We recentely announced a new round of funding: Reed Elsevier Ventures and Nokia Growth Partners join the company as new investors. The existing Investors IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft and Kizoo Technology Capital also took part in this Series B. This is of course good news: new liquidity for the company and new opportunities to explore. We will use the new funds to expand internationally and bring easy language learning to as many countries as we can. We will also increase ouravailability on different mobile andonline platforms to make Babbel accessible wherever you are and on any device that can connect to the internet. And of course the very product itself will improve. We feel that this is only the beginning: Babbel is already a pretty good learning tool, but there are so many ideas how to make it even more engaging, sticky and fun that we can’t wait to try them all.
Both new investors belong to large corporates that operate in areas adjacent to ours. Does this mean that Babbel is now exclusively tied to Reed Elsevier and Nokia and will not work with other major players like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Holtzbrinck on the one hand and Samsung, Apple, Sony on the other hand (to name only a few)?
Such a limitation is not in the interest of Babbel (and as a consequence its investors/stakeholders). Of course, we will make use of the links into Reed Elsevier and into Nokia andcooperated in any area where it makes sense. And there are a number of ways where this can substantially help us. But if Samsung, Sony or HTC want to pre-install Babbel on all of their Android devices or Apple wants to cooperate in some education initiative, we will definitely be there to talk.
So it seems that we got the best of all worlds and this is both exciting and a little scary. Of course, we have great respect of what lies ahead us, because it won’t be an easy ride. But it is great to work for Babbel and be part of this story. I am personally proud to be a member of this team and together with the others I’m ready for any challenge.
Babbel CEO and co-founder Markus Witte is giving some insights into the motivations in acquiring PlaySay. Founded by Ryan Meinzer in 2008 PlaySay is ‘a language learning experience’, offering a unique, visionary and fun way to learn Spanish and English. The 2011 TechCrunch Disrupt finalist PlaySay Inc., which has its headquarters in San Francisco, has seen its app ranked #1 in the education category of the iTunes store in ten countries, including the USA.
We already saw several great news in the first few months of 2013: Babbel apps for new platforms, coming along with important awards and even a presentation of our Polish vocabulary trainer to German chancellor Angela Merkel and Poland’s prime minister Donald Tusk.
Now we’re taking a step to increase our presence in the United States by acquiring the the language learning firm PlaySay. A very unusual step — most San Francisco start-ups are not bought by a German start-up.
In our case, we feel that combining PlaySay and Babbel makes a lot of sense. We’ve watched the success of PlaySay since we saw their pitch at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco back in 2011. Since then, PlaySay was mentioned by some major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and others and had its app as a #1 in the education category of the US App store and 10 other countries.
The current PlaySay app will be continued for the time being. All users are invited to join Babbel as well to combine both learning experiences. The product teams are in discussions of providing an integrated product.
The acquisition of PlaySay is opening a number of opportunities in the US market, especially since we have Ryan Meinzer, the PlaySay CEO, by our side as an advisor and supporter. Babbel’s CTO Thomas Holl and I will be in San Francisco with Ryan in early April to lay the foundations of our presence in California.
Having developed numerous courses for the Polish language, we know that it isn’t an easy language to learn. Angela Merkel appeared to concur as she tried out the Polish Babbel App, with the word “cześć” (hello) proving a particular stumbling block for her.
Despite the odd tongue twister, Merkel and her language exchange partner, the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, appeared to enjoy their Babbel experience, as you can see in the accompanying picture. Every year a different country partners the CeBIT, and this year it was Poland’s turn. For this reason we bestowed our Polish app the honour of being used by such luminaries.
The latest technological trends are presented once a year at the largest IT fair in the world. The prize ceremony for the ‘Innovation 4 Society Award’, in which the Microsoft initiative Chancenrepublik Deutschland (Opportunity Republic Germany) recognises outstanding, socially beneficial work from both young and established IT companies. took place shortly after the opening of the CeBIT.
And the winner in the category ‘Established Company’ is… Babbel.com, with its Windows 8 App sitting pretty as the most successful educational app in the Windows Store! The jury substantiated their choice by drawing attention to the ‘exemplary coupling of intelligent learning content and digital technology’, as well as the same ‘innovative learning methods’ which had previously convinced the jury of Digita. The Babbel delegation celebrated as Markus, one of the Babbel founders, presented the Babbel App to Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Tusk. Frau Merkel appeared to be quite intrigued by the App as she brushed up on her knowledge of Polish in front of the audience.
