquisition for a language learner is these days but I guess it’s much higher, maybe in the $10 range.
Of course, babbel.com can’t be sure that all of the PlaySay users will happily switch to the new service and then also pay for it but in the end it might be enough to get the babbel.com Spanish app ranking in the US iTunes Store which will eventually lead to better exposure and new users.
Language Learning community busuu surpasses 10 million app downloads, opens office in London
busuu, an online language learning community and mobile app maker announced today that their apps have been downloaded more than 10 million times with currently 20,000 downloads per day. And if you take a look at the Twitter stream of the company and its co-founder Bernhard Niesner it seems as if busuu is growing its office staff in London. I think I see a Series A funding round around the corner.
BenchPrep raises $6 million
BenchPrep, a startup that builds an interactive and cross platform learning hub raised $6 million from New Enterprise Associates with participation from Revolution Ventures. This round of funding brings its total to $8.2 million.
BenchPrep partners with more than 20 publishers, including McGraw Hill, Princeton Review, Wiley, Cengage Learning and O’Reilly, licenses their material and mixes and matches the best content for each particular discipline.
Teachers, leave them Kids alone – in Delaware
The senate in Delaware is planning to ban schools from monitoring the social media accounts of their students. Some colleges and universities in the state have required students to download social media monitoring software on their personal electronic devices or accounts as a condition of their scholarships or participation in athletics. As a final step the bill just needs the signature of the governor to become a law.
busuu.com apps reach 10 million downloads! [busuu]
BenchPrep Grabs $6M From NEA, Revolution For Cross-Platform, Interactive Courses [TechCrunch]
Delaware Schools to Be Barred from Students’ Social Media Lives [WSJ]