Why we Invested in Fluent
Fluent: Language immersion everywhere for everyone.
Learning a language, especially later in life, is hard and incredibly time-consuming. Immersion is the best strategy (I moved to Germany to learn German) but not practical much of the time. This is where Fluent comes in. Fluent imbeds language learning into your daily web browsing activities.
For a pre-seed company, Fluent has impressive traction and user engagement metrics. Customers love being able to learn and practice a language within their daily work without dedicating time to “lessons”. The product stacks well with existing lesson-based solutions like Duolingo ($184M raised) and is benefiting from the move toward remote learning across the board.
I have been waiting for something like Fluent for 40 years. In high school, I took Russian on a whim (ok my girlfriend was in the class) but quickly lost it as there was no way to practice in Medford Oregon in the ’80s. In the ’90s I moved to Germany to run a department for Microsoft without knowing a word of German. While Microsoft spent a small fortune on private lessons, it was the immersion, having to use the language everywhere, which made it all stick. Over the years I have kept up German with a combination of Duolingo, Babble, and the occasional phone call with friends, but have always pined for a very low friction way to practice and learn without having to set aside yet another dedicated time block. And without having to move back to Germany.
Atin Batra at Twenty Seven Ventures in HK is one of the smartest people I know thinking about EdTech and the Future of Work. When he mentioned Fluent to me on one of our regular calls, I relayed my language story and scheduled a call with CEO Gavin Dove immediately. Gavin and the team have faced similar language learning challenges and created Fluent first and foremost for themselves. They have obviously hit a cord as the early user engagement numbers are impressive. While it is early, Fluent feels like the right team at the right time with possibly the right product.
Why I am Investing
It would be a reasonable investment thesis to believe language learning is “done” with unicorns like Duolingo, Babble, and various online learning platforms. But with a 90% incomplete rate on these programs, it would also be reasonable to consider there is room for new solutions. A counterintuitive thesis is that there are methods of learning and practice which will attract the pent-up demand falling out from current platforms. While still early, I believe Fluent has identified a compelling way to engage language learners with new modes that could potentially lead to higher success rates. The trick to this stage of product development is to have management obsessively focused on user engagement and product-market fit. The team at Fluent has some of the most detailed metrics I have seen and continues to drive engagement up every month.
I love supporting founders who create a product to solve a personal pain point. Double points when I have also experienced that pain point and would buy the product. Triple points if the company is creating and leading a new niche in a big market. Quadruple points if smart people with a deep thesis in the sector who I know and trust are also investing. It is not often I get the opportunity to support a company with all four point bonuses that is also growing 50% MTM. Super excited to support Fluent’s growth.
Why Fluent is Incisive
Fluent ranks very highly in key areas of our Meta Themes.
Disruptive innovation unlocks new demand. When lots of people want something and 90% of them fail with existing products, that industry needs some innovative thinking, some disruptive innovation. My 10 year old daughter has been “trying” to learn spanish on Duolingo for over a year. She started strong and now can’t find time for the lessons. We installed Fluent and she now learns all day everyday and is crushing the Duolingo tests. She just needed a new mode of learning. New demand was created.
Americans are lazy. Anything that I have to schedule a time block for is in competition with all the other “tasks” on the list. That is why I am a huge fan of “stacking” things like listening to a podcast while exercising. When something can be “stacked” into something I am already doing, it will get done 10x more. By putting language immersion into my everyday browsing, Fluent reduces all the friction and lets me be lazy.
Software Eats Everything. My first language lessons were on CDROM which required dedicated time and a special device. I have hundreds of hours of personal 1:1 lessons. Fluent’s software now puts language learning in all my browsers. The software has significantly reduced language learning friction and increased reach. Software wins again.
Invest when I can be helpful. Fluent is solving a problem I care about and have a network that can help. Since the problem is personal to me, I will spend an above-average amount of time with this company.
Invest with other smart people. I am not an EdTech expert, but Twenty Seven Ventures is. Their approach to pre-seed is more incubator than a traditional venture with a very active program to connect portfolio companies and share best practices. The other CEOs I talked to who are invested in the company are very smart as well. Gavin and the team have surrounded themselves with very smart people in this sector. I am excited to be a part of the team.
Trends I am betting on
Stacking wins. Anything which requires a dedicated time block to complete ends up competing for time with other priorities. Competition has winners and losers. When innovation allows me to stack my priorities together in the same time block, I am able to achieve more in less time. Innovation that enables stacking will always be adopted at a higher rate than something that requires a dedicated time block.
Remote everything. When I have to be in a specific place at a specific time for a specific thing, there is a ton of friction. Commute time is friction in going to work in an office. Travel time to a gym is friction. Anytime I can get something I want to get done where I am, when I want, friction is reduced. Remote is all about reducing friction. The pandemic has forced many industries into remote options and I am seeing a preference for remote in many things as people value the friction reduction.
Inner growth is the new fashion Fashion is all about external validation. The pandemic and lack of contact with the outside world for a long time has moved up appreciation for inner growth in many people. Progress on my reading list exploded as my shopping for the latest fashion declined. I am betting that this mental shift toward valuing inner growth over external validation will continue to grow over time.