Fabulingua on Wefunder 2021
Learning a new language can have benefits beyond easy traveling. From looking good on a resume to expanding social circles, language studies offer numerous possibilities. Although childhood can be the best time to pick up a new language, there are surprisingly few language-learning apps targeted at children.
FabuLingua recognized this need and created an app that teaches children languages through storytelling. Instead of simply memorizing flashcards, children can learn through content created by authors and illustrators from around the world. We reached out to co-founder and CEO Mark Begert to learn the inspiration behind the company and how FabuLingua plans to revolutionize childhood language learning going forward.
Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
In your own words, how would you describe the company?
FabuLingua is a mobile game that harnesses the power of stories to teach languages. Our unique approach — based on modern language learning science — makes it easy and engaging for kids to understand stories in a new language, which makes children’s stories a highly effective vehicle for immersive language learning. We call it “invisible learning.”
Fabulingua enables “invisible learning” through progressive game design that engages, challenges, and rewards kids (ages two to 10) as they listen to, read, and interact with fun stories from writers and illustrators all over the world. Think Roblox for children’s stories meets Duolingo!
FabuLingua’s freemium subscription app supports families and teachers. We provide families with an effective, high-quality solution for independent reading and learning at home, and we empower teachers with newfound capabilities for in-class content and distanced learning that will soon be supported by our teacher module.
There are 2 billion language learners in the world, and we are designing FabuLingua’s game system and interactive story assets to efficiently scale into multiple languages and markets. We can effectively re-skin our product into new languages across the world — in Latin America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.
We are initially focused on the highly fragmented and underserved kids language learning market, where we can have a substantial impact. We want to make learning a new language more fun and accessible for kids so that future generations will develop the innate empathy, cultural awareness, and preparedness to lead an increasingly globalized world.
What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?
Speaking more than one language is a super power. We would all love it for our kids. It opens up doors to new life opportunities that we, as parents and teachers, naturally want for our kids. And childhood is the best time to learn.
We created FabuLingua based on our personal experiences. As parents, we were aware of the significant benefits of learning a second language and the power of learning it during early childhood. But we were really frustrated by the lack of innovation in children’s language learning. Kids don’t learn a language by memorizing vocabulary or grammar rules. This approach isn’t effective.
Early language education should be as immersive and interactive an experience as possible. Leslie created a method through children’s stories based on her background in simultaneous translation. We found that kids will figure out vocabulary and grammar constructs if they are immersed in an engaging story and game, and it will stick! Modern language learning science backs this up. It’s the power of narrative structure to cement long-term learning.
Ultimately, we want kids to learn new languages for economic opportunity, brain development, and for a connection to their heritage. This is about doing something positive for kids on a global scale… about doing something positive for their development… their brain development, their social-emotional development, their sense of perspective. It’s about doing something to make them better human beings.
Who is on your team and how did you come together?
I met my co-founder and wife, Leslie Omaña Begert, in London when I was working in finance. Leslie’s background is fascinating. She was raised in a multilingual home in Spain to a Norwegian mother and Venezuelan father. She then studied social anthropology and psychology at Oxford and Cambridge (where she developed skills as a simultaneous translator for field research teams). And for the past 20 years, Leslie has lived and worked in China, Argentina, and now the United States as an entrepreneur, product developer, and artist. Her linguistic background and experience lead to the creation of the story-based pedagogy behind FabuLingua.
As I mentioned, I started in finance and have been a tech entrepreneur for the last 20 years, which includes leading an early consumer mobile application company in China from startup to a Nasdaq initial public offering (IPO). My background in building companies from the ground up complements Leslie’s creative, product-lead strengths, and I wanted to help Leslie build FabuLingua once I fully appreciated how unique and effective her “Magical Translations” method was.
But starting FabuLingua was not a decision we took lightly. There was a lot of market research, customer interviews, prototyping, testing, modeling, etc. that precipitated the decision. But the data and feedback — and our passion for the problem — strongly supported the need for our solution, and so we took the leap together.