Gregory, one of our dearest colleagues and favourite Frenchmen, is from Annecy, a picturesque town in the French Alps. He is the face of French support. When he isn’t supporting, he can be found playing with mobile devices and spreading good vibes.
What are you doing at Babbel?
I started in May 2011 as a freelancer in support, and since March 2012 I have been working here full-time. I get to do more and more technical support, including testing and experimenting with new products, like new apps for iPhone, iPad, Android devices and also Windows 8 Tablets. Last but not least, I also translate into French, and do some recordings for YouTube videos.
Which languages do you use on a daily basis?
At Babbel I mainly use English and German since those are our working languages. Sometimes also French. And German I’m trying to push more and more. I feel most comfortable, of course, in my mother tongue. It’s just comforting to be able to say what you mean. La langue suit la pensée – only then the language follows your thoughts.
Can you tell us a little about your experience of learning German in Berlin?
When I first got here I could only speak a few words of German, could barely understand what was being said, and had problems explaining myself. Sure enough, I mostly got to know other French people, and in my work life as well. But the bosses were German and Swiss, and they forced – or let’s say encouraged – us to speak German. And ever since I’ve been with Babbel my German has improved considerably.
In the first few months I tried out language tandems a lot, which means I met German people who wanted to learn French. From what I experienced the results weren’t very successful, however, since many people had problems imagining how a foreign person learns German. Vice versa, a Frenchman is likely to have a hard time explaining exceptions in French grammar.
What advice can you give to language learners?
Surround yourself with people. I find it very helpful if others correct me. Also, I like watching German TV or films in German.
Is there a first German word or expression that particularly stuck to your mind?
It’s sort of strange, but yes. I was 14, 15 years old, and we read a German text at school. One sentence went like “Ich mache Yoga” (I do yoga), and the whole class was on the floor laughing. Nothing special about this sentence, but the pronunciation just cracked us up!
The Babbel team proudly announces to have been rewarded with the “digita 2013” in the category “private learning age 16+”. Katja and Regine received this important trophy on occasion of the education and media fair didacta in Cologne on Wednesday. The jury praised the “innovate and motivating” approach of the Babbel learning system which, in turn, motivates us to carry on and get better and better. Read the full statement here (in German, obviously) .
We admit that it feels great to get an award, and we did face some serious competition out there. But we are almost equally thrilled by this lovely video that was made by didacta, and that features two charming, bright young gentlemen who probably succeed better in explaining (again, in German) what Babbel is than most other people who have tried, including ourselves.
It’s fascinating, all the things you can do with language learning. In this respect 2012 was a very creative and fruitful year for us, culminating in a nomination for Best German Start Up at the international The Europas Awards to be held in Berlin. Although the entire Babbel team is forward thinking as a matter of principle, staring the future fearlessly in the face, we want to take a moment now to glance back across an eventful year, in which you the Babbel user took a leading role.
Platform and system:
By far the biggest change can be seen in the fact that our editorial team have brought out more than 200 new courses in just 12 months with their unique passion and dedication. In total there are now 6,300 lessons available to you the Babbel user. When you think that on 15 January 2008 we came out with a single vocab trainer for 5 languages, you can see there has been some progress! This year saw the premiere of many new course formats, among others: Lifestyle courses, Dictation courses, Slang, and even a fun Dialect course for German (in which some of the Babbel employees star as guest speakers).
Which course was your favourite so far?
Our newest learning languages, Turkish and Dutch, have been reinforced with their own Beginner’s Courses – a popular request from our users – and a beginner’s course for Polish is in development. We are expecting to be able to release two new learning languages in February: Danish and Norwegian.
Visually Babbel has also changed quite dramatically and the renovations are still underway! The community pages now subscribe to modern design standards and have benefited from a considerably better layout. Even the trainer will soon get a makeover. But fear not, we will stay true to the Babbel style – clean and simple, as you like it.
2012 was a whirlwind year for our mobile development team: In February our App for iPads came out, in March the App for Android, in June the iBook for iPad and the same for Kindle in August. Then in October the App for Windows 8 made its debut – and the grand finale of the year: the iPad App Version 3.0, containing the entire course programme, including the possibility to synchronise your learning progress between Web and App. In total during 2012 about 4.5 Million Babbel Apps were downloaded. It seems we are gradually catching up with your desire for good language courses on mobile platforms.
