In foreign language classes, students learn vocabulary ranging from “restaurant” to “penguin.” But how often does one need to ask about penguins when traveling in Spain? Mobile app company TripLingo lets travelers skip right to the most relevant words for their interests.
“I think the app really understands travelers. It’s like a Swiss army knife for the aspiringnomadic multi-linguist,” says Danny Michlewicz, who used the app for two and a half weeks while traveling in Brazil during Carnival in February.
Jesse Maddox developed the idea for TripLingo after spending two years traveling around Asia. Most people, don’t have the time to become fluent, or even conversational, in another language in order to prepare for a brief trip to a country where that language is spoken. But Maddox’s experience gave him an appreciation for how knowing the local language can greatly improve the travel experience.
Maddox envisioned a concept that would allow users to customize the language tool to suggest phrases that are relevant to the user’s interests and that gives the options to learn formal phrases, casual phrases or local slang as fitting for the occasion. And he wanted the tool to be portable so users could learn on the go.
Founded at Start Atlanta in early 2011, the company has since pitched and won at Startup Riot, a popular local pitch competition, pitched at the Venture Atlanta investor showcase and raised $300,000 in seed capital from a variety of angel investors including those from the Atlanta Technology Angels.
“Atlanta has a smaller startup scene than some other cities. This is an advantage because people in the startup community really help you when they believe in your idea,” Maddox says. “We all want more of our entrepreneurs to succeed, so everyone in the Atlanta startup community offers advice and introductions. We’ve benefitted from introductions within the technology space as well as to investors both in and outside of Atlanta.”
To date, TripLingo is available in 12 languages, including Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Korean, Mandarin, Hindi, Thai and Japanese. The apps are priced at $9.99 and versions for iOS devices, the Android platform, the Nook and the Kindle Fire are available at their respective app stores. While an Internet connection is needed to download the app, users can then access the features and vocabulary without connecting to the Internet.
As a startup, TripLingo has been particularly adept at garnering news coverage for its apps and indeed this has been a central part of the company’s promotional strategy to drive app sales.
In summer 2011, the company released a free Dari version to support troops and aid
workers in Afghanistan and to leverage the slower than normal July 4th news cycle to garner coverage. And with tongue firmly in cheek, it released a free Pirate language app when it first launched in May 2011. This was timed to take advantage of the media attention given to the 2011 installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. A 99-cent Romance Edition featuring flirtatious phrases in 10 languages was released in honor of Valentine’s Day. Each of these releases earned TripLingo coveted media coverage from media outlets ranging from LifeHacker to Gizmodo to Entrepreneur magazine.
Why A Language App and Why Now?
Maddox’s idea coincided with the growing popularity of smartphones. This type of inexpensive portable program to learn language simply wasn’t possible before the
|TripLingo App Features
majority of travelers began carrying small “computers” in their pockets.
Nielsen recently reported that 46 percent of U.S. mobile consumers owned smartphones as of fourth quarter 2011. The Pew Research Center reports that more than 60 percent of people within certain demographic segments — such as 18- to 35-year-olds, college graduates, or people with annual household incomes of more than $75,000 — own smartphones. One would expect members of these demographic segments are among the most likely to travel to foreign countries and require the services provided by a TripLingo app.
Beyond being a traveler’s must-have, a TripLingo app has also been known to prevent a potentially disruptive allergic reaction.
According to TripLingo user Micah Moon, a third-year law student who was backpacking through Spain, France and Italy last summer:
“We were in Nice, and my friend, who is allergic to nuts, ordered a sandwich. The menu didn’t list nuts as an ingredient, but my friend suspected that the bread had nuts. We used TripLingo to tell the waiter about the food allergy and he confirmed there were tiny chopped nuts in the bread.”
Among the company’s key initiatives in 2012 is developing a web platform. “With more screen real estate, we can do things on the web that we can’t do on mobile. For example, we’ve developed different learning games and we can use more visual imagery to reinforce learning,” Maddox explains.
Web services will be sold via monthly subscription. “For example, we can sell trip packages that include four months of web access and the users get to keep the phone version,” he says.
According to Maddox, the company’s focus has always been to create a critical mass of languages and develop capabilities for different platforms. As the company continues to release new languages, Maddox is also shifting focus to expand distribution channels.
“Discoverability is tough in the App Store,” he says. “We are now working on agreements with companies that have customers who have the problem that we solve. We want to create win-win-win situations.”
The company expects to announce distribution partners later this year.