When it comes to language learning Rosetta Stone has one of the best reputations and best success rates in town. Well in Prague, David Brhel, Milan Mahovsky and Kamil Mahovsky are three entrepreneurs who hope their startup SpaceTeacher becomes the easiest to use language learning platform in the world.
One of the easiest ways to describe SpaceTeacher is to say that they are crowdsourcing for language. They hope to become the ultimate platform for language learning by crowdsourcing both the content and the teachers.
Co-founder Brhel says that the company is still bootstrapping it but that angels in the area are starting to show interest. The startup is also growing at area accelerator StartupYard.
The core reason for developing SpaceTeacher is that in the CzechRepublic they offer a “one size fits all” type of learning. The shocking statistic is that 79% of the population is not fluent in a foreign language.
We got a chance to talk with Brhel in the interview below.
What is SpaceTeacher?
SpaceTeacher is an online platform for language education, with the goal to become the ultimate one. It reflects the need for personalised learning by crowdsourcing the content and the teachers.
In layman’s terms, how does it work?
People waste time by learning languages in a way, that isn’t just the right for them. We let them learn in multiple ways through our language marketplace. They can try easily one approach after another or combine a few together, we give people the possibility to choose what is best for them. At the same time they can not only practise for free within the community, but also get help and support.
Additionally, they can learn and practice through crowdsourced online lessons.
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
There are seven of us right now, three founders and four employees. We come from different backgrounds, but we are all experienced entrepreneurs and we are passionate about education, travelling and outdoor sports.
David Brhel (Managing Director), is fanatic about learning languages and customer service. Has experience with managing online services in multinationals in logistics and banking industries. Information systems designer by education, entrepreneur by heart.
Milan Mahovsky (Sales Director), is devoted to people development. Coming from a senior management position of a major Telco company and after successfully exiting from his own first HR business, he now took on the leading position in sales and business development. Together with a degree in teaching and sports, it gives him a strong basis for a different perspective much needed for a product development.
Kamil Mahovsky (Financial Director), is will soon become another very experienced business person on the team when finishing transition a from management position in another company. Gives the team yet another view of someone pushing the team to activities directly leading to generating revenue.
Where are you based?
We are based in Prague, the Czech Republic-based startup. Since May, we are growing in an accelerator called Startupyard.
What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?
The Czech Republic is a stable central-European economy, which is in my opinion quite conservative and risk-avoiding. Though in recent years, many Internet or technology startups came to live in two major cities – Prague and Brno. People have great innovative ideas, but the language and small local market make restraint the ability to quickly grow to global markets.
Additionally, in my opinion local investors are quite often not really able to take some risk to pursue great ideas. They rather wait for a startup to start making money to even consider investing. Together with complex legal and ever changing tax environment are the other reasons, why startups tend to move to the US or UK once take take-off.
How did you come up with the idea for SpeaceTeacher?
Firstly, the public education system here in the Czech Republic offers just “one size fits all” type of learning. That lead to a situation, when 79 % of the population is not fluent in any foreign language. So after studies in France and Australia, and working in IT managerial positions for a couple of multinationals in the Czech Republic, I realised that increasing employee’s language skills will lead to dramatic increase in their work productivity. I decided to quit working for a bank and help people learn foreign languages. I believe it can not only change people lives, but also improve current economic situation.
Secondly, there is a huge demand for flexible learning materials. Materials that will match learner’s pace, level and interests. Textbooks do not offer this flexibility.
Finally, the majority of the platforms offer learning in one or two specific ways allowing learners to develop only a limited set of skills. We allow combining different learning approaches to develop a broad range language skills.
How did you come up with the name?
“Chuck Norris is fluent in 38 000 out of 6 000 world languages” and we wanted to be represented by our own superhero. Someone, who helps language learners all around the world by creating a safe space for them to learn and practice foreign languages. That is how we came up with name.
What problem does SpaceTeacher solve?
People waste hundreds of hours learning languages in a way, that isn’t just the right for them. Any learning approach isn’t suitable just for everyone. People trying out various approaches, usually loose the context and traction after trying a few. It kills the motivation which prevents the learners from ever becoming fluent.
As opposed to other platforms, we created a space in which people can learn in multiple ways. The learners can at one place try various ways of learning and pick the approach that meets their learning style the best. Or they may combine multiple approaches to learn different language skills. If they decide to change the approach, they still stay within the same context and same people.
It’s a space where they can get help from others but also support each other. Actually, people learn the most when teaching someone else.
What’s your secret sauce?
It’s not about developing only specific skill or learning only in a single way, it’s also about combination of learning both online and offline. It opens space for flexibility as well as learning efficiency. Face-2-face learning and our conversation meetings in bars and cafes dramatically shift learning from boredom to fun.
We often say, “with us you can drink beer to learn a foreign language”. We allow people meet in real lives and practise in informal environment. We foster holistic approach to learning languages.
What’s one dilemma you’ve encountered in the startup process?
We have faced a dilemma about staying in our accelator offices to meet all the mentors coming in or leaving it and actually doing some work. It was almost impossible due to limited office-space and the fact that people had to listen to talks irrelevant to their jobs.
What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?
There is no right word describing accurately this type of online service in Czech, so we struggled explaining ourselves to local people. Foreigners never seemed any issue understanding what we do. But after some repeating explanation what we actually do, we got ourselves explained.
Who are some of your mentors and business role models?
We got several mentors from Seznam.cz, on of the few search companies still resisting Googlepoly. To name some Pavel Zima (CEO), Martin Kopta and Bob Marvan (UX Specialists). However, due to the fact how our accelerator program was managed, we didn’t really get proper mentors advising us regularly.
What’s next for SpaceTeacher?
We need to finish tools for crowdsourcing the online content and the payment system. That will enable us to offer content for many languages and will bring teachers more opportunities to earn money through the system. They will be able to find a job in schools, offer local private classes or Skype tutoring, and teach 24/7 through online lessons.
We also want to finally really expand outside the Czech Republic. That is happening now.
For more on SpaceTeacher visit spaceteacher.com
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