The Berlin-based startup behind Tandem, an app for practicing a second language, has closed a $5.7 million Series A round of financing to capitalize on growth opportunities it’s seeing as the coronavirus crisis continues to accelerate the switch to digital and online learning.
The Series A round was lead by Brighteye Ventures, in cooperation with Trind Ventures, Rubylight Limited and GPS Ventures. It brings the startup’s total raised to date to $8.8 million.
Photo: Tandem team
With many higher education institutions going remote as a result of concerns over virus exposure risks of students mixing on physical campuses, there’s a growing need for technology that helps language students find people to practice with, as Tandem tells it. And while language learning apps make for a very crowded space, with giants like Duolingo and Babbel, Tandem focuses on a different niche: native speaker practice.
As the name suggests, its app does pair matching — connecting users with others who’re trying to learn their own language for mutual practice, by (their choice of) text, phone chat or video call. The platform also incorporates a more formal learning component by providing access to tutors. But the main thrust is to help learners get better by practicing chatting to a native speaker via the app.
Because of the pandemic push to socially distant learners, that’s a growing digital need, according to Tandem co-founder and CEO Arnd Aschentrup. He says the coronavirus crisis spurred a 200% increase in new users — highlighting a “clear appetite” among consumers for digital language learning.
The team has taken another tranche of funding now so it can scale to meeting this growing global opportunity.
“Given the accelerated user-uptake and clear market opportunity, we felt that 2020 was the right time to partner with the team at Brighteye to bring Tandem into the mainstream,” says Aschentrup, adding: “We anticipate significant growth opportunities for online learning and social learning in the wake of coronavirus.”He says two “key trends” have emerged over the past few months: “Firstly, schools and universities providing language courses have either temporarily shut down, or moved almost entirely to remote lessons. Students are therefore relying on additional platforms to learn and practice languages, which is precisely what Tandem offers.
“Secondly, we know that lockdown has enormously limited people’s ability to socialise. Friendships have been harder to maintain, and new connections more difficult to spark. We’re excited about Tandem’s ability to connect people all across the globe despite lockdown. Since coronavirus began, engagement on Tandem’s video chat feature has increased three-fold, and new user signups have increased 200%.”
Tandem had been growing usage prior to COVID-19 — increasing membership to more than 10 million members now, spread across 180 countries.
Commenting in a statement, Alex Spiro, managing partner at Brighteye Ventures, lauded the team’s “innovative and effective strategy” in building a community platform that tackles the language gap by connecting learners with fluent speakers. “The product has not only proven resilient in this global crisis but has seen impressive growth during the period, and the team is now very well equipped to come out of it stronger and to continue to support loyal language learners that now number in the millions and will number many more in the coming years,” he added.