Japan’s language learning startup Polyglots secures series A funding from US investors

Polyglots Founder and CEO Junya Yamaguchi

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Polyglots has been developing a English-language learning app for Japanese under the same name as well as Mondo, a Japanese-language learning app for non speakers. The company announced on Tuesday that it has secured a series A round. While the amount of the funding remains unknown, