Blended Learning, Feature, Gamification, International, Interview, K-12, Language Learning, Required, Startups, Technology, top, Universities & Colleges - Written by on Monday, July 16, 2012 6:00 - 1 Comment

Interview: Language Learning Startup Voxy Focusing On Growth In Brazil, Latin America

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight

At WiredAcademic, we view language learning startups as a hot area for growth potential in the education space. We’re launching a series of interviews and stories on top language-learning entrepreneurs and startups. Here’s the first installment that focuses on Voxy, a New York City-based startup that uses innovative methods to teach English to native Spanish and Portuguese speakers. WiredAcademic interviewed CEO Paul Gollash and marketing manager Sonny Byrd by email.

Q - What is Voxy’s primary innovation in the language learning space?

A - Voxy is mobile first, and we personalize a learner’s curriculum to their interests and goals. Being a mobile-forward language company allows us to reach more people and makes language learning more accessible, while offering a personalized and contextual curriculum drives learner motivation and engagement. A big problem with autonomous learning platforms so far is that the content is boring and non-personal, so learners don’t have the time or motivation to power through it. Voxy is providing a solution to the need for accessibility, personalization and motivation in language education.

Q - What kind of growth in users have you experienced since you launched?

A - We have acquired 1.5 million users since our launch in September 2010 and we are currently seeing 10% month over month growth. Within the past year we launched in Brazil and have since gained incredible traction there. It’s now our biggest market.

Q - What’s your view of the activity in language learning innovation and market growth right now?

It’s an incredibly big space. Globally consumers spend $80+ billion on self-study language learning. Language learning is trending toward gamification and mobile study. Another trend is around social language learning— some companies are trying to connect language learners through online groups. Voxy uses gaming mechanics and we are exploring features that incorporate social elements.

Q - Another language learning startup CEO recently described Rosetta Stone to me as the “800-pound gorilla” in the room. Do you agree?

A - The consumer language education market is too big ($80+ billion) for any one player to weigh 800 lbs. at this point.

Q - But I also hear that people think Rosetta Stone’s market share is sliding and there is room for more players. Do you agree with that as well?

A - Language learning is trending toward mobile and web-based technology and away from books and CDs. Rosetta Stone, just like any other player in the space, has to deal with that reality.

Q - What do you think the language learning market will look like in 5 or 10 years in the US? And Globally?

A - Globally, the options for self-study language learning are still quite limited. Expensive tutors, static content (books / CDs) or classrooms are largely the only options - and these options don’t meet the needs of huge portions of the consumer market - namely, busy adults. In the next 5-10 years, language education will continue to become more personalized, lower cost and mobile technology-mediated. There will be less of a classroom monopoly in the language learning space.

Q - Voxy literature notes that gaming mechanics increase engagement and help to chip away at the core problem of language learning, which is abandonment. Explain that concept more to me? What is the fear of abandonment in languages? And how does gaming mechanics help?

A - Abandonment is not necessarily the fault of a learner - it’s more often the failure of an education provider to personalize the curriculum to the needs of the learner. For a learner to stay motivated, they need contextual and task-based content that is relevant to their interests and goals. Gaming mechanics and personalized language education drastically improve a learner’s interest and motivation.

Q - You are in the classroom at Miami Dade community college, right? How many others? Will you be signing up more schools and classrooms?

A - Miami Dade College was a pilot study where we were evaluating time-on-task with two groups of English-learners: one group using Voxy and one control group. The group using Voxy spent just over double the time-on-task than the control group.

Right now we are in advanced discussions with dozens of other schools and institutions in Brazil, Columbia, the United States, and Spain about the efficacy of studies and pilot programs in curricula.

Q - What % of colleges and universities allow credit for some kind of online learning programs or games? Will that change in the future?

A - I’m not sure of the percentage of universities that allow credit for online learning programs, but we will continue to see it increase. Companies like 2tor are revolutionizing the institutional online learning experience.

At the K-12 level, what kind of evolution will we see of language learning tools in classrooms and schools? Will it be as fast or slower than other subjects (Math, Science) being blended in K-12?

The rise of the LMS (Learning Management System) on mobile devices is going to continue. The presence of mobile technology will become ubiquitous, and learning management systems will continue improving the student-teacher feedback loop. Innovation here may be slower than in private markets like consumer language education, but it will happen.

Q - What’s your funding situation?

A - Voxy is backed by accomplished and reputable venture and angel investors, especially in the education space. We’ve raised $8 million in funding to date from Weld North, New York City Investment Fund (NYCIF), Seavest Inc., Contour Venture Partners, ff Venture Capital and several prominent private investors.

Q - What is the next step?

A - Currently we are staying laser focused on the ESL market and continuing to develop our mobile/web and customized curriculum technology. We will expand globally when it makes sense for our model. We are particularly interested in Asia.

Q - For now, you are focused on Spanish to English, right? Why? What are the next languages you will add and when will you add them?

A - We are currently focused on teaching English to Spanish and Portuguese speakers because it’s a big market, both in the US and Latin America. As our product continues to gain traction and we prove out our model, we will expand globally.

As a startup, the blessing and the curse is that there are a million things that we could be doing right now. One of the challenges is staying focused on your core mission. Right now our mission is to crush it in the Spanish and Portuguese ESL market. We have more to accomplish here before we expand to more languages.

Q - What kind of culture do you seek to create at your company? Do you use any interesting management practices?

Voxy has a young and in some ways less formal culture, but we are anything but casual. Everyone here is working toward our highest level vision no matter the project or task. We have a lot of fun together and we work very hard to maintain a culture of high performance while having a great time.


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WiredAcademic Interview with Voxy’s Founder/CEO, Paul Gollash | Voxy Blog
Jul 18, 2012 11:24

[...] growth in Latin America and Brazil, and where Voxy might be headed next! Check out the full article here. Have some thoughts of your own? Feel free to post comments here or join the conversation on [...]

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