Many people used the time during the pandemic to learn new languages or brush up on their knowledge – this has brought numerous new customers to the language learning provider Babbel, among others. At the end of September, the Berlin-based company celebrated a milestone: ten million subscriptions have been sold since the start in 2009. In Germany alone, the number of new customers has tripled since the spring and the activity of existing customers has doubled.
“Many people who are now learning languages use the time to prepare for better times,” said co-founder Markus Witte in the podcast “Die Stunden Null”. “We have had a year in which we are missing parts: We haven’t taken vacations, haven’t seen family and friends. Many are preparing for the time when they can travel again. This is one of those longings that remain unsatisfied, and our customers are highly motivated to travel. ”The number of completed lessons in the Babbel app has doubled since March. On average, users stay for 18 months.
Babbel was founded in 2007 and is considered a pioneer in online language courses. In 2007 the founders actually wanted to start a collaboration platform for musicians, by chance they started an online language learning software. The idea of doing the whole thing without CD-ROMs and textbooks was new at the time. “Our first product was very popular, but you couldn’t learn a language with it,” said Witte, who was CEO until the end of 2019 and is now Executive Chairman.
“If I want to parley smoothly in Italy next year, it will totally help if I start this year”
Since 2009, Babbel has been relying on subscriptions, not advertising – because in the eyes of the founders this only distracts. “When I learn a language, I don’t want to see ads that I have to click all the time,” said Witte. In 2015, the Berlin-based company expanded into the USA. Today Babbel has over 10,000 hours of learning content in 14 languages from Spanish to Indonesian. The company is constantly expanding its range of services, most recently Babbel invested in a language travel platform, podcasts and live tutoring by native speakers. According to the most recently published business figures, Babbel had sales of EUR 106 million, has 750 employees and is based in Berlin and New York.
“You don’t learn languages in three or four weeks,” said Wittte. “If I want to parley smoothly in Italy next year, it will help a lot if I start this year.” During the lockdown, people were driven by the “desire to do something useful, to use this dark time.” Many already had carried the plan around longer. “Now they say to themselves: Now is the time.”
Hear in the new episode of “The Zero Hour”,
- why Babbel was once mentioned in the same breath as the “Wall Street Journal”,
- why the Berlin startup could only come into being because one of the founders wanted to learn Spanish,
- which languages are the most difficult for an online app.
You can find all episodes directly at Audio Now, Apple or Spotify or via Google.