It’s no secret that learning to speak English is difficult, and paying a tutor is often far too expensive for people around the world. Our latest investment is in a young Australian company that seeks to tackle this global problem.
Language Confidence is a B2B solution that enables English language teaching, testing, and preparation services for students of all levels, leveraging machine learning and AI to democratise access to education. The company’s vision “for anyone, anywhere to be able to access quality and affordable English lessons and testing” is inspiring, but resonated equally strong with regards to business opportunity.
Last week, the company announced the close of a US$1.5m seed round, which Investible participated in alongside the Singapore-based global VC, Wavemaker Partners. This funding will support further development on its product and execution of its growth strategy.
In touch with a global opportunity
The demand to learn the English is massive, and the market is incredibly diverse with respect to access and affordability. It’s the most spoken non-native language on the planet. It is estimated that there are over 1.5bn people trying to learn English in the world today, fuelling a US$30bn online language learning and testing market which is growing at double digital figures annually.
Growth has been accelerated by COVID-19 which forced the majority of language learning online, resulting in greater ease of access and scalability. Language Confidence is extremely well placed to continue to capture its share of this enormous market.
The company’s co-founders, Nicholas Jenkins and Swahn Fraye combine direct experience with passion for the space in which they’re disrupting. Nick previously sold a business at 21 years old, and founded another EdTech startup before undertaking this new venture. He began formulating the idea for the product during the nearly four years he spent living and teaching English in China.
Swahn, serving as co-founder and CTO, left Atlassian to build Language Confidence, after experiencing the challenges of learning English himself, and the immense opportunity to improve the process.
Marco Sentinelli, serving as CCO, brings a wealth of expertise and leadership from his role launching 2 startups, and working in 10 different countries across multiple continents for various corporates and SMEs.
Never underestimate the relentlessness of passionate founders
Our investment in Language Confidence speaks to the value we place on staying close to founders from the very start of their journey. Back in 2020, our team approved investment in the company, but at that point, the round never fully materialised. Almost 12 months later to the day, the company was reconsidered by our investment committee, and subsequently approved, with demonstrably greater traction than when first considered, and Wavemaker Partners secured as a lead investor.
Co-founders Nick and Swahn, demonstrated commendable perseverance during the 12-month period to navigate several setbacks which individually had the potential to derail the company. This included a failure to close the round which resulted in constrained resources, a co-founder exit, and the loss of the largest customer when the contract came up for renewal. Despite these obstacles, the co-founders remained laser focused on product development and customer acquisition to keep the company moving forward.
This tenacity was eventually rewarded, achieving three major product milestones which 3x’d signed clients – releasing a new version of their pronunciation model, completing their first LMS integration and deploying an automated English test. These past experiences gave us further conviction over the quality of the founding team.
Staying ahead of the competition
Language Confidence’s AI-based platform assesses—and grades—how well a word is spoken, rather than if it is technically ‘correct’. The sophisticated technology appraises pronunciation and enunciation together, to provide tangible, actionable feedback.
Pronunciation is related to the word itself; how combinations of letters should sound, and which syllables should be emphasised. Enunciation is centred in the completeness of the communication; how clearly and distinctly sounds (and words) are expressed.
The company’s pronunciation model currently offers a far more superior product than other solutions in-market being faster and more accurate. However, being an “optimisation” solution, there is heightened risk that someone else builds a better product unless continued investment in tech / product is made to stay in front. We got comfortable with these associated risks given the company’s clear and rationalised product roadmap to offer holistic, end-to-end, automated English speech assessment as a service.
This will be achieved through refining the existing Pronunciation models and developing new models to expand their offering. Future models will include Fluency, reading expressively with accuracy and at a good pace, Prosody, the tune and rhythm of speech and how these features contribute to meaning, and Automatic Speech Recognition models.
Among other things, the expanded product offering also includes a fully automated speaking and listening English test. Notably, the test has an open-ended, free-flowing speech assessment and is customisable. I had a lot of fun testing my English speaking ability during the process, although for one question I received a pronunciation score of 70%, with three disfluencies and two suggested grammatical corrections… sounds like I may need more practice. The comprehensive product roadmap articulates a clear path to remaining ahead of the competition, with execution being “mission critical”.
We are excited to support Language Confidence as they seek to fulfil their ambitious mission to make language learning accessible globally.