When it comes to the language of business, English tends to grab the spotlight. But to sell and market products and services on a global scale, you need to add a few more linguistic strings to your bow.
In fact, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, and Mandarin all top English as essential languages for business.
With that in mind, global private language tutoring platform Preply today announced it has raised $4 million to expand its offering and grow its team.
Preply enters a market dominated by the likes of Duolingo, Memrise, and Quizlet, but it focuses on teaching young professionals how to conduct business in 40 languages, rather than targeting conversational skills or the kind of learning best suited to vacations.
“One of our goals is to create an egalitarian online learning environment by connecting learners and tutors from all around the world,” Preply CEO and cofounder Kirill Bigai told me. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for someone who wants to learn Spanish with a language tutor from Barcelona or Bogotá while living in a small town in Colorado.”
Today’s funding will support the long-term development of future products, including improving the Preply calendar, its instant booking feature, and the launch of its mobile apps.
“Mobile-based tutoring is less expensive than traditional schools,” Bigai said. “It’s more secure and less time-consuming than in-person tutoring, as the learner doesn’t need to host anyone in their house or commute. It’s flexible, as classes can be taken anytime and anywhere. On the other hand, Preply is breaking the traditional dynamics by helping tutors become independent and earn what they deserve. We aim to offer tutors a truly balanced schedule, without being limited by their current location or time zone so they can spend more time doing what they love.”
The funding has also helped Preply open a second office in Berlin and strengthen the company’s senior team, including the addition of new product managers, designers, and developers, as well as the impending hire of a VP of marketing. That last hire will help the company with its acquisition strategies.
“Learners usually find us organically via internet searches or by word of mouth,” Bigai said. “There is still big room for improvement in our acquisition efforts, and we believe that we are moving in the right direction.”
That said, Preply has found adding tutors to its platform to be relatively easy.
“Among tutors, we became popular quite quickly,” Bigai said. “We have seen approximately 100,000 tutors’ registrations since the beginning of Preply. Due to our strict requirements and verification process, we only accept a small percentage of all the tutor registration requests. This helps us concentrate on working with the best tutors.”
Preply has grown from five international markets to 15. The platform now has more than 25,000 tutors teaching 40 languages to over 100,000 students from more than 160 countries annually. That’s a user growth rate of 300 percent since 2016. Not bad without a VP of marketing.
The company participated in the Techstars Berlin program in 2015. The funding round was led by Berlin-based Point Nine Capital. Additional investors included Arthur Kosten (Booking.com, 2003-2012), RTAventures VC (Poland), Mariusz Gralewski (DocPlanner, Poland), Przemysław Gacek (Grupa Pracuj, Poland), Diligent Capital Partners (Ukraine) and SMRK (Ukraine).
So what’s next for Preply?
“We are currently focusing on preparing people to speak a foreign language confidently at their jobs, with their international families, and while traveling,” Bigai said. “In the future, we would like to focus on other subjects, starting with programming languages, then business skills, and continuing with K-12 education.”
That’s not all. As with many startups, AI and machine learning will play a part in Preply’s future.
“We are working on a machine learning algorithm to increase matching efficiency between learners and tutors on a variety of parameters, including subjects, their native language, time zones, learning goals, and more,” Bigai said.