The man behind Duolingo says he backs London as a thriving tech hub, despite concerns about digital talent gaps.
Speaking with City A.M., chief executive Luis von Ahn praised the UK’s artificial intelligence capabilities, as well as its “really good universities,” explaining that the US firm was looking to grow its four-person team in the capital.
“Thinking about where we’d like to open our offices, London is one of the most attractive places in the world,” he told City A.M.
Founded in 2011, the language learning app has 500 million active monthly users, which has continued to grow beyond its pandemic spike.
It entered the “major leagues” last summer with its Nasdaq debut, valuing the tech company at $6.5bn.
The Duolingo founder, who speaks three languages, explained that the key to the firm’s success has been the “gamification” – the app encourages “streaks” and rewards players who climb to the next level with repetitive use.
Two million daily active users have a streak longer than 365 days, demonstrating how Duolingo feeds into habitual behaviours that go hand in hand with the smartphone.
Thanks to this successful gamification, the company has recently launched a spin-off app, Duolingo Math.
Like the language learning version, users will be able to test themselves habitually, covering everything from fractions to geometry.
The app is aimed at children, but von Ahn revealed that 90 per cent of the users are currently adults.
The harsh reality for Duolingo is that it is not immune to the market perils.
Despite a buoyant debut, its share price has slumped 25 per cent in the year to date, dragged down by a wider sell off in the tech-laden Nasdaq.
Though the app is free to use, the majority of Duolingo’s revenue comes from the seven per cent of users that pay a monthly fee to use its lessons without ads.
Naturally, the Guatemalan entrepreneur underplayed the threat of the cost of living crisis and wider inflationary pressure on the west, stating, rather optimistically, that in a recession “people do turn to education”.
But for the 93 per cent of users who don’t pay £6 a month, Duolingo serves digital ads via Google and Facebook’s networks – again an area that continues to be squeezed against a macroeconomic downturn.
Whilst English is the most played language on the app, he said different cultural phenomena tend to drive different language patterns.
For instance, he explained there was a spike in Korean lessons when Squid Game was first released on Netflix. The same happened for Italian learners when Italy won Eurovision.
“It’s strange but whoever wins the World Cup, I guess we’re going to see an increase in learning that language too,” he said.