Gabriel Wyner is the founder of the Language learning app, ‘Fluent Forever,’ and he’s also the author of the book with that same title. Gabriel has raised over $1.7 million USD with crowdfunding campaigns on platforms like Kickstarter, and so far he’s spent $3.5 million developing the Fluent Forever app. In this interview we’re going to learn:
– Why developing apps is often much more expensive than most people think
– Some of the things you need to take into account if you want to develop your own app
– How Gabriel managed to raise so much capital on platforms like Kickstarter.
Gabriel used to be a mechanical engineer and that was really his passion. Another passion of Gabriel’s was opera, and after doing a double major he spent ten years trying to build a career as an opera singer. Opera singers often have to sing in multiple languages, and that’s how he got into language learning. As an opera singer, Gabriel had coaches who helped him with his pronunciation of the languages he had to sing in. Being able to sing in a foreign language doesn’t mean that you can also speak the language, though.
His breakthrough in language learning
Gabriel noticed his first success with language learning at the Middlebury College in Vermont. According to Gabriel, the college is doing something unique because it has immersion courses that everyone is committed to. Before you join its programs, you have to sign a contract that says that during the programs you’re only allowed to speak your target language, otherwise you will be kicked out.
After becoming fluent in German, Gabriel went to Italy where he learned Italian. He then attended Middlebury College on a French immersion course. Gabriel didn’t want to start at the lowest level because he already spoke some Italian, so he cheated on his placement test. He used Google Translate to write an essay in French and he got into level two. Gabriel now had three months to learn French, otherwise the college would discover that he had cheated on his test. Within five months, he reached a C1 level in French. He then knew that he had found a system that was extremely effective, and so he started to write about it on his blog.
Gabriel speaking at TEDx about why we struggle learning languages
Gabriel’s method for quickly learning a new language
Gabriel wrote an article about his French learning journey, and he explained the system that he used to learn French so quickly. He shared the article in the language learning subreddit on Reddit and it was very well received, as people kept upvoting it. When asked the question of why the article was so well received, Gabriel said the following: ‘’First of all, my system felt very different. There weren’t many people or methods out there that suggested starting with pronunciation first. It was different and it gave people hope.’’ Now you might be wondering, what is Gabriel’s method? It mainly consists of three steps: 1. Getting familiar with the sound system of a language 2. Learning words by connecting them to images in a spaced repetition system 3. Creating sentences by filling in the blanks – it’s important to not work with translations After memorizing 3000 – 5000 flashcards, you can learn in a more natural way through intensive reading or practicing your speaking skills with (online) tutors. Gabriel’s method focuses on helping you to get to the level where you understand enough vocabulary that you can improve by consuming meaningful content and by practicing your speaking.
From blog posts to a book deal
Gabriel’s articles and comments kept being upvoted on Reddit, and at one point someone cross-posted a piece of his content to a larger subreddit called ‘Life Hacks’ and it soared to the top of its front page. His article was having clear traction, and Gabriel thought that it would potentially be a good fit for Lifehacker.com, one of the most popular websites when it comes to self development and productivity. He found every writer for LifeHacker and started reaching out to them one by one. He said something like ‘’I see that you have written about abc, and I thought you might be interested in my article. It’s currently getting a lot of traction on other platforms and you may want to write about it on LifeHacker. By the sixth writer, he got a response, and the next day his article was published on LifeHacker. Within two hours of the article going live, Gabriel received an offer to publish his book, ‘Fluent Forever’. Fluent Forever is now sold in bookshops all over the world and is available in eight languages.
What inspired Gabriel to develop the ‘Fluent Forever’ app?
Step number one in Gabriel’s book is to start with pronunciation. Unfortunately, there weren’t any good resources for that back in 2013. That is why he started a Kickstarter project to create pronunciation training resources. He did the maths and estimated that he needed about $10,000 USD to realize the project. When he launched the crowdfunding campaign, he also reached out to his mailing list, which was still small at the time. Instead of raising just the $10,000 he set out to, he managed to raise $96,000 USD.
