Persistence: If at first you don’t succeed

With Drops makes language learning fun – you can learn anywhere

How did you get the idea of Drops?

Growing up in Europe, you realize early that learning multiple languages is essential to participate in the regional and global economy (for example, according to Pew Research, most Europeans start studying their first foreign language by the age of 9). And yet, learning a second language is intimidating. And boring. 

As far as the specific “aha moment” for Drops, it happened when I was in college and trying to expand my English vocabulary. I tried all the language apps that were available at the time but none held my interest and I found them all lacking when it came to vocabulary. So I thought here’s an opportunity. 

Why did you decide to start with Drops?

Core vocabulary breadth is directly related to language comprehension. For example, if you know 2000 of the most used words in a language you can comprehend 80-85% of that language. That comprehension leads to confidence, and Drops’ fun, 5-minute daily vocabulary lessons lead to consistency.  These three Cs—core vocabulary, confidence, and consistency—are the foundation of language learning.

What is the vision behind Drops?

Our primary goal is to make language learning fun. Something you can do anywhere—while you’re standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for the bus. Additionally, we want to help our users build a strong foundation so that they are more successful in achieving their language learning goals. So many people start learning a new language and then quickly give up because they hit a learning plateau or are presented with complex grammar structures too early on in the process. We want to provide them with a foundation to help them overcome these learning hurdles.  

How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?

There was a predecessor to Drops called Learn Invisible that was an utter failure. It had some of the same elements as Drops—colorful UI, visual mnemonics—but it wasn’t as accessible or fun. We realized that stickiness was key. So we started from scratch and built Drops from the ground up as a game, made up of a collection of word games.  

Who is your target audience?

Language learners of all shapes and sizes. Primarily beginning language learners who are just starting to learn a new language or casual language learners—people who just want to learn a few words or phrases before a vacation or business trip. That said, Drops’ swipe-only accessibility attracts a lot of other language learners—notably intermediate users and language instructors who use Drops as an auxiliary tool. We also see parents who want their kids’ gaming screen time to be more productive in nature. Finally, Drops’ companion app, Scripts, is focused on learning the alphabet or character-based writing systems, so there are additional audiences like calligraphy enthusiasts and linguists. 

What is the USP of your startup?

That’s a hard question. I guess I would say Drops’ game-like nature. Other apps have gamified language learning but Drops is the only language learning app that, at its core, is truly a game. It’s fast-paced, it’s swipe-only, it’s highly visual, and most importantly, it’s fun.  

Can you describe your typical workday?

I have no typical day, but let me try. Drops is a fully remote company; our team is scattered around the world, so communication takes up a good chunk of my day. Most days start with responding to direct Slack mentions and then I move on to either meetings or reviewing other active Slack channels. At some point in the day, I review the status of all projects for which I’m executive sponsor, to ensure they are on track and/or to remove any blockers.

As we progress in the quarter, I spend more time brainstorming the upcoming quarterly objectives (every quarter, the entire company flies somewhere in the world to meet face to face and review the previous quarter’s accomplishments and plan the upcoming quarter’s projects). Finally, if we are in the process of hiring, I spend some time every day reviewing all new candidates and the progress of the hiring process. Our employees are the #1 key to our success so all hiring-related activities take top priority.  

Where do you see yourself and your startup Drops in five years?

If Drops continues on its growth trajectory, the company will be firmly established as one of the leading language learning platforms in the world. My hope is that, in that position, we continue to stand out as the fun way to learn a language.

Additionally, I want us to continue to offer solutions and meet users’ needs that other language learning solutions don’t. For example, over the last year we have focused heavily on Indigenous languages—primarily in support of the UN-sponsored 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019). So far, we’ve launched Hawaiian, Maori, and Samoan. Unlike our other offerings, the goal of introducing these languages is to bring awareness to the plight of these languages and to the amazing efforts of local, national, and global preservation efforts.

With direct access to these languages, we can help these preservation efforts reach audiences they couldn’t without a global app like Drops. For example, when we launched Hawaiian a year ago, there were a reported 8,000 native speakers left. Since launching Hawaiian in Drops, over 50,000 users around the world have started learning Hawaiian in Drops. Hopefully, through this awareness and access, we can really help these preservation efforts succeed. 

Now we’re partnering directly with IYIL2019 to launch an extremely endangered indigenous language within the next month. Stay tuned. 

What 3 tips would you give other startup founders on the way?

I’m not sure I have anything new to add here that hasn’t already been said by a thousand other entrepreneurs.

Value: Solve a user need that establishes undisputable value in a unique way

Persistence: If at first you don’t succeed …

Your #1 priority: Hire a great team

More information you will find here

Thank you for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

Sabine Elsässer

Sabine Elsässer is founder and chief editor of the StartupValleyNews Magazine. She started her career at several international direct sale companys. Since 2007 she works main time as a journalist. While that time she learned more about the Startup Scene, what made her start her own Startup Magazine the StartupValleyNews.

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