Business / Education / Investing / Startups

Duolingo is 10 years old. Here’s what CEO Luis von Ahn is most proud of

From building its brand on TikTok to using machine learning for product improvement, here are some notable points of pride for the edtech company's cofounder.

Severin Hacker and Luis von Ahn, cofounders of Duolingo. (Courtesy photo)
One of Pittsburgh’s most notable tech companies is celebrating its 10th birthday.

Language learning and education tech company Duolingo announced that Monday is its 10-year anniversary. One of the latest unicorns out of the Pittsburgh tech industry, the company is known as one of many that has helped put the city on the map in recent years for its growing tech prowess. Its 10th year in particular was momentous for the city, as Duolingo launched an initial public offering, debuting with a $6.5 billion valuation. As more positive reviews for Pittsburgh’s tech scene trickled in — namely its notable ranking on last year’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report — Duolingo’s IPO and overall success was frequently cited as a main driver of energy and excitement in the local economy.

Since then, the company has doubled down on Pittsburgh, signing a 13-year lease for a 38,000-square-foot space in the Liberty East building near Bakery Square. News of that expansion came after the company instituted in-person work policies that would require employees to come into the office Tuesday through Thursday, with the option to work from home on Monday and Friday. (It’s unclear whether or not that policy has changed since Allegheny County moved into the “high” community level of COVID-19 at the end of last month.)

Outside of those milestones, Duolingo’s cofounder and CEO Luis von Ahn took to Twitter to express pride in some of the company’s accomplishments over the last decade. Namely, he lauded the company’s ongoing commitment to its original mission of providing free and accessible education.

“We built a massive business without charging for learning … this has always been key,” he wrote. “All learners — whether they pay us or not — get the same course, the same explanations, the same high-quality instruction.”

Among other points of pride for von Ahn were Duolingo’s ability to make online learning a social experience, the company’s forays into AI applications to personalize lessons and improve user experience and the launch of the Duolingo English Test — an attempt to provide an official certification for English proficiency that many institutions across the globe now use.

In a blog post on the company’s website, von Ahn expanded further on other innovations from the company that he says transformed education. Among them were Duolingo’s ability to make learning bite-sized and accessible from anywhere by designing a mobile app that could give people access to lessons on almost any device. He also noted that the launch of the Duolingo Incubator platform helped the company optimize development of new language courses, but also brought its users together to crowdsource input on how to build the best lessons. That development happens in house now, von Ahn noted in his blog post, but the incubator site is still up and running for users who want to see what’s in development.

Outside of the actual course content, though, von Ahn cheered Duolingo’s ability to adapt its business model over time. It’s pioneered a way for brands to interact with new and existing users on social media platforms like TikTok, and made forays into using tools like podcasts to provide new modes of learning. And through it all, the company has maintained its quintessential approach to experimentation and testing that von Ahn called Duolingo’s “secret weapon” in constantly improving user experience.

In ending the post, von Ahn hinted at more product launches and updates to come.

“We’ve made so many exciting updates to our product in the last 10 years, but we’re just getting started,” he wrote. “Stay tuned for more innovations in our language-learning app, Duolingo ABC, and coming soon, our math app!”

Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Duolingo
People: Luis von Ahn

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