YC-backed Blabla raises $1.5M to teach English through short videos – ProWellTech
Short, snappy, and fun videos have become an increasingly common way for young people to get information. Why not learn English through TikTok-like videos too? This is what prompted Angelo Huang to launch Blabla.
Originally from Taiwan, Huang moved to Shanghai in 2019 to start Blabla after working in Silicon Valley for over a decade. A year later, Blabla was chosen as part of Y Combinator’s 2020 summer cohort. The coronavirus had started spreading in the United States at that time, keeping millions at home, and interest in distance learning was reviving.
“It was my eighth time applying to YC,” Huang, who founded two companies before Blabla, told ProWellTech in an interview.
This week, Blabla announced that it has raised $ 1.54 million in a seed round led by Amino Capital, Starling Ventures, Y Combinator and Wayra X, the innovation arm of Spanish telecom giant Telefónica. Although Y Combinator was not particularly instrumental in the expansion of Blabla into China, one of the largest markets for learning English, the famous accelerator was a great help in introducing investors to the young company, the founder said.
The Blabla app pays native English speakers by the hour to create engaging short videos tailored to students learning English around the world. Content creators are aided by Blabla’s proprietary software that can recognize and tag their scenes, as well as third-party translation tools that can subtitle their videos. Students, in turn, pay a registration fee to receive personalized video recommendations based on their skill level. They can practice through the in-app voice recognition, among other features like conversation contests and pop quizzes.
The startup is in a very crowded space. In China, the online English learning market is occupied by established companies such as VIPKID, backed by Tencent and Sequoia Capital. Compared to VIPKID’s one-on-one mentoring model, Blabla is more affordable with its starting price of 39 yuan ($ 6) per month, Huang noted.
“The students [on mainstream English learning apps] they may have to spend several thousand RMB before they can have a meaningful conversation with their teachers. Instead, we recycle our videos and are able to offer lessons at much cheaper prices. “
The app has around 11,000 weekly users and 300-400 paying users at the moment, with 80-90% of total users coming from China; the goal for this year is to reach 300,000 students. The funding will allow Blabla to expand into Southeast Asia and Latin America, while Wayra X can potentially help him reach Telefónica’s 340 million global users. He will be looking for brand deals with influencers like TikTok and Youtube. The new capital will also allow BlaBla to add new features, such as matching language learners based on their interests and profiles.
Blabla doesn’t just teach English and has the ambition to involve teachers of other languages. “We want to be a paid global online platform,” Huang said.