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Elevator Pitch: Verbling

Can you say $1 million? A language-learning start-up is hoping that investors can.
Big Talkers Verbling's co-founders — (from left) Jake Jolis, Mikael Bernstein, and Fred Wulff — are collectively fluent in six languages.
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CO-FOUNDERS: Mikael Bernstein, Jake Jolis, and Fred Wulff

LOCATION: Sunnyvale, California

EMPLOYEES: None

LAUNCHED: July 2011

2011 REVENUE: 0

2012 PROJECTED REVENUE: $650,000

NUMBER OF USERS: 24,000

COST: Free. Verbling eventually plans to charge users for premium accounts.

PREVIOUS FUNDING: $170,000, from Y Combinator, SV Angel, and other investors

FUNDING SOUGHT: $1 million

The Pitch: "Plenty of people study French or German in school, but few become fluent, because they never speak with anyone from France or Germany. Verbling is a video platform that links language learners and native speakers around the world. Our platform instantly matches people once they sign up, so they don't have to waste time searching for people to chat with. The language-learning market is $32 billion, so there is huge demand for a product like ours. We've also gotten a lot of e-mails from teachers requesting a version of our platform for universities. We're raising money to hire engineers so we can build that product and redesign our site." 

The Experts Weigh In

Find A Partner
I really like the format of Verbling's service; it's very clever. Having said that, it potentially falls into the category of being more of a feature than a standalone company. The basic format of the service could be easily replicated. Also, I wonder if Verbling offers enough high-value content that users will be willing to pay for it. Perhaps Verbling could partner with other companies to offer written or audio content to help users with the language-learning process.

Warren Lee
General Partner | Canaan Partners
New York City

Where's the Beef?
The market for language learning is quite large, so there is a great opportunity here. It's also being competitively pursued by a lot of companies, such as Livemocha, which has raised $19 million and amassed more than 11 million users. It's not clear that one company will dominate, but it's hard to know from Verbling's pitch what its real distinguishing element is. Verbling is off to a good start. But before I'd take a meeting, I'd want to know more about how the company has attracted its current users.

Jon Chait
Partner | Dace Ventures
Waltham, Massachusetts

Build the community
This is definitely an opportunity I would consider. But matching people live is really hard to pull off. One Chatroulette incident is all you need to disenchant users—so there has to be some quality control built in. Also, one user might think he is below average, and another might think she is above average, but actually they are at the same level. The founders will have to build a way to assess users' language skills, rather than having users categorize themselves. For now, I think they should focus on building a community around a small number of popular languages.

Jon Sakoda
Partner | New Enterprise Associates
Menlo Park, California




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