Online language learning continues to be a huge opportunity for startups, with the most engaging experiences sparking a wave of interest from consumers seeking greater productivity beyond the hours they spend on their smartphones. In one of the more recent developments, a language learning app called EWA has developed a media-based approach to language learning, using excerpts from movies and TV and books, to familiarize students with vocabulary and speaking, 51 million downloads passed. and took in 3.5 million monthly active users, and now it has raised $2.7 million in its first third-party funding.
EWA — pronounced “E-vah,” says co-founder and CEO Max Korneev — has been up and running since its inception in 2018, and it’s doing well on its own, with current annual sales of $32.4 million, based on people charge along three usage levels. (The “freemium” portion of the app is a three-day trial, but it also has extensive presence on other social media outlets such as TikTok and Instagram, where it is essentially a content creator, collectively with millions of users using informal languages. learning from his posts. EWA English alone has over 5 million followers.)
Korneev said the startup is turning to outside funding, both to meet the growth demands it now faces as it scales, and also to hire more engineers to build out features it has long wanted in the app. including more social elements, gamification hooks, and a wider range of languages, with the current list encompassing English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian.
The seed round will include participation from Day One Ventures, Elysium and angels, founders and executives of Semrush, Zynga, Niantic and Zynga. And from what we understand, EWA is already working on its Series A, a $30 million round that will fetch it with a $150 million valuation, with SoftBank being one of the VCs talking to the startup. (I approached SoftBank for comment; Korneev declined to comment.)
Duolingo, now publicly traded with a market cap of about $3.4 billion, has stolen a march on the online language learning market, in part by making its app very tacky: users log in daily to keep learning streaks going. and to stay on top of their leagues, and they connect with people in the app that they may also know in the real world, take advantage of natural competitiveness and turn that into habitual behavior.
EWA’s unique selling point so far is how it has leveraged the vast world of online media to achieve its goal. Users of the app have options for learning by reading well-known books or excerpts from popular movies and TV – the idea being that their familiarity with storylines will give them an edge in understanding what people are saying. It then reinforces that knowledge with word games.
The approach appealed to me personally as it reminded me of how my family and I learned English when we first came to the US from Russia. (And no, I didn’t miss the coincidence that Korneev is also Russian.) Korneev said this was a conscious decision by the company to try something different and more attuned to our modern age to enter a different kind of language learner. to fetch.
“If you look at the space for self-study apps, a lot of them copy classroom dynamics, and more specifically old methodologies, but these are just not effective anymore,” he said, noting that Duolingo’s own research has shown that found that on average, less than 1% of people ever complete an online language course. “People want to be entertained. So when we ask our users why you use EWA, they answer, because it’s entertaining. We combine that entertainment with education.”
It seems my family is not alone in taking the “native media” approach to language learning: it was also how Korneev learned different languages while working in IT.
“Many startups are born out of pain, and that’s how EWA started,” he said. “I ended up watching movies with subtitles and reading books with vocabulary,” he said. “I saw others doing this too, and it helped them move forward with a language.” The idea of him quitting his job in IT to see if he could turn his own approach to language learning into a business was enough for him. Working with other co-founders Stepan Nikitin, Anton Aleshkevich and Stas Morozov, EWA was born.
The startup has a ton of developers from Russia, but EWA itself is officially based in Singapore — something Korneev said was very intentional as it is currently (understandably) difficult for Russian startups to raise money from Western investors. Korneev, in keeping with this moment in time and the COVID pandemic that has changed how many of us work, describes the team as a remote workforce, dividing the time himself between Singapore, Budapest and Barcelona.