Conversate brings new on-demand element to English language marketplace in Tokyo


This is a guest post authored by Amanda Imasaka.

conversate-1Toronto, Canada based Shiny Barnacle, who specializes in on-demand marketplace products, officially launched the new online platform Conversate on August 1st of this year. The 5 co-founders Mike Lee, Alex Stiglick, Steve Stiglick, Adam Quast, and Greg Vorobyev in designing Conversate set out to build a full, integrated social network platform for education that gives power to the students while supporting a community of personable English tutors.

Co-founder Mike Lee said in a statement exclusively for The Bridge.

Learning and helping others learn by way of teaching is something we are very familiar with. With many of us having taught before, we know what the market is like, and every site out there is lacking in some way. We want to bring better experience and offer students and teachers alike a new way to teach and learn.

To elaborate, let’s discuss what Conversate means for English teachers looking to take control of their own schedules, set their own pay, and essentially become their own boss. They simply register online, create their professional profile including where in Tokyo they are based, and record a one minute introductory message to sell their brand. The team has also built a teacher network with a social network feel that provides support through lesson planning, even offering crowdsourced discussions on lessons built onto the site.

Next we can examine it from the perspective of a student. After registering online, they can be paired with tutors through proximity-based matching with Google Maps. It is also possible to narrow the search by specifying a desired ethnicity (corresponding to accent), skill set (i.e. TOEIC, TOEFL, etc.), price range, overall feedback rating, and so on. Students can keep track of their progress with online feedback directly on the app from their tutor. Find a teacher you like and all you have to do is adjust your tutor frequency to see them more often, giving students the power to choose their teacher unlike in English conversations schools or traditional sites that operate on a “request and wait” model. In addition, the Conversate team created their system to encourage physical meetups (as opposed to say online video tutoring) between students and teachers as they believe it is essential to language acquisition in that it puts pressure on learners to speak naturally.

Perhaps what most sets this platform apart is the up and coming on-demand aspect, much like hiring through Uber, they plan to upgrade to a “true real-time availability system” in the near future. Also akin to Uber is their two-way review system, allowing Student-Tutor reflections as well as Tutor-Student ones. Again, like Uber, money exchanges between students and teachers are also unnecessary as Conversate relies on Stripe, a leading secure payment processing portal.

Conversate’s searchable map showing teachers in real time.
Image credit: Shiny Barnacle

When asked about the goals for Conversate in the future Lee had this to say:

We want to help students with language learning, but at the same time combine that with presentation skills, and everything needed to truly interact in a business or real-world setting. On-demand, in-person, integrated lesson materials, we will bring the classroom directly to you.

With Conversate only recently launched, there is a need to focus on building up their client base and teacher pool. But have no fear, they’ve got it covered. Students who sign up now get a 4,000 yen (about $40) credit to use toward future lessons and for every new student they refer another 4,000 yen is credited to them. Additionally, teachers who help bring in new tutors receive a percentage of the services that the referees provide through the system.

Shiny Barnacle presents at the Tokyo Innovation Studio.
Back row L to R: Ryunosuke Fujinomaki, Seiichi Shirane, Mike Lee and Steven Stiglick
Front row L to R: Advisor to Shiny Barnacle John Kojiro Moriwaka, Ai Kusabee
Image credit: Shiny Barnacle

The team from Conversate attended Tech in Asia Tokyo on the 6th and 7th of September, and were the guest speakers at Tokyo Innovation Studio’s International Startup Pitch & Meetup Tokyo vol. 8 in August of this year, as well as presented at Startup Dating (coincidentally same with The Bridge’s previous name before rebranding) co-hosted with Japan Venture Show. They are planning to expand into Seoul, South Korea and other Asian countries, with the long term goal of eventually supporting the educational marketplace for multiple languages.

With the Tokyo Olympics only a few years away and the demand for English educational platforms high, we look forward to seeing what momentum Conversate picks up.