Language learning app Babbel sold 1M US subscriptions this year, moves into language travel

In the world of online language learning, there are basically two heavyweights: Duolingo and Babbel. Duolingo is betting on a freemium model and a strong focus on using algorithms to help you learn better, while Berlin-based Babbel is a paid service that employs hundreds of teachers. As Babbel co-founder and CEO Markus Witte announced at […]

In the world of online language learning, there are basically two heavyweights: Duolingo and Babbel. Duolingo is betting on a freemium model and a strong focus on using algorithms to help you learn better, while Berlin-based Babbel is a paid service that employs hundreds of teachers. As Babbel co-founder and CEO Markus Witte announced at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin today, his company is now moving into a new area of language learning with the launch of a language travel marketplace. The company also today announced that it now has over 1 million paying users in the United States.

This new service, which is scheduled to go live next year, is the result of the previously undisclosed acquisition of a Lingo Ventura, a Berlin-based startup that partners with international language schools and local providers to offer a language travel booking platform. As Witte told me ahead of today’s announcement, Lingo Ventura already had connections with 200 language schools in 30 countries. The company never quite managed to make a dent in this market, which has traditionally been quite fragmented.

Witte believes that Babbel, thanks to its existing user base, will be able to turn this into a profitable business, though. “There is a lot of potential here because the current market is not very transparent,” Witte told me. “In Europe, our brand is so well-known now that we are the first stop for learning languages.” And that brand awareness will surely help drive interest in this new platform. The person who uses the company’s app has, after all, already shown interest in learning languages and a willingness to pay for that.

While language travel is quite popular in Europe, it remains a bit of a foreign concept in the United States and few people specifically travel abroad to learn a language. This isn’t a small market, though. In Germany alone, market revenue was about €220 million in 2017, and the various companies that play in this space booked about 150,000 travel bookings last year.

Unsurprisingly, Babbel will first focus its marketing efforts for its yet-to-be-named travel marketplace (I think Babbel Travel is a safe bet) on Europe. The platform, however, is global, and Babbel isn’t going to stop anybody from booking through its platform, of course.

As far as the U.S. language travel market is concerned, though, Babbel expects that it’ll be able to pull in some customers there, too. “It’s not zero,” the company’s U.S. CEO Julie Hansen told me when I asked her about that market. “I think in due course, we’ll discover if there’s a place for us. In a way, you can serve a market better that is so fragmented and ill-defined.” North America in general has generated quite a bit of growth for Babbel recently, especially since it appointed Hansen as a CEO there, though it remains to be seen if travel will become a major revenue source for the company there.

No matter in which geography it will operate, though, Babbel will work with partners, and not run its own programs. “That was a strategic decision on our part,” said Witte. “We want to work with partners, and if we make acquisitions, those are almost always about building bridges to our partners.”

Babbel CEOs to talk about language and startup lessons at Disrupt Berlin

The slow and steady rise of Babbel has been impressive on many fronts. The company is now managing the top-grossing language learning app in the world. That’s why I’m excited to announce that we’ll have founder and CEO Markus Witte as well as CEO U.S. Julie Hansen at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin. Babbel has been around […]

The slow and steady rise of Babbel has been impressive on many fronts. The company is now managing the top-grossing language learning app in the world. That’s why I’m excited to announce that we’ll have founder and CEO Markus Witte as well as CEO U.S. Julie Hansen at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin.

Babbel has been around for over a decade. The company started with a web-based language learning service. It was based on Adobe Flash and HTML. Now, most Babbel users interact with the service using the company’s mobile app.

And Babbel also represents a European success story. Thanks to the European Union, many people live, work and travel all around Europe. It creates a unique market opportunity as the continent is a highly fragmented market when it comes to languages — there are dozens of different languages. That’s why building a language learning startup in Berlin is the perfect fit.

Babbel operates with a freemium, subscription-based model. Downloading the app is free, but you need to pay a subscription to unlock all the features.

More recently, Babbel has been betting on the U.S. as its next market opportunity. Many Europeans want to learn English, and it’s also true in the U.S. Immigrants want to improve their knowledge of English.

It’s a different market that causes a different set of challenges. That’s why the company has named Julie Hansen as CEO of the U.S. division of Babbel.

If you want to hear both Hansen and Witte talk about Babbel’s past ten years and the company’s next ten years, you should come to Disrupt Berlin.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.


Markus Witte

Babbel Founder and CEO

Markus Witte is CEO and founder of Babbel , the world’s top-grossing language learning app. He describes Babbel as a learning company inside and out: “Heading a team in which each and every person, as well as the organization itself, is constantly learning new things is incredibly fulfilling.”

Markus began his career at NYU, and later lectured at Humboldt University in Berlin, where he discovered his passion for teaching. Following his time as an academic, he led the development of online marketing and web infrastructure and managed the online and systems teams at music software company Native Instruments. Coming back to learning and teaching, he founded Babbel with three others in 2007.

Julie Hansen

Babbel CEO U.S.

Julie Hansen is CEO U.S. at Babbel. Based in the company’s New York office she is leading the US expansion of the world’s top-grossing language learning app.

Before joining Babbel, Julie was the COO and President of Business Insider. Under her leadership the news site became the most visited business outlet on the internet. Prior to Business Insider, Hansen held top management roles at sports site NCAA.com, Condé Nast Publications, and Time Inc. Julie has over two decades of experience growing digital media companies, launching interactive web sites, deploying mobile apps, and leading online and offline marketing campaigns. She began her career at Penguin Books, publishing learning software for literature among other products.