Our portfolio company Duolingo is known for their super popular language learning app. According to Wikipedia over 300mm people all over the world have used Duolingo.
Back in May 2014, Duolingo launched something called the Duolingo Test Center. The idea was to compete with expensive and inconvenient foreign language tests like TOEFL.
It makes sense. If you are in the business of helping people learn a foreign language, you might as well be in the business of helping people demonstrate their mastery of a foreign language.
But there is a “chicken and egg” problem in the foriegn language testing market. If you don’t have a lot of test takers, it is hard to get your test accepted by educational institutions and corporations. But if you aren’t accepted by educational institutions and corporations, it is hard to get anyone to take your test.
Duolingo has been patient, largely because they have a primary business that is doing incredibly well. Slowly but surely they have gotten institutions to accept their test.
I saw this tweet this morning from Luis, Duolingo’s founder and CEO:
Super proud that the Duolingo English Test (@DuolingoENTest) is now fully accepted as a proof of English proficiency at 10 of the top 20 US universities according to US News.
— Luis von Ahn (@LuisvonAhn) August 21, 2019
That is the kind of adoption that Duolingo’s tests need to become a standard.
And once you become a standard, you have a fantastic business, largely because it is so hard to accomplish that.
Many companies would have given up on a project like this. The payoff is too long and the effort too high.
But Luis has a personal interest in this offering. You can read about it in the blog post when he announced the service.
That is the power of founders on a mission. They can be patient and see things through that big companies never will.
There is a virtue in patience. You don’t see it that much in business. But it is powerful in the right hands.