Berlin-based startup Langu is a language learning marketplace that allows students to find teachers from across the world and meet in a virtual classroom to polish their language skills, or even learn new languages.
They say as we get older, learning languages becomes increasingly difficult. Not only is our brain’s capacity reduced but going to classes can be challenging given job and family priorities. Most often, we also do not find the right teachers who are willing to adapt their teaching methodologies to us.
While technology solutions and apps have opened a new market for language learning at home, the individual touch to real teachers is often missing.
Berlin-based startup Langu is trying to bridge the gap between technology and human interaction and make high quality language education accessible to people from all over the world.
Founded by Agnieszka Nowicka and her husband Travis Wentworth, Langu is a marketplace that connects teachers with students from around the world and offers one-on-one language lessons in a virtual classroom. Students interested to learn a language can choose between English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Turkish, Portuguese, Greek, Cantonese, and Mandarin, among others.
Langu aims to reach students who are dissatisfied with private tutors or language schools, and those who prefer learning from home given their busy schedules. While the platform is currently only PC-based, Agnieszka and Travis plan to build a mobile version, and eventually an app.
“The name derives from a cute mutation of the word language,” says Agnieszka. “We wanted to show that language learning is not scary and can be fun,” she adds.
Langu’s differentiation with other online language service providers is that it offers a one-stop-shop solution. It not only helps students find the best teachers, but also allows them to schedule and pay for their classes online and connect with the teachers in a virtual classroom. Students can purchase a single class, or a package of several classes. The teachers on the platform are freelancers and are free to decide how much to charge. Langu keeps a 15 percent commission on the price.
Mandarin and Spanish the most popular languages
Langu’s customer base has grown at the rate of 20-30 percent every month over the last eight months. In April 2018, Langu hosted 800 lessons.
“Surprisingly, Mandarin and Spanish are among the most popular languages to learn. We have also developed a strong following in Poland, particularly among younger business people looking to advance their career,” says Agnieszka.
Agnieszka herself was born and raised in Poland before she moved abroad and completed her Masters degree in Oxford.
“This experience gave me an amazing international exposure and made me understand the great importance of intercultural communication in this world,” she says. While she has been thinking of the idea since 2011, it was only in 2016 that Agnieszka left her well-paying job to start Langu.
“Langu was my long-time dream, but it wasn’t easy to make the decision to take the plunge - I was terrified of losing my well-paid job and also of my colleagues getting ahead of me and me not being able to ever catch up with them if I want to get back on that career track,” says Agnieszka. In 2016 Agnieszka and Travis decided to commit to their dream fulltime. “Travis likes to say he had the idea of founding Langu when he was thinking about finding a Polish teacher before meeting my family and wasn’t quite successful,” Agnieszka says.
One week after resigning from her job, she was offered a pre-seed investment by an angel fund in the UK. Another small investment from Ignite Accelerator, an UK based start-up support and investment network, followed.
“I definitely recommend every first-time startup founder to try to join an incubator or accelerator. It makes the journey more fun and manageable,” Agnieszka says.
Langu is currently looking for additional investments, particularly from investors that have experience both in educational technology and marketplace growth.
Kindness is the number one quality
Agnieszka’s first hire was a Chief Technology Officer to improve the overall usability of the website. For Agnieszka and Travis, a good team is the key to success. “Kindness is the number one quality we are looking for in every potential hire, followed by a can-do-will-do attitude. We believe that skills can be learnt, and experience gained, but it is not possible to change someone’s attitude,” she says.
Another important factor Agnieszka and Travis have integrated in their team policy is flexibility. Currently, the Langu team works remotely from different locations. “We have been and are likely to grow a very international team. We want to accommodate all different preferences and cultures and allow for a great amount of flexibility. For instance, some people work better early morning, others are more productive in the night,” Agnieszka says.
On what she would like to advise entrepreneurs, Agnieszka says, “Whatever you do, it’s key that you enjoy the ride. And if you believe in your dream, don’t ever forget to believe in yourself and be fierce.”