We talked to Ivan Manev of Worddio about learning new languages, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ivan Manev: For now, we are doing well – thanks for asking. Just trying to protect ourselves and empathize. We all work and learn from home, so it’s crowded but fun.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Worddio.
Ivan Manev: I have more than 20 years in senior positions in sales, operations, and product management. Several years ago, I had to learn English – fast – and I faced the real pain of people learning languages after the age of 25. I had a teacher to help me learn the structure of the language, but as a working professional with small children, it was very difficult to find the time to learn new words.
Because my job required a great deal of travel – in those years, I averaged 10,000 km/month behind the wheel – I looked for something to help me enrich my vocabulary, leveraging the only ‘free’ time I had: while driving. When I couldn’t find anything suitable, I created Worddio – the first passive application for learning words without touching the phone. We now support 34 languages with more than 270,000 words.
How does Worddio innovate?
Ivan Manev: Vocabulary is the most basic part of communication – and also the richest. Learning words, especially with another human voice’s sound, can be so rewarding and really helps people boost their confidence in all areas of life. Recognizing this, Worddio focuses only on vocabulary and only on audio.
We know that everyone learns differently, so we take into account many characteristics to create the most effective experience for them to see results fast. Worddio uses a lot of data science to go very deep into our user’s behaviour – where, when, and how they get stuck on things, what stops them from progressing. We’re also working with teachers at a local level to give us a more granular perspective on some of the barriers they face with language learners, and (before the pandemic) we began testing offline community events where Worddio users could get together and practice in a social setting. Hopefully, we can pick this back up again soon.
We started some very successful partnerships with companies like Viber, where we use an intelligent chatbot to test language skills. In less than 3 months, we have over 1M subscribers in the bot. This also helps us start the ‘learning loop’ even before a user begins the paid subscription cycle.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ivan Manev: During the spring quarantine, installs and use of the app increased by 300%. There was a huge spotlight on the EdTech sector, and language learning in particular, so there is a definite silver lining for us. It also confirmed our commitment to a B2C model, which we had heard some doubts about before.
During the pandemic, the whole space shifted from enterprise-driven to consumer-driven models, as parents (especially) were desperate for help with online schooling. We are really proud to be making a tool that relieves some of the stress for them. I also think the physical isolation and lack of travel opportunities gave people a huge appetite to learn languages – an alternative way to connect or experience other cultures.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ivan Manev: Thankfully, we didn’t have to make any staff changes. Our team is quite small – 10 employees – and we all have a share in the company. Prior to 2020, Worddio was still a side project, but in January, I decided to quit my job and go all-in on the Worddio project. Our goals were to secure funding within a few months and to scale the project to the international market. We started a partnership with Anthology Ventures (a boutique venture studio) to work on strategy.
When COVID hit, we decided to pull back on our investment plans and concentrated instead on building up the product and targeting our core user base. We had some really lean months, but we got our first institutional funding from Innovation Capital at the end of July.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Ivan Manev: I try not to spend any time on stress and anxiety. We’re all totally dedicated to our product and our users, trying to build the best we can. Everyone has stressful moments – it’s only natural – but I’ve found that if I stay in that place too long, then the things I am most worried about will probably happen.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ivan Manev: People say the language-learning space is crowded – and that’s true – there are a lot of similar apps on the market. Most of them follow the same approach that the big names (Duolingo and Babbel, for instance) have used for years.
Worddio’s passive learning method doesn’t try to be all things for all people; we focus on helping our users enrich their vocabulary in a super fast and friendly way. Our product helps people who don’t have the time to devote to writing, reading and speaking. For someone who needs results fast – says, a salesperson or a customer-service specialist – Worddio is ideal.
We also know (because our teacher-partners have told us) that audio flashcards can be a great help for people with learning disabilities, or so-called ‘anxious learners,’ who may be intimidated by the broad-spectrum approach that the other apps offer. And there are very few tools for those people.
As a mobile app, Worddio is easily scalable across the globe. Our first 40 thousand installations came from over 170 different countries!
Your final thoughts?
Ivan Manev: There’s been an amazing increase in how many people are learning new languages now – partly to compensate for the physical isolation and lack of direct experience of other cultures. Human communication is more important than ever – and we’re happy to help make that easier across the world. To all your friends, followers, and readers – keep safe, and stay hopeful.
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