Livemocha’s online community of language learners continues to spread worldwide. And now the four-year-old company — founded by former Microsoftie Shirish Nadkarni and led by CEO Michael Schutzler — has received some additional rocket fuel to propel the rival to Rosetta Stone forward. LiveMocha has landed an additional $5 million, money which comes on top of $14 million raised from previous backers Maveron and August Capital.
It was unclear whether any new investors participated in the deal, and Schutzler couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
But we caught up with the former Classmates CEO and RealNetworks exec late last month after Livemocha surpassed the 10 million member milestone.
We’d been meaning to feature Livemocha in our Startup Spotlight series, and with the new capital infusion what better time than now. Here’s a closer look at the company.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Livemocha.com is a website that has 10 million people around the world helping each other learn 38 languages. In the US, most people are learning English, Spanish, French, and Mandarin.
Inspiration hit us when: “While traveling on vacation, the founders saw all the yellow boxes in the Rosetta Stone kiosk at the airport and said, “Why in the world is that service not on the Internet?”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “A little bit of angel money to start. Then the company got lucky with superstar VC investors: Amy Errett from Maveron and Howard Hartenbaum from August Capital.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Our community of teachers and students is everything. Learning a new language is frustrating and at times humiliating, especially if you are over 20. It’s a lot more fun with a study buddy from another country and quite frankly, speaking a new language is only possible if you practice with native speakers. We have more language teachers and students in our community than all our competitors combined.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Making language learning both affordable and fun. We started out with free courses. A million people came. We added very affordable premium courses. Millions more came. We created inexpensive but powerful new tools for companies, schools, libraries, and government agencies to help their employees learn a new language. Millions more are now coming into the community from 190 countries around the world. And we connected all these language learners with study buddies and experts to encourage, teach, and laugh as they learn and share their knowledge. Livemocha is playing a major role in the cultural and communication bridges being formed in a global marketplace.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Underestimating how fast this market moves. We have a leadership position today but this isn’t a U.S. competition. It’s a global battle for market share and the rest of the world isn’t standing around. There are a lot of nimble, hungry competitors in China, India, Europe, and Latin America that are chasing us – so we are actively seeking the best and brightest developers in Seattle to help us stay ahead of the pack.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jobs. He brought aesthetics to the consumer electronic world. Someone once said that art without engineering is just dreaming and engineering without art is just calculus. Jobs brought that adage to life. But most inspiring of all, he took a company that was written off ten years ago and rebuilt it into a product juggernaut. Truly inspiring.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “It has already started. We are the largest language learning community in the world. We are daily winning contracts against entrenched companies to serve schools, companies, libraries, and government agencies. We have award-winning language learning products that REALLY work. We have nearly half a million teachers available to help you learn. And we are focused on achieving our mission – to create a world in which every human being is fluent in multiple languages.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We’re winning and our sales are growing! Soon, we will be profitable and then it will be over for some of our competitors.”
We are truly unique because: “We hire people who are fluent in multiple languages and who care deeply about our mission to help everyone become fluent in multiple languages. In this town, most good companies have talent. But we have a unique blend of gamers, language nerds, sales jocks, and globetrotters.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Scale. From infrastructure to staffing to selling to localization, scaling a global business in 38 languages is a pain. After years of trial and error, we have started to figure out how to grow this complex business.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Listen to Yoda. “Try Not. Do or do not – there is no try.”
Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area startup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send a couple photos of the founder(s) and company logo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Past profiles can be found here.