Startup of the Day – italki

The company of the day is italki, based in China. italki helps people learn languages by connecting students, teachers and language education companies. You will find below an interview with company co-founders Yongyue Jiang and Kevin Chen. All the best to them and congrats for being the startup of the day!


Interview with Yongyue Jiang and Kevin Chen, co-founders of italki

Who are you?

italki is a language learning social network and marketplace. We help people learn languages by connecting students, teachers and language education companies from around the world.

How do you feel being the most promising ‘company of the day’ per Microsoft?

We feel privileged to be recognized as an up-and-coming startup in China.

What did you do before creating your company?

We launched the first version of italki in December 2006. Before that, Yongyue was working on the technology side of an English teaching company based in Shanghai. Kevin was working on an internet startup on family history.

How did you get the idea? What s the genesis?

The idea for italki came from our experiences learning languages, and the belief that internet social networks were a natural solution to those problems. We both studied foreign languages for years in schools, and found that our progress was slow. We believe one reason is that traditional language study doesn't involve enough genuine communication. How can you learn French for years and never speak to a French person? This distance barrier is a problem the internet was meant to solve. With free voice-over-IP technologies, you can actually practice your Russian with someone in Russia. Learn Chinese from a teacher in China. Share and download notes on learning Spanish with other people learning Spanish. We wanted to make italki a destination where people would be able to help each other.

What do you sell? What is your company’s mission?

italki's mission is to help people learn languages. Most of the time, users help each other for free. However, we also wanted to make italki a place where people and companies could financially transact. We created a virtual marketplace, where people could get paid for services and products. For example, you might offer to teach English online, and other users could pay you through italki.

What is your market?

Everyone in the world who wants to learn a language. It's a very big market. We have heard estimates of $100 bn USD for language learning globally.

Any clients? References? Partners?

We've recently partnered with Eleutian Technology. Eleutian has US-based teachers who are trained to teach English online. Eleutian also has an online self-study course powered by Pearson content as part of a complete online English learning package. We plan to have more partners like Eleutian for other languages in the future.

Funding history? VCs? BA?

italki is angel funded.

Growth? Internationalization?

italki is an international website by nature. The traffic is spread very evenly around the world. Chinese users make up the largest percentage, and they are 20% of the traffic. There are roughly 500,000 registered users on italki.

How many employees do you have? How many developers?

We have 13 employees, and roughly eight people on the development team.

Are you hiring? If yes, what? Where?

We're always looking for good people. Our development team is based in Shanghai, China.

Which platform are you building on? Why?

We're building on .NET 3.5. Microsoft development tools (like Visual Studio) are excellent. China has a strong pool of experienced developers for .NET.

Who’s your role model?

It's hard to say. We admire a number of founders and internet startups. We do admire Wikipedia and the community they have created. We often wonder why can't the same concepts be applied with language learning?

Where do you see opportunities today in the Software/internet areas?

There are opportunities everywhere, but we focus more on the education space. We think that as the world increasingly becomes connected through the internet, there will be more and more economic opportunities based on sharing knowledge.

Looking for funding? If yes, how much?

We are planning to look at an initial VC financing round in the near future.

What about the BizSpark Program? What do you think? Are you going to join? Why?

We are members of the BizSpark Program. Getting access to the developer licenses for the Microsoft products has been critical for our startup. We are hosted with Rackspace, and shifting to the Bizspark licenses was easy.

Any advice to young Software entrepreneurs?

It is an exciting time, and it is worth trying to change the world.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Check out our website!

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