Tandem’s Berlin-based startup, an app for second language instruction, has raised a £4.5 million (~$5.7 million) Series A round of investment to focus on the development prospects it sees as the coronavirus epidemic begins to drive the transition to digital and online learning.
Thanks to questions about virus infection risks to students mixing on physical campuses, there is a growing need for technology that allows language students to find others to practice with, as Tandem says.
So while language learning applications build a very crowded environment with giants like Duolingo so Babbel, Tandem is focused on a different niche: the domain of native speakers.
As the name suggests, the software matches with each other — connecting users with others who seek to learn their language for shared practice by (their choice) email, phone talk, or video call.
The framework also integrates a more structured aspect of learning by granting tutors access. Yet the key focus is to help the learner’s progress by speaking to a native speaker via the app.
According to Tandem co-founder and CEO Arnd Aschentrup, this is a growing global need because of the pandemic drive to socially distant learners. He says the coronavirus outbreak has sparked a rise of 200 percent in new users — showing a “strong demand” for digital language learning among customers.
The company has now taken on another funding tranche so that it can scale up to reach this rising global demand.
The Series A is led by Brighteye Ventures, a European VC fund, with the involvement of Trind Ventures, Rubylight Limited and GPS Ventures. That takes the overall sum earned to £6.8 million for the company to date.
In the past few months, he says two “primary phenomena” have emerged: “First, schools and universities offering language courses have either partially shut down, or switched almost completely to remote lessons. Therefore, students focus on additional channels for studying and practicing languages which are precisely what Tandem provides.
Until COVID-19, the tandem has expanded in use — increasing participation from about a million back in 2017 (when we last spoke), to over 10 million members currently scattered across 180 countries.
Aschentrup couches the underlying growth as “solid organic demand,” noting that since 2019 the company has been successful (thus not getting any external funding up to now). Yet, with the pandemic curve ball speeding up the transition to online learning, it’s expecting the network to start growing up.
Tandem ‘s biggest language learner markets are China (10%), the U.S. (9%), and Japan (9%) — which together make up about a third (27%) of the consumer base.
While the most popular language pairs (in ranked order of popularity) are:
- English – Spanish
- Spanish – Portuguese
- English – Chinese
- English – French
- Chinese – Japanese
Although the vast majority (94 percent) of Tandem’s consumer base makes use of the freemium service, it monetizes with a premium program, called Tandem Pro, which it launched in 2018 to cater for users who “prefers to pursue a group approach to language learning,” as Aschentrup puts it.
Aschentrup defines Tandem’s “group component” as a core differentiator relative to other language learning applications — saying it lets users “build and sustain a cross-cultural friendship.” The latest investment will help to create additional capabilities for the app and expand the team through Aschentrup via marketing and innovation.