We're stoked. Insanely stoked.
Our latest product will change the way people around the world communicate and learn languages. Although we've only been developing it for a few weeks, it's actually been four years in the making.
This blog will take you through the journey of building a language learning software startup that has been from Tokyo, to Philadelphia, to DC, to where our current home is in San Francisco. It's been such a fun ride for us and we're very excited to share it with you. I'll also give you intermittent sneak peeks of our latest product, PlaySay Survival, scheduled to release on May 1st. Sign up here for early access to PlaySay Survival.
What's PlaySay Survival?
It's an iPhone application that culminates all of our learnings of product and the language learning market in the four years of our company's existence. We've found that the two main problems of language learning are 1) maintaining engagement, 2) not being able to practice speaking and comprehending one's language of learning. PlaySay Survival will solve both of these problems.
As a TechCrunch Disrupt Finalist in 2011 we attempted to solve the engagement problem by launching the world's first method of learning a foreign language by communicating in that language through pictures. We came short but learned a ton.
We figured that users would stay engaged if the solution revolved around communication - what they're learning a foreign language for in the first place. Our application's user interface (UI) was too complicated. Even worse, our application gave a false promise to the users by telling them they'd be able to communicate in the foreign language (through pictures) however they wanted. In fact, users could effectively only compose (and post to Facebook) a few basic sentences with slight variations in the language they were learning. Our system also didn't allow viewers of these posts to respond. This meant that all communication was one-way, which is not communication at all. Oops.
Speaking and Comprehension (with Natives)
Verbling and Colingo are two companies attempting to solve this major problem, and we love those guys. Their solutions match up natives via video chat on the computer for real-time conversation exchange. In our humble opinion, we believe their solutions are better than most (no one can argue that conversing with natives isn't superb) however fall a bit short for the following reasons. PlaySay Survival won't have these problems.
1) chicken and egg (i.e. synchroneity) problem - every time someone comes in, they need a partner to be ready there and then. Especially with time zones, this is very difficult to achieve.
2) embarrassment problem - I don't know any French and it is really scary to be face-to-face with a stranger. What do I say? My face turned red and I started to sweat. Ummm, "Bonjour"? It's intimidating and I'm one of the most confident and outgoing people I know.
3) pedagogy problem - neither user is a language instructor, the system isn't guiding the conversation according to either's language proficiency level, the system isn't keeping track of what vocabulary was used, who mispronounced what, what language level/proficiency each user was, etc. Humans cannot employ what technology can, such as optimization of one's learning through spaced rehearsal (showing items that someone doesn't know more often than those they do know).
4) engagement problem - what's enticing me to come back?
5) availability problem - I'm always on-the-go, why do I need to be in front of a computer and with internet?
From hereon to launch I'll release one post a day. Posts will cover our new product (PlaySay Survival), the entire language learning market, competition thereof, what we've learned, startups in general, management, marketing, sales, product, fundraising, etc.
Please follow along and share your feedback.
Sign up for PlaySay's Beta here! http://signup.playsay.com