Tobias Dickmeis (Co-Founder, CPO) and Arnd Aschentrup (Co-Founder, CEO) © Nils Lucas
What inspired you to found your startup?
I always knew that the best way to learn a language was by practicing with native speakers, but I learnt as a student that this is often easier said than done. I went on a study trip to Sweden with the intention of learning Swedish – but every time I tried to practice with the locals, they immediately switched to flawless English! What I needed was a way to find people to practice with who wanted to learn from me too. This is exactly what Tandem does!
How do you define success for yourself and your company?
Success for us is a world where people are empowered to teach each other foreign languages. Everyday we count our success through the amazing stories of our members, whose cultural exchanges are taking them to places they never previously imagined. For many, this is passing exams or getting new job opportunities, but sometimes it is as simple as the Italian who teaches his partners how to make a proper espresso, or the French girl who has Tango lessons over Tandem with an Argentinian.
Is there anything you’d do differently if you could do it again?
We are happy with how things are going at Tandem so I wouldn’t change any of the decisions we’ve made. However, it would have been great to make some of them more quickly!
What problem does your product solve?
It is estimated that 1.2 billion people worldwide are learning a language around the world, but most of them do not have access to expensive teachers, classes and resources. We want to see a world where everyone feels able to broaden their horizons through languages. Vocabulary trainer apps have already set the scene for this by introducing basic knowledge to the world for free, but we look to expand this by bringing language learners across the world to fluency by speaking to each other.
Where do you see your company in 1/5/10 years?
We want to be the number 1 language app on the App Store by the end of 2018, by 2022 be one of the best loved language learning brands across the world, and by 2027 be used by every language learner at some point through their journey wherever they are in the world.
How are you different?
There are plenty of other language apps which focus on vocabulary and grammar training, but none have cracked the code when it comes to speaking practice. Tandem uses a scientifically proven language learning approach that hooks people up with native speakers to teach each other, and makes that easily accessible through your smartphone. It means you can be learning with someone who knows the language inside out in seconds!
How often does your product/service show up in a user’s day or week?
On average, members send 33 messages a day on the app, which really goes to show that it’s encouraging regular, daily use among learners. We see Tandem as an app you’d check as regularly as any of your other social apps if you are learning a language and hope to practice every day. Ultimately, we want to turn language learning from a chore or obligation into a daily habit.
Impact: how are you doing good and building a better future?
From our perspective, the goal is to democratize language learning and empower people to reach fluency for free, even when they have limited resources available to them. In a global world, language competence is a key success factor and we think this should be achievable for everyone. Not to mention the positive impact of cultural exchange in building bridges between societies. Finally, you can have friends all around the world without leaving your house!
How has the startup scene in Berlin changed?
Tobi and I founded our first company in 2000 before there was really any startup scene in Berlin. In a short period of time – no more than ten years really – it has become the leading European ecosystem. It has been an incredible transformation. Now we have reached a level of maturity as a scene where the startups are a major driver for the cultural and economic life in the city. There simply is no better place to be!
What are the pros and cons of launching your startup from Berlin?
The simple fact is that Berlin attracts the best talent. It must be to do with the quality of life, particularly in the summer. This also makes it a great place to network, as it is so densely populated with innovative people. In terms of cons, I have to say winter is somewhat miserable in cold, gray Berlin – but the summer makes it more than worth it!
Bonus Question: Anything else that we need to know about you?
We’re proud to have an incredibly international team, with more than 14 languages spoken between us.
Tandem was featured in “The Hundert Vol. 10 – Startups of Berlin“, October 2017.