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Duolingo CEO explains language app’s surge in bookings

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Expa. Why shift back into founder mode?n

HR: What I saw throughout across AddThis and Expa and my angel investing is that managing finances is hard. Accounting, taxes, compliance — all that set-up as a small business is annoying.n

Two years ago, [Collective cofounder] Uger [Kaner] came into Expa and he basically pitched me on a startup-in-a-box-type program that we were talking about building from an incubation perspective, but [with more of a pointed focus on back office issues]. He’s an immigrant like me, and because he didn’t quite understand the system, he wound up having tax penalties — penalties that are even worse when you’re a freelancer. Some startups have come up with au00a0 bespoke version of what we offer, but we were like, ‘Why do they have to do it?’ These are commodities, but if you put them together in a platform, they can can be powerful.n

TC: So is what you’ve created proprietary or are you working with third parties?n

HR: Both. We’re an online concierge that’s focused on the back office as the core, meaning accounting and tax services. We also form an S Corp for you because you can save a lot of money [compared with forming a business as an LLC, which features different tax requirements]. So there’s an integration layer plus a dashboard on top of that. If you’re an S Corp, you need to have payroll, so we have partnership with Gusto that comes with your subscription. We have a partnership with Quickbooks. We work with a third party on compliance. Our vision is to make this easy for you and to set this on autopilot because we understand that time is literally money.n

TC: How much are you charging?n

For taxes, accounting, business banking, and payroll, for the core package, it’s $200 a month. We are piloting bookkeeping and a fuller service package that’s probably [representative of] the direction we’ll head over time, and that will be an additional fee.n

TC: How can you persuade these businesses of one that it’s worth that cost?n

HR: There are almost three million people in the U.S. who [employ only themselves and] are making more than $100,000 a year and if you think about how many of these [different products] they are already using, it’s a great deal. Quickbooks and Gusto is cheaper with us. You see savings through expensing. The magic is really running your S Corp the right way. Part of that is normal income tax, but you also have a distribution and it’s taxed differently than an income — it’s taxed less. So we pull in salary data and look at expenses and across states, and say, ‘This is what we’d recommend to you based on how your cash flow is coming in, so you recognize this distribution in a compliant way.’n

TC: Interesting about this useful data that you’ll be amassing from your customers. How might you use it?u00a0n

HR: Our first concern is making sure the right people are seeing it [meaning we’re focused on privacy]. But there’s a lot we can do with the aggregation of that data once we’ve earned the right to use it. Among the things we could do, theoretically, includes creating a new level of scoring. If you’re a business of one, for example, it’s very difficult to get mortgages and loans, because credit agencies don’t have the tools to assess you. But if we have your financial history for years, can we represent that you’re a great person, you have a great business.n

Another interesting direction as we reach more members — we’ll get to 2,000 soon — would be to use our power as a collective to get our members less expensive insurance, [help facilitate] credit, [help them with a] 401(k).n

TC: There are a lot of other things you can get into presumably, too, from project management to graphic design . . .n

HR: Right now, we’re want to make sure our core service is nailed.n

Think about the transparency and peace of mind that Uber brought to ride-sharing, or that Uber Eats brings to food delivery. You know when something is cooking, when it’s on its way, when it’s arriving. We’ve gotten used to that level of transparency and accountability with so many things, but when it comes to accounting, it’s not there and that’s crazy. This is your money. We want to change that.n

TC: Going after “businesses of one” means you’re addressing a highly fragmented market. What kinds of partnerships are you striking to reach potential customers?n

HR: We’re having those conversations now, but you can imagine neo banks make sense, along with vertical marketplaces for nurses and doctors and realtors and writers. There are a lot of possibilities.n

Pictured, left to right, Collective’s cofounders: CTO Bugra Akcay, CEO Hooman Radfar, and CPO Ugur Kaner.n”,”protected”:false},”excerpt”:”rendered”:”

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Link”,”children”:[],”id”:1605179,”order”:15,”parent”:0,”text”:”Inside Jobs”,”url”:”/shows/inside-jobs”,”attr”:””,”target”:””,”classes”:[“”],”description”:””,”object_id”:1605179,”object”:”custom”,”type”:”custom”,”type_label”:”Custom Link”,”children”:[],”id”:1605180,”order”:16,”parent”:0,”text”:”TC Cribs”,”url”:”/shows/tc-cribs”,”attr”:””,”target”:””,”classes”:[“”],”description”:””,”object_id”:1605180,”object”:”custom”,”type”:”custom”,”type_label”:”Custom Link”,”children”:[]],”entities”:{“posts”:[{“id”:2053232,”date”:”2020-09-29T12:43:47″,”date_gmt”:”2020-09-29T19:43:47″,”guid”:”rendered”:”https://techcrunch.com/?p=2053232″,”modified”:”2020-09-29T12:43:47″,”modified_gmt”:”2020-09-29T19:43:47″,”slug”:”duolingo-ceo-explains-language-apps-surge-in-bookings”,”status”:”publish”,”type”:”post”,”link”:”https://techcrunch.com/2020/09/29/duolingo-ceo-explains-language-apps-surge-in-bookings/”,”title”:”rendered”:”Duolingo CEO explains language app’s surge in bookings”,”content”:{“rendered”:”

Language learning apps, like many educational technology platforms, soared when millions of students went home in response to safety concerns from the coronavirus pandemic. It makes sense: Everyone became an online learner in some capacity, and for non-frontline workers, each day became an opportunity to squeeze in a new skill (beyond sourdough).n

So why not learn a new language in a low-lift way?n

Language learning platforms, including Babbel, Drops and Duolingo, all have benefitted from quarantine boredom as shown by surges in their usage. However, success also depends on whether these same companies can turn that primetime interest into dollars and profit.n

To figure out if the language learning boom comes with paying customers, I caught up with Luis von Ahn, the CEO of Duolingo, a popular language learning company valued at $1.5 billion.n

Von Ahn tells TechCrunch that Duolingo has hit 42 million monthly active users, up from 30 million in December 2019. The surge comes as new users are spending more time on the app in aggregate, for some of the reasons explained above. Duolingo has been steadily increasing in bookings over the past few years:n

""n

This year, Duolingo will hit $180 million in bookings, von Ahn estimates. The company discloses bookings as a proxy for revenue, because when someone purchases a subscription the app it is considered a “booking” until the completion of the subscription, when it becomes revenue.n

u201cWeu2019re more than breaking even,u201d von Ahn told TechCrunch.n

While this growth is impressive, the most staggering metric that von Ahn revealed is that $180 million in bookings is only coming from 3% of its current users.n

u201cOnly 3% of our users pay us, yet we make more money than the apps where 100% of their users pay them,u201d he said.n



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I'm a 50 year old PLC programmer from Burnley, UK. I severed my time as an electrician in the baking industry and soon got involved with the up and coming technology of PLC's. Initially this was all based in the Uk but as the years went by I have gradually worked my way around the globe. At first it was mainly Mitsubishi with a bit of Modicon thrown in but these days the industry leaders seem to be the Allen Bradley range of PLC and HMI’s.

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