You (the Babbel users):
Worldwide you are 10 million users, who learn with Babbel on your computer and/or mobile device. This massive increase surely has something to do with the fact that Babbel is available on more and more devices with differing operating systems. More and more people can and want to learn languages with Babbel, unconstrained by time or place. This makes us very happy because, although we are on a steady upwards growth curve, we still have the same goal that we had five years ago when we started: To make understanding and learning a language on the internet easier.
The Babbelonians (the Babbel team):
We too are growing enormously, in the heart of Kreuzberg. Almost every week we have the pleasure to welcome a friendly new face to the team. Meanwhile (now in the middle of January) we are 60 full-time employees. Since our Bergmannstraße office is bursting at the seams, we will be taking over new, bigger premises in Bergmannstraße from the start of March. We’re staying faithful to our neighbourhood, because Kreuzberg brings us luck, as Markus, our commander in chief, puts it.
Our heartfelt thanks go out to each and every one of you and especially to those of you who have stuck with us through the years!
If you are interested in digital and distance learning, you must have heard of the excellent independent news and information center Wired Academic. Its editor, Paul Glader, also writer, journalism teacher at King’s College and entrepreneur came to visit us in Berlin to interview Markus Witte, CEO of Babbel. Glader is writing for several publications ranging from ESPN.com to The Washington Post and is travelling and studying German in his spare time. Wired Academic is profiling several language learning programs and startups in the United States and Europe. This is the third in a series of such profiles.
Summer is somehow always smack in the middle of our daydreams. Even as a (school)child, everyone longs feverishly for summer vacation. Who wants to sit and study in a classroom when swimming pools, lakes, long days and balmy nights beckon outside?
There’s less going on at Babbel, too, when it gets really hot out… the users have what we call in Germany hitzefrei, a hotday—the summer equivalent of a snowday. We get it. Sometimes on those kinds of days in our Berlin office we wipe the sweat from our collective brow and envision a cold beer, a real Italian gelato or a swim in the Atlantic. But summer is an important time for Babbel, too. At least in our latitudes, this is peak travel season. In other words, this is the moment when Babbel learners finally put their eagerly acquired language skills to the test.
Italians are some of the first to get the summer started. They already began their holiday on the 9th of June, around the same time as the soccer European Championship in Poland and the Ukraine. Schoolchildren in Poland, on the other hand, don’t begin their vacation until the 30th of June. Same with the British, who’ll have plenty of time before the Olympic Games are held in London from July 27th to August 12th.
Swedish kids get off in the middle of June, and no one celebrates summer and the beginning of vacation quite like our Scandanavian neighbors: from June 22nd to 24th, the Swedish Midsummer is exuberantly feted with music, dancing, tons of food and drink and traditional, magic rituals. Nothing else quite like it
Whether it’s midsummer in Sweden, a beach holiday in Brazil, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands or Turkey, whether surfing in Indonesia, watching soccer in Poland or at the Olympics in London—it comes out not just how well Babbel users learned this year but also how well we’ve done our job. How do our travel language courses hold up? How do soccer fans make out in Poland with the basics offered through our “European Championship 2012” course?
There are apparently people for whom the European Championship and even soccer leaves them cold. But for a lot of us, the tournament is some consolation for when we can’t travel away from home, for whatever reason. At least all of Europe is dribbling through our living rooms.
In any case a “staycation“ isn’t the worst thing that could happen. What’s nicer than one’s own city in the summer? We can go to the pool and have an ice cream afterwards. And then we’ll do just… nothing.
The Babbel founders: Markus, Lorenz, Toine, Thomas
Four years ago, on 15 January 2008, the official beta version of babbel.com went live. It had taken us (i. e. the four founders Lorenz, Markus, Thomas and Toine) eight months to build this first, still limited version of the language learning system. Back then Babbel was an interactive vocabulary trainer with a few community features. That day, we were sitting in our “office”, the front room of a rambling old apartment in Berlin, Kreuzberg, re-loading the page every other minute and were just amazed. Our assumption had sort of been that learning languages online was a concept with a future, but this rapid user growth – we were speechless. By the end of the month about 20.000 people were using the platform. It dawned on us that we must have hit the bull’s eye.
