At the heart of Duolingo is the mission to scale free education and increase income potential through language learning. However, the same mission that helped grow the company with over 500 million registered learners into a $ 2.4 billion company has created tensions that continue to rule the company.
How do you survive as a startup if you don’t want to incriminate users? How do you design a startup that isn’t too hard to lose, but not too easy to jeopardize education? How can you balance monetization goals while keeping education as a product free?
On my first EC-1, I spent months with Duolingo executives, investors and of course competitors answering some of these questions.
One of my favorite details in the story that was left on the cutting room floor was Duolingo’s co-founder and CEO Luis von Ahn, who compared his company to the elliptical. I urged him on the effectiveness of Duolingo and the longstanding criticism that it still fails to teach a user how to speak a language fluently.
“Now there is a difference whether you know you are doing ellipticals or yoga or running, but by far the most important thing is that you do something [other than] I just walk around, ”he said.
What von Ahn thinks is that Duolingo’s greatest value proposition is that it helps people become motivated to learn a language, even if it’s only five minutes – or one elliptical workout – a day. He believes motivation is more difficult than learning itself. Do you agree?
If you enjoyed my series, be sure to check out other EC-1’s and subscribe to ExtraCrunch to support me, this newsletter, and the rest of the team. I would also love if you followed me on Twitter @nmasc_.
For the remainder of this newsletter, we’ll talk about Tesla, IPO morale, and vertical telehealth.
There’s always a Tesla angle
When I worked in Boston, the newsroom said, “There’s always a Boston corner.” In a remote, technology-dominated world, I’ll optimize it: there is always a Tesla angle. As we all prepare for Elon Musk to grace the SNL stage, there is one story you might want to read.
Here’s what you should know: Tesla has tapped into a small Canadian startup to build cleaner, cheaper batteries. The price tag will shock you, but the story tells a bigger story about patented technology and the oversized impact a tiny startup is having on Tesla’s journey to batteries.
We are literally moving on:
The clash of the CFOs
While equity usually keeps it easy and tricky, this week we got to a deeper topic: the moral of going public. Startups are staying private longer than ever, but one CFO argues that getting out of the nest and providing returns to the public is a moral obligation. We had this CFO on the show along with another CFO at a company that is pursuing a SPAC. It was the most interesting CFO encounter I’ve been involved in.
Here’s what you should know: The growth of venture capital as an asset class plays a role in this whole mess and has kept the nest warm for many startups. We’ll talk about whether the tide is turned or we say goodbye to a world where a company like Salesforce would debut the price at $ 11 a share.
While your focus is on Twitter’s tip jar, here are some more money news that you may have missed in the meantime:
Where is telehealth going from here?
When I start looking into digital health, one of the biggest questions I ask and get asked is where telehealth is going from here. Virtual care has seen its usage spike due to the pandemic, but is gradually slowing down as the world re-opens and vaccinations increase. For telemedicine startups, this means creating a pitch that explains why virtual care makes sense for the conditions you serve.
Here’s what you should know: I’ve talked about how to get pandemic-proof in healthcare with Expressable, a virtual speech therapy startup that has just raised millions of venture capital funds. Part of the startups’ product differentiation is an edtech platform that motivates consumers to practice asynchronous language exercises with the help of parents and friends.
And down the rabbit hole we go:
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And that’s that. Thank you for reading and supporting me. I will never get over it.