Duolingo gets a lot of accolades. It was Apple’s App of the Year in 2013 and on both Google’s editors’ and users’ choice year-end lists. It just won Best Education Startup at the Crunchies. The free language-learning service now has 12.5 million active users.
Now the company has raised $20 million in Series C funding led by Kleiner Perkins, adding to $18.3 million previously raised from investors including Union Square Ventures and NEA.
Duolingo CEO Luis von Ahn noted that his product feels different from most other sorts of education experiences. “People say they ‘play Duolingo,’” he said. “Our users aren’t hardcore. They are procrastinating and don’t want to feel as bad, so they open our app.”
That casual feeling makes for a broad appeal. “We figured out that we have more people learning language on a given day on Duolingo than in the whole U.S. school system,” von Ahn said.
So why does Duolingo need more money? In part, to develop its paid products.
Von Ahn said Duolingo is building a separate language certification app, where people can take a formally proctored exam with a camera and microphone for only $20. And it is expanding its translation business, where publishers pay to have their content quickly translated by language learners — currently CNN and BuzzFeed are the only announced clients.
Also, von Ahn said he wanted to develop a relationship with Kleiner Perkins’s Bing Gordon, the former EA executive known for his gaming industry experience.