We learned early on from customer interviews and testing that an interactive, gamified user experience would best engage and retain kids. With that intention, we have been fortunate enough to attract a talented, diverse team of designers, engineers, game developers, artists, and educators to FabuLingua’s mission. A few months ago, we hired our Head of Product Joseph Urban. Joseph started off in publishing, and for the last 20 years, he has designed for and directed mobile game studios. Joseph has been the right leader at the right time. He loves the challenge of marrying an engaging game with effective learning — all for positive social impact. At the beginning of the year, we brought on Matt Magginnis as head of engineering. Matt has been designing tech stacks and building game systems for the last 20 years. From the moment we met, Matt shared the vision to design FabuLingua’s technology so that we could efficiently scale with new stories and games into new languages.
We also have a great group of advisors that we lean on for strategic advice, operational input, recruiting, and networking. These individuals have been successful entrepreneurs in education, gaming, consumer digital products, and marketing.
Can you talk more about your experience leading a company to an IPO and raising funds in the past? How will your skills and experience help you with leading FabuLingua forward?
That experience was formative to my understanding of what it takes to build a company from the ground up. I joined the founding team of Linktone and eventually became CFO of what would become a more than 400-person company. Linktone was one of the first consumer mobile application developers in China innovating at the intersection of mobile and data.
We initially raised capital from more than 70 angel investors all over the world, and then we raised institutional investment from venture capitalists (VCs) in Taiwan and Japan. It felt like those first two financings were so hard and took so much time. With VCs in particular, we were rejected often, and negotiations were arduous.
We never stopped believing in the opportunity throughout the fundraising process, and it was critical that we stayed aggressive and focused on building our product and market during this time. As a result, only two years after closing our VC round, we took the company public via an IPO on the Nasdaq. I was fortunate enough to lead these efforts, and I got a lifetime of experience as a result.
As I look at FabuLingua and our opportunity, I see a lot of similarities and some differences. I believe that FabuLingua is also innovating at the intersection of two high-growth sectors — gaming and education. The kid’s language learning market is also fragmented with no clear leadership, and there are large, macro forces that are pushing this market to greater adoption. In addition, FabuLingua has stayed focused on product and market development and never wavered on the opportunity over the past three years.
The main difference is that FabuLingua is able to do a lot more with less. Technology, talented product leadership, and better processes will allow us to be much more efficient in our operational execution. Another difference is that there are relatively clear milestones for operating traction that demonstrate a company is on the right path. Both of these differences support a smaller, focused team at FabuLingua that is building a culture of efficiency and accountability that will allow us to quickly overcome challenges and maximize opportunity.
How is FabuLingua transforming the online language learning industry?
We believe that the future of education looks a lot like a game! To engage kids, spark curiosity, and meet them where they are, learning will lean heavily on narrative, digital gameplay and community to be an increasingly immersive experience. FabuLingua is unique — a role-playing mobile language-learning game based on children’s stories. We are innovating at the intersection of gaming and education.
Current kid’s language learning products are limited to teaching token vocabulary lists (colors, fruits, numbers). This traditional rote memorization approach isn’t effective and goes against the new insights of modern language-learning science.
FabuLingua’s proprietary learning technology features a specialty narration that combines reading, recording, and playing with stories and games. Our patent-pending “Magical Translations” method puts the child in a relaxed and engaged mode that enables the subconscious development of language skills. This turns illustrated children’s stories and games into highly effective vehicles for language development. We call it “invisible learning.”
What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?
Modern language learning science has shown that the most effective way to learn a new language is to maximize the amount of comprehensible language input in an engaging, low-stress way. And yet, there are no digital language-learning platforms based on “comprehensible input” that are designed specifically for kids. So we created one.
