Busuu were announced as the winners of the EdTechX Impact Awards. We spoke with Bernhard Niesner, Co-Founder and CEO of Busuu to learn more about the company’s aspirations and next steps…
What was the inspiration behind starting Busuu?
I founded Busuu in 2008 with my co-founder, Adrian Hilti, after we finished our MBA studies. Back then, most people learned languages offline using traditional methods — perhaps with CD-ROMs if they were feeling innovative! From our own experiences learning languages and interacting with people from different cultures whilst travelling, we were convinced there was a more effective way to learn. So we launched Busuu initially as a social network for language learning, allowing people from all over the world to both learn and practice their language skills.
What would you like everyone to know about Busuu?
Busuu offers the best way to learn a language by combining social interactions with smart learning. We have grown to over 100 million users worldwide and also support over 200 global companies in their language learning training of their employees.
What are you looking to achieve next?
Earlier this year we acquired Verbling, a live tutoring marketplace with over 10,000 teachers. We are now in the process of integrating a live tutoring offering within the Busuu product.
Looking back to the day you started, what would you have done differently?
We’ve had a tremendous 12 years, so it’s difficult to pinpoint one thing that I would’ve done differently along the way. An important lesson I’ve learned along the way is that business thrives when it has a strong company culture. As Peter Drucker says, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. In our early years, we’ve definitely experienced our own ‘growing pains’ when we didn’t have a strong enough foundation in terms of our company culture. Since then, we completely changed the way we hire and promote company culture, which really helped us get back onto the growth track.
What piece of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
The best way to fundraise is by generating revenue. Every business will face its own unique challenges, and the key to surviving these challenges is to focus on offering real value to your users.
How do you think the support and ecosystem in your country have helped you to launch and grow Busuu?
We were founded in Spain, but have been headquartered in London since 2012. The UK has a strong startup ecosystem and culture, with great access to talent and investors. Its EdTech scene has also grown considerably over the last few years and it has been thrilling to be a part of its development.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have seen with Busuu amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?
Switching to a fully remote workforce was definitely a short-term challenge for us initially but we have coped very well, also thanks to our strong culture. Covid-19 has been a big boost for online education so we are glad to be working in an industry which has been positively affected by this crisis.
How to envisage the EdTech landscape to change as we go into the ‘New Normal’?
The industry has accelerated at an unprecedented pace since the start of the pandemic. Now, more people, on a global scale, realise the benefits of online learning. As the habits of individuals and organisations adapt after the pandemic, the EdTech industry should continue to focus on what it does best — solving real problems for real users and harness the power of tools like AI and machine learning to develop more effective learning outcomes.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
We’re incredibly excited about what the future holds for EdTech. Busuu has had a strong year in terms of growth so far, and we look forward to continuing on at the forefront of the EdTech industry.