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Media captionLanguage app Babbel got a big boost when the makers of hit TV show Narcos suggested a tie-up. Eleven years ago, one of Thomas Holl’s closest friends, Lorenz Heine, wanted to learn Spanish. Thomas confidently assured him that there must be several easily accessible online courses to assist him in this quest. But when Thomas turned to Google, the then 32-year-old software engineer was surprised by the sparse results.”I started a search and I couldn’t find anything good,” recalls Thomas, who at the time was working on a music-mixing programme for DJs.”There were CD-ROMs, there were textbooks. But [at the time] not so much online.”A few months later, Thomas, Lorenz and two others decided to take matters into their own hands, and formed Babbel, a language learning website and app that now boasts one million paid members worldwide, and clocks up some 100,000 downloads a day.But the journey from a loose concept scrawled on a wall of whiteboards in Berlin, to a global operation that works with the likes of computer giant Apple and video streaming service Netflix, was anything but straightforward. Image copyright

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Babbel’s website and app have one million paid users

“We were pretty arrogant,” says Thomas of himself and his three co-founders. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.”Not one of the company’s young masterminds had any background in teaching languages, and at first they simply tried to adapt existing course materials.”We did quite a lot of publishing deals where we would license content from publishing houses and try to put it online,” says Thomas, who is now the company’s chief strategy officer.”But one thing we figured out in that process was that while the materials were good… we were having a very hard time.”It would take us quite some effort to take those materials, and put them into a form that would work online, or that would work on a mobile phone.”Soon the team realised that they were better off starting from scratch, and creating their own bespoke courses. Read more here…

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