He hired a team of developers and virtual assistants, and in 2014 they did about $150.000 USD in sales. That became $200,000 and later $250,000, so people really seemed to like his pronunciation training. According to Gabriel, that was because he offered the best pronunciation training resources out there, giving people quick results. The problem was that the resources were housed inside the Anki ecosystem, and Anki isn’t very user friendly. Users liked the concept and content that Gabriel was providing, but many of them gave up because they found Anki too hard to use. That’s when he realized that he needed to develop his own app.
Raising $1.7 million USD
In 2017, Gabriel launched his Kickstarter campaign for the app, and raised $550,000 USD within the first month. He and his team spent the next year continuing to raise money on Indiegogo, where they attracted another $1.2 million USD from backers. That means that in total, Gabriel raised over $1.7 for his app in the initial stages.
How can you spend so much money on developing an app?
Let’s put this into perspective. Gabriel has spent $3.5 Million on this project so far, and he estimates that they’re only one third of the way through. When he started out, his idea was to write the specifications of the app on paper and hire a development house to develop the app. He received various bids, varying between $100,000 and 600,000 USD. The bids you initially get have nothing to do with what you’re going to pay, according to Gabriel. In the end, you often end up spending six to ten times more money than originally foreseen.
If you really have a fixed budget, you can tell the company that develops the app for you that you can’t afford to spend more than a certain amount, and they will create your app for that amount of money. The reality of this is that the developers will cut corners, because they have to in order to come in on budget.
A good developer knows the future of the app and codes it accordingly. That means that they need to lay very solid foundations for your app, and you have to pay for that. Having good foundations makes it much easier and cheaper to make adjustments or to add new functions in the future. “Technical debt” basically means that you can get the product out faster as long as you are willing to pay the debt later. Making adjustments later will cost twice as much than if your software had better foundations.
The Fluent Forever app is available in the app store
Can you raise a million on Kickstarter and just go on a really long holiday?
In theory, yes, there is no legal requirement to deliver on your promises. The thing is that you need the people who supported you in the first place if you want to make it in the long run. These people are your biggest fans and you have to keep them satisfied. When Fluent Forever recently sold some of its equity,it brought in another $1.25 million. This all came from some people who supported the project in the early stages. Being transparent and keeping these people happy is crucial for long term success.
In short, how Gabriel raised millions for the Fluent Forever app through the power of leverage…
He turned his French learning experience into a high quality blog
He shared his articles on Reddit and continued to refine them;, they became popular
He used the popularity of his articles as an excuse to reach out to LifeHacker.com
LifeHacker published his article and within a few hours he got his first publisher offer
Being the author of the ‘Fluent Forever’ book gave him even more authority, which he utilized in his Kickstarter campaign. By this time his audience had also grown.
The Kickstarter campaign reached its initial goal within a few days, which resulted in more attention from the media
That attention resulted in even more investors and revenue
Now that the app is up and working, it can be even more attractive for investors to invest.
Gabriel keeps receiving funding and the app keeps growing
Gabriel’s final advice:
If you want to create an app, you need to know what you’re getting into. It’s very likely that you need to raise funds, work with investors, and you have a responsibility to keep them on side. You also have to realise how much work crowdfunding actually involves. Gabriel has done over 300 pitches so far. It’s more than a full time job. Also, in order to make your dream come true, you don’t just need to build an app, you will need to build an entire company. Know what you’re getting into.
Want to know why Gabriel’s crowdfunding campaigns were so successful?
Read the article where Gabriel shows you exactly what he learned from running these campaigns.
More about Gabriel and his work:
Get the Fluent Forever book
More info about the app
Gabriel Wyner on LinkedIn
Get a FREE copy of our quick guide:
’7 Mistakes that will Kill your Language Business and How to Avoid Them’