Drops made a game out of learning a language, and it’s paying off. The company said it has hit 25 million users and reached a revenue run rate of $10 million.
In 2020, the Talinn, Estonia-based company has seen an increase of 7.5 million users and is forecasted to hit 30 million in total by the end of the year, said CEO Daniel Farkas, in an interview with GamesBeat. By the end of this year, annual revenue should hit $10 million, up 13 times from $719,000 in 2017.
“The biggest advantage is that Drops is a game, not a gamified language course,” said Farkas. “The core experience is a proper game. Gamification gives you external motivation with rewards. The immersive game experience is internal, or intrinsic.”
The app has five-minute sessions where you can answer drill questions that require you to swipe in a direction on a smartphone. The vocabulary questions are read out loud to you, and you have to answer the questions within a time limit. I played around with it and it was pretty easy as an experience. It recognizes your voice when you speak answers to queries. There are about 15 minigames now.
Learning to teach
It’s been a long journey for Farkas and cofounder Mark Szulyovsky, who started the company in 2012.
Farkas is from Hungary. He learned English, and then Spanish, and he found he enjoyed deconstructing languages.
“I realized that you need to pick up languages in order to have a decent shot at the global marketplace,” he said. “I realized that the foundations of language learning are the core vocabulary and building consistency. Language learning is a marathon, not a sprint. You get confidence by learning the building blocks. I couldn’t find a really good tool to build these foundations.”
So they started to work on a solution. They entered an accelerator for startups in Estonia. Mentors for the program came from game companies such as Supercell and Rovio.
“They were quite an inspiration,” Farkas said.
The duo embarked on an app that they called Learning Visible, spending 18 months on it. It didn’t work.
“The retention was not there,” he said. “It wasn’t sticky enough. People were not using it on a daily basis. We worked on it for one and a half years, and we pulled the plug.”
So they started to work again from scratch, inspired by gaming. They borrowed from gaming by offering the lessons for just five minutes a day, about the same amount of time that people played mobile games like Supercell’s Clash of Clans. They built Drops within six months. They launched it and it immediately got traction. Apple featured the game in China, and it started taking off.
Drops debuted in 2015 and it took off, netting more than 900,000 downloads in its first year. It kept growing and they launched an Android app in 2017. The company has grown to 23 people, mostly scattered around Europe. Farkas remains in Hungary, and the company still hasn’t raised any money.
The Drops app is free to use for five minutes a day. But you can buy the premium app on iOS and Android for $8.50 a month with no time limit. The average user uses it for about seven minutes a day.
“The limited time makes you really focused on learning,” Farkas said.
Drops now offers 42 languages, and it has been adding around seven languages a year. Drops has also evolved from a single app to a language learning platform spanning mobile and web-based programs. It has also launched Scripts, which teaches learners how to read and write new alphabet and character-based writing systems, and Droplets, designed to teach kids ages eight to 17 to learn foreign languages.
In the past five years, Drops has helped revive culturally endangered languages such as Hawaiian, Samoan, and Maori. The work led them to a partnership with UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages to digitize one of the world’s most critically endangered languages, Ainu, spoken by the indigenous peoples of Japan.
Rivals include Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. Cambium Learning Group bought Rosetta Stone for $792 million last month.
“We’re the ones that focus on being a game, and that’s why we’re growing,” Farkas said.
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