If other competitors eventually want to be aligned with the modern learning science around comprehensible input, then they would have to completely change their teaching method and their platforms. This would be a fundamental transformation. Our patent-pending learning method Magical Translations is based on an immediate spoken translation that’s strategically and rhythmically woven into the written language to create this comprehensible input.
Unlike many of our competitors, FabuLingua is innovating at the intersection of education and gaming. Our comprehensible stories are set in an immersive game world, where new locations to explore are opened up as users read more stories and gain proficiency. Game mechanics keep children coming back to the stories and playfully developing comprehension, literacy, and pronunciation in a new language.
In creating FabuLingua, we also recognized the need for culturally authentic content for kids, whether they are learning a second or a heritage language, and we work with non-traditional creators from all over the world to build this content.
So, FabuLingua is unique in that it offers the whole package: from an interactive story format to immersive game design, long-term effectiveness and a wide range of beginner-to-advanced content that puts kids on the path to fluency.
Who is your target customer and what is your go-to-market strategy?
We already know that parents are searching for genuinely productive screen time that adds value to their children’s lives. And we have learned that teachers of English as a second language (ESL) and world languages have fewer resources compared to science, technology, engineering, and math teachers. We have seen that these language teachers need effective digital teaching tools to support in-class and at-home study to improve learning outcomes. FabuLingua solves these needs.
Our go-to-market model is business-to-business-to-consumer. We empower school teachers, language instructors and businesses, and gig tutors to reach families and customers.
- We complement in-person or virtual instruction and extend learning out of class.
- We enable progress tracking and learning analysis for teachers and parents.
- Teachers are an effective and highly credible channel to parents/families.
- Teachers become product ambassadors.
How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?
The use of capital from this crowdfunding campaign will go primarily to adding resources to our game design, engineering, and story production teams as well as building up our marketing operations. Key additions to these functional areas will allow us to:
- Accelerate the development and launch of FabuLingua’s new mobile game version — to increase user engagement.
- Optimize subscription and gameplay monetization.
- Complete our data-driven tech stack and to reduce story production time by 50%.
- Launch our teacher module — to lower customer acquisition cost and increase retention.
- Launch ESL product in US and Latin America to grow addressable market 10X.
- Build a marketing machine to expand teacher and direct-to-consumer reach.
With successful execution, we will build operating traction towards institutional seed financing within 12 to 18 months.
What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?
This round of financing comes at an inflection point in value for the company. In the prior 24 months, we have cost-effectively created a strong product and technology foundation and developed a deep understanding of our customer and market. Our direction and strategy are clear, and over the next 12 to 24 months, we are poised to build significant value for FabuLingua and its shareholders.
As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?
In five years, we plan to be in more than 10 languages and have a global presence on multiple mobile platforms. FabuLingua will be a dynamic game with regular new features and an expansive, immersive world to explore and learn. We will have a loyal, highly engaged community of players learning through play as well as a global community of teachers and educators contributing to and leveraging hundreds of stories on our platform to teach languages through play. We can make a global impact on kids.
Because we draw upon publishing, gaming, education and will be able to integrate with emerging technology platforms (virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain), we have the potential to be a great partner or addition to larger platforms in these industries. At the same time, we are building a community of both consumer- and enterprise-level customers (teachers and schools), and we see a future where we could independently expand our platform into other industry verticals.
We look forward to seeing where Mark and his team take the company. FabuLingua is currently raising on Wefunder.
About: Yasmin Sharbaf
Yasmin is passionate about the intersection of business, art, and science. Prior to KingsCrowd, Yasmin worked on a cryptocurrency investing research project for Wellesley College Investment Office where she assessed the risks and rewards for university endowment investment into cryptocurrency. She has also previously worked in a neuroscience lab studying language and memory of songbirds. Yasmin’s dream is to make investing and financial education accessible to everyone. In her free time, Yasmin enjoys going on adventures, learning new languages, and exploring different cultures. Yasmin studied Neuroscience and Studio Art at Wellesley College.