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The product-driven growth behind edtech’s most downloaded app – TechCrunch


CEO of Duolingo and Co-founder Luis von Ahn was tired of the gray, dreary design of aesthetic edtech companies used to mimic universities. Instead, he and the company’s first team took inspiration from games like Angry Birds and Clash Royale, seeking to create a class that screamed more of comic book anarchy than boardroom. From this unbridled creativity was born the company’s distinctive mascot: a childish and rebellious owl of persistent color named Duo.

Duolingo didn’t just throw out the old colors – he wanted to completely rethink bottom-up language learning for mobile. So he replaced top-down education programs with analysis-driven growth strategies, becoming consumed by a philosophy that has more recently been dubbed product-driven growth.

Used by companies such as Calendly, Slack, and Dropbox, product-driven growth is a strategy in which a company repeats its product to create loyal fans turned customers who popularize the product with others, creating a growth loop. viral. This is an interesting path because it considerably reduces the cost of user acquisition while increasing engagement and therefore retention. Duolingo, for example, took this template and found ways to incorporate engagement hooks, pockets of joy, and addicting educational features into its core app.

With early venture capital in its pocket, Duolingo could afford to focus on product rather than profits.

In Part 1 of this EC-1, we explored how von Ahn’s previous products around CAPTCHA led to the launch of Duolingo, the rise and fall of participatory translation as a means of disrupting language learning. , and the accidental iteration of a leading educational application by a pair. of interns. The startups’ early signs of success gave him the energy to focus on growing to accomplish two things: knowing what they are doing is working and collecting a lot of user data in order to continue to iterate the product into something that was. more and more addicting to use.

Now we’ll take a look at how Duolingo has used product-driven growth as leverage to expand its consumer base, and how a gamification-based business is trying to balance its fantasy with education outcomes.

Duo, the Duolingo mascot, who flies. Image credits: Duolingo

From Angry Birds to a funny and sometimes scowl owl

Tyler Murphy, who graduated from his internship at Duolingo by launching the company’s iOS app, noticed that the gaming world was rapidly innovating around him in the mid-2010s. Angry Birds was no longer the only popular game on the Internet. mobile, and video games were generally becoming more appealing, with in-app currencies, progress bars and an addicting creative experience. He suddenly saw connections between the entertainment the games provided and the patient’s learning required for languages.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if the skill got harder and harder, kind of like how a character in a game becomes more powerful and powerful?” he remembers asking. Duolingo drew inspiration from Angry Birds early on as well as Clash Royale later, after the game launched in 2016. “Half the people in Duolingo were playing Clash Royale at one point,” he says. “And I think that has shaped our product roadmap and our design language a lot.”

The games solved an extremely personal problem for Murphy. The employee, who would go on to become chief designer at Duolingo, had gone to college to teach students Spanish but eventually left the field after struggling to inspire children in a classroom. The realization that Duolingo could borrow from gambling instead of monotonous edtech companies gave an adrenaline rush – and permission – for the team to experiment with new approaches to learning.

Each game requires some form of experience points and leveling up, and for Duolingo learners, that progression comes in the form of skill trees.

These trees, which were designed by a design agency early in the company’s development, are the core Duolingo experience, a visual representation of language skills that are interconnected and become increasingly difficult and refined over time. time. Each skill is a prerequisite for another. Sometimes it’s just logic: in order to be able to talk about restaurants, you should probably be able to introduce yourself first. Sometimes, however, this is a necessary basic: to talk about your routine, you should be able to talk about basic daily activities.

In Duolingo, each unit has its own set of skills, each divided into five lessons. Once you have completed all five lessons, you can move on to the next skill. Complete all skills and you can move on to the next unit. Depending on the language, a user may experience an average of 60 skills in nine different units within a course.

The product-driven growth behind edtech’s most downloaded app – TechCrunch

Duolingo Skill Tree UX in 2012. Image credits: Duolingo

The product-driven growth behind edtech’s most downloaded app – TechCrunch

Duolingo Skill Tree UX in 2021. Image credits: Duolingo

The power of growth of a cartoon owl meme

Duolingo had his “upgrade” model figured out, but now he had to integrate gamification into every nook and cranny of his application. One of her first challenges was to rebuild the kind of emotional teacher-student bond that can help students stay motivated to learn. No one likes to fail, and Duolingo stumbled upon an evolutionary approach through their cartoon owl mascot Duo – also thought of by the design agency behind the skill trees.

Whenever users pass or fail their lessons today, they are likely to be encouraged or warned by the presence of Duo. The designers sprinkled Duo throughout the product, looking at Super Mario Brothers as an example of using iconic art to create a user-friendly gaming experience. In the first versions of the app, Duo was present but static, more of an icon than a personality. This changed as the company pushed its engagement more and more.



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