Another reason for that quick growth was that we managed to attract the attention of the right people: TechCrunch, for instance, one of the most important blogs in the whole internet industry, covered our launch – thus introducing us to experts and journalists in no time. Ever since the TechCrunch people from London and San Francisco have continued to report on Babbel news. This wasn’t just considered an accolade within the start-up community, it also helped to spread the word in the rest of the world. We would like to use this opportunity to thank M.G. Siegler, Steve O’Hear, Nick Gonzalez and, above all, Mike Butcher, who is known to generally support the start-up scene in Berlin. It’s their job, of course – it’s just that they are doing it really well.
Four years later, success is still with Babbel. The team continues to grow, the learning system has matured and is being used by so many people – we couldn’t have dreamt this. Last year was the best year in the history of Babbel (fortunately, we have been able to say this every year so far). We start 2012 with a great team, many ideas and quite elaborate plans, and we are looking forward to it. Next Friday we are going to celebrate all of this extensively. We would like to thank everyone who has tried and shared Babbel, with a special shout-out to our customers. Thanks to these people who have realized that it does pay out after all to spend money on an online learning tool, we are able to maintain our team and improve the product.
So we continue to make use of all this to build the best inter-active language learning system ever.
What did 2011 bring for Babbel – our users as well as our team?
A whole lot of growth…
The range of courses available has more than tripled – from around 60 to 190 Courses! (And that’s not even including the many subsidiary courses and individual vocabulary and translation exercises in all the different languages!)
In June an exciting project came to fruition when four new languages went online: Dutch, Turkish, Polish and Indonesian. We now offer comprehensive basic and advanced vocabularies in these languages as well as dedicated iPhone Apps.
Our content Team has also developed some new and innovative course formats: e.g. the ‘Music’ course (at the moment still only available for people learning German – our German spokeswoman Tini has recorded new singer-songwriter versions of old folk songs especially for the course), the ‘Love Letters’ course, which works a bit like an online soap opera, and courses for learning numbers in several different languages. And for some languages we now offer a useful course in ‘Idioms’. In addition we have added new lessons to existing courses, and revamped them to make them work even more intuitively.
Users doubled, Customers quadrupled:
The number of people who learn online with Babbel.com has doubled in the year 2011 – from about one million to more than two million. The iPhone Apps have three times as many users as they had at the end of 2010 – also almost two million. At the same time the number of paying customers has quadrupled.
We can also now count whole organizations and companies among our clients, from Hotel.de to an american branch of ‘Doctors Without Borders’, Spellbound Entertainment AG, the day school ‘Sesam’ to the Cottbus Fire Brigade. We produced a course in ‘Railway English’ especially for german train attendants – we just couldn’t listen any more to ‘Senk you for trevelling viz …’! We offered access to this and other Babbel courses free of charge for the staff of major railway operators. It seems however that their train attendants’ English knowledge is no priority: they turned the offer down.
Mobile Apps: more and not just for iPhones
Last year there was quite a lot of activity in the mobile arena. We now have a dedicated Mobile Team, which amongst other things is developing the new Android Apps. At the moment they are still in the Beta testing phase. Unfortunately we had to delay the release as a technical problem meant the App didn’t yet conform to the high standards we demand of our products. We are therefore working flat out on a solution. Anyone who would like to have a look at the Beta version of the App can download it from here: http://www.babbel.com/home/beta-android
At the same time we have developed an App that is optimized for the iPad, which can already be found in the App Store. We haven’t yet trumpeted its release as we first want to find a way to offer its content for free to all Babbel Online users. Sometimes Apple doesn’t make life so easy! We will of course keep you up to date with developments and hope soon to find a satisfactory solution.
Technology: faster and better
The Babbel servers were moved from the USA to Europe. There they are better able to cope with the growing demand on their resources (the daily number of logins to Babbel has quadrupled). As a result of the move they will be able to make Babbel an altogether faster experience. In addition many improvements, large and small, have been made to the learning portal itself.
The team of permanent staff tripled last year: 30 people are now working every day to make Babbel bigger and better. They take care of the course material, the technical side, the mobile applications, customer support, product design and spreading the joyous Babbel message! In addition we work with over 80 freelance authors, editors and translators. Consequently we have had to expand our offices here in Kreuzberg and will be needing even more space this year.
After this fantastic year we are looking forward to the next one full of confidence.
We have big plans; new ideas and exciting projects; and 2012 has already started well – but there’s more to come. Onwards and upwards!