Cohort 14 Spotlight: Solving Language Learning with Sensay

Blue Startups
5 min readAug 8, 2022


Sensay co-founders Caren Chen (left), Lukas Horak (center), and Lalaine Lim (right)

In Blue Startups’ Spotlight series, we highlight the people and stories that make startups possible. Sensay is a web app that helps English learners improve speaking skills and boost confidence via speaking exercises with instant pronunciation feedback. Sensay’s co-founder and CEO, Caren Chen, chatted with us today about their company and exciting new developments.

So first off, can you tell me a little bit about your founding team, how you guys met and where the inspiration for Sensay came from?

My team and I were all living in Taipei, Taiwan. I met Lukas, our CTO and a really talented engineer, quite a few times at various startup events before we started on this company. We did a hackathon together one weekend, where we worked on an early prototype of Sensay, and that’s how I recruited him onto our team. Around the same time, I was looking for a UI/UX person to help do user research and design. I posted about it on Facebook, and Lalaine, a really talented designer, reached out and joined the team as our product lead.

The inspiration for Sensay came from the time I was working for a multinational pharmaceutical company in Taipei. One of my main responsibilities as the Chief of Staff was to create and embed an English-first work culture at our office. Everybody in the office spoke Mandarin except for the general manager. I saw firsthand the hesitation my very smart, very talented Taiwanese colleagues encountered speaking English, even in a multinational work environment. I saw what folks were doing to prepare for presentations and meetings in English and it was a big pain point. Some colleagues would use Google to translate Chinese into English, then memorize, almost like a script. Even though students in Taiwan are required to learn English at a very early age, and there is a huge private industry for English learning, there is still this hesitancy and lack of confidence around speaking English.

Seeing this issue, I put my problem solving hat on and asked myself, “What is going on?” I talked to teachers, parents, and students themselves, teaching and observing a few classes myself to try to diagnose this problem. I found that the lack of opportunities to practice speaking English on a regular, frequent basis is a big contributor to having a fear of speaking. That’s why we honed in on our voice technology. Now, with Sensay, students can speak as often as they want in a fun, low-pressure way, while receiving instant motivating feedback.

With Sensay, the students are speaking a lot more than they would be without it.

My understanding of Sensay is that it is primarily targeting the ed-tech market for younger learners. Does the product extend itself to corporate and B2B settings?

It might seem like we skew younger because of our color scheme and design. While we find that kids are a better niche for us, we actually have a really broad range of users, supporting four-year-olds all the way to adult learners. But we’ve found that our product is most effective for students ages five through twelve because we make speaking fun, shifting their mindset towards more positive learning reinforcement.

What techniques does Sensay use to engage students that improve on existing English classes?

With Sensay, the students are speaking a lot more than they would without it. For example, a typical class size in Taiwan is about 30, making it really difficult to get one-on-one speaking time in that environment. When English classes are only 45 to 60 minutes long, and just once or twice a week, the actual time that a student gets to practice their speaking is negligible, and that time is even less if they are shy. So we’re really taking students who have practically zero minutes of speaking time to around 30 minutes a month on the Sensay platform. Besides the practice time increasing substantially, we also see that student’s attitude towards speaking also changes. Instead of being this scary, de-motivating thing that students all think they’re bad at, Sensay makes speaking fun and like a skill that can be improved with practice, just like exercise or sports. The mindset change happens very quickly and is what inspires us to keep working at this every day.

So what has Sensay been up to in 2022 and now with Blue Startups, how does Sensay plan on growing?

We launched our product in March of 2021 for free, gathering user feedback and seeing how our product was doing. We think we kept the platform free a little bit longer than we needed to. But, when we finally did get online payments up, and began monetizing the platform about six weeks ago, we’ve actually gotten quite a good percentage of our users to convert to the paid model. That’s how we know that we are offering something that really is of value. Not only have teachers praised our product and team for what we are doing, but they’ve actually given us their hard-earned money for Sensay. We not only help students, but also save teachers time in grading students’ oral assessment and practice.

With Blue and where we go from here, we hope to develop a more rigorous customer acquisition strategy and marketing plan. As a SaaS platform, we know that there are certain levers that we can pull to scale and we just need to do a bunch of experiments to test and figure out which one really makes the most sense for us.

Are there any other challenges that Sensay has encountered in the past or is continuing to address, and what are your plans to ameliorate those difficulties?

We’ve built so much flexibility into the platform, it can be a blessing or a curse. We’re really just an open platform where anybody can create a speaking exercise for someone to complete. And because of this openness and flexibility, we have pondered a lot about who the primary payer should be and who we should target to be the main customer. Is it selling to parents, teachers, schools, or students? But we’ve since decided that targeting schools is our best strategy, and they have turned out to be our largest accounts.

To learn more about Sensay, visit their website.

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