Silver Ilves, originally from Estonia, is the co-founder of the language learning app MagicLingua. He has a background in economics and IT and has worked for several dating websites, as well as for one of the biggest language learning companies in the world, Rosetta Stone.
In this interview we’re going to learn: – How AI and upcoming technology will impact the industry – What some of the opportunities are for us as Langpreneurs – What the biggest challenges are when it comes to building an app – How to validate your product idea
The benefits of learning a language with AI (artificial intelligence)
Before Silver and his team launched Magic Lingua, they surveyed a group of language learners to find out what their biggest challenge was. It turned out that most people were struggling to get enough speaking practice. That’s also one of the reasons why many people enroll into courses at language schools, according to Silver. The problem with language schools is that their schedule is often not flexible and they’re not cheap. If technology can allow us to develop an AI language teacher for learners to practice their speaking skills with, the cost involved in accessing speaking practice will go down significantly. Besides that, learners will no longer have to depend on a fixed lesson schedule.
The big opportunity for Langpreneurs
Today, the language learning industry generates about 60 billion USD per year. Roughly 10% of that amount comes from online courses. The most interesting part is that the size of online sales is growing by 20 to 30% per year and it’s growing faster and faster. This proves that the future of language learning is online.
How does AI work in our niche?
One of the most common features of AI that has been used in language learning software is voice recognition. Machines do already perform better humans when it comes to voice recognition. The only thing machines are really bad at is understanding context.
So far, machine’s aren’t smart enough to replace language teachers, but as technology keeps developing they will eventually be able to perform certain tasks like helping students with conversation practice.
Will language teachers eventually disappear?
Silver doesn’t think that language teachers will disappear in the next ten years but their role will change for sure, he says. He recently spoke to someone who had a senior position at iTutorgroup, the highest valued language learning platform in the world. It has a huge database or tutors that teach English to Chinese people. For iTutorgroup, it’s not a question of whether or not they will eventually replace their teachers with AI – the real question is how and when it’s going to happen. A big part of a teacher’s job will eventually be replaced by AI. The role of a teacher in the future will be more focused on keeping students motivated and accountable.
Silver’s app, MagicLingua on Kickstarter
The opportunity for the language ‘coach’
In the third episode of the Langpreneur podcast, we interviewed Lydia Machova from Language Mentoring. She showed us how she positioned herself as a language mentor, rather than a language teacher. If you position yourself as a language coach or mentor, you can design training programs and help hundreds, or maybe even thousands of students at the same time. So, even when machines become better teachers than human teachers, there will still be a need for someone to keep students motivated, accountable, and to manage a community of fellow students. That’s exactly what you could offer. Now let’s talk about app development…
The hardest part of creating an app? Selling it!
If you create an app and put it out in the app store and just wait for the sales to come in, nothing will happen. Nobody will download your app. That means you need to be very strategic about promoting your app. If you already have an audience, you can just sell it to them of course, but most app creators don’t have an audience at the time they build their app. You have to find out where your audience is.
Silver met a team who created an app to learn languages by singing songs. They partnered up with music labels who would promote their app for them. At Magic Lingua, they work with influencers who help them with content creation, and at the same time, promote their app. Another way to promote your app is by running social media ads, but Silver says that that’s difficult because you are competing against many huge language companies with massive marketing budgets. Promoting your app on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter is another way to help people become more familiar with your app and to raise money to fund its development. The challenge here is that apps are the least profitable category on Kickstarter.
Should you create your product or build an audience first?
There is no hard and fast rule here, but one thing is clear – you must have both in order to be profitable. If you decide to focus on your product first, it’s important to start building an audience from the very beginning, Silver says. This will allow you to get feedback during the development process, which is a good way to find out if you’re targeting the right audience and if you’re offering them the right solution to their problem.
Focus on pain points, solve problems!
If you want to become a successful Langpreneur, focusing on finding solutions to people’s problems is crucial. If your audience doesn’t have any pain points, they won’t buy from you. This is also the reason why Silver had to halt creation of a vocabulary trainer. It was simply not solving an existing problem and therefore it was very hard to sell.
‘’Don’t focus on adding fancy technology to your product, instead focus on solving problems! People don’t pay for technology, they pay for a solution to their problem!’’
Silver at the Langpreneur Mastermind 2019 in Croatia
How to price your software
Pricing varies a lot among language apps.Babbel, for example, charges anywhere from 5 to 10 EUR per month. Rosetta Stone sells lifetime subscriptions for $247. Both high and low price points seem to work.
As a software developer or course creator, you want to charge as much as possible and therefore it’s important to not be seen as ‘’just another language learning app’’. Highlighting your product’s value is a must.
Don’t sell features, sell benefits!
How to validate your app or course idea
Too many entrepreneurs create a product or service that their audience isn’t hungry for. They either attract the wrong audience or they create the wrong solution. The only way to make sure that your audience is hungry to buy your product before going all in, is to validate your idea! The popular fitness app ‘Freeletics’ is a great example of this. Before it created the app, it first learned what people really wanted, which was motivation, accountability and the right exercises. They started out by emailing their users a PDF with its customized training program. People liked it, paid for it, and only then it started developing the app. Today Freeletics has millions of users. Only focus on solving the core of the problem in the beginning. You can do that by launching a MVP (minimum viable product) first, that only has the key features that solve the main problem. Nice designs and fancy technology will follow later, if it turns out that you’ve found something that your audience is willing to pay for.