The Virtue Of Patience

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:

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.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Joe Marchese

    “Perseverance furthers.” — I Ching

  2. falicon

    “According to Wikipedia”…umm…aren’t you an investor? Pretty sure you have a better source for the *real numbers* than Wikipedia!…regardless, great achievement and awesome point to the post.

  3. Mike

    Congratulations. Traveling in China years ago I thought the ESL market alone was a huge opportunity for the right solution. Good fit for AI. This should give them more leverage to monetize their platform.…Pittsburgh is really transforming from its industrial roots into a tech center.

  4. DJL

    That’s a fantastic story and just what I needed to heat this morning. Thanks.

  5. Karen Frame

    Yes, story is perfectly timed with where I am with Makeena. Thanks for the reminder about the virtue of patience.

  6. Kirsten Lambertsen

    Three devoted Duo Lingo users in this house (learning: Japanese, German, Spanish) :0)The mission-oriented values come through in everything they do. It’s a truly awesome product.

  7. Dorian Benkoil

    I like and admire Duolingo, and hope it continues to improve. Used it this morning for Spanish, and also doing Chinese. The French is pretty good. Japanese, not as much. I finished the app’s Japanese course (which I did largely to understand how the app’s gamification works; I years ago passed a gov’t approved Japanese proficiency test in Japan (Japan’s “TOEFL,” so-to-speak)), and sent in some corrections or adjustments, a couple of which were accepted. Anyway, here’s another idea for Luis when he has time to stray from his core business: When someone finishes a language in Duolingo, offer ways to go further. I would’ve loved to be connected to some higher-level Japanese study (something I already do with Japanese apps I have), recommendations, etc. Higher-level learning may not scale to the level Duolingo needs, but why not make a little extra for the referrals to materials, teachers, whatever, whom their experts have vetted, and more from sponsorships of those referrals?

  8. jason wright

    Success is the place where no one else is willing to go.I’ve got a TEFL teaching certificate stuffed in the back of a drawer somewhere. Certificates are just yet more paper. Save the trees and live the language.Where’s ‘Ahn’?

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      Yes, but passing the test sometimes makes a difference in whether someone is granted a degree or not. As someone who failed 4th level Spanish in college, I can attest to this.

      1. jason wright

        I was thinking more about the teaching side of the issue. People can teach, or they can’t. I came across quite a few who had the royal flush of paper qualifications in their hand, but they didn’t have it when standing up at the front of the classroom.The degree has to be of some real value. It’s a big issue in the UK at the moment. Too many universities with too many utterly worthless degree courses, and now students suing for financial restitution because they have found their value in the employment market to be zero.

  9. Richard

    Speaking of Patience – it’s amazing how long scams can run – Patrick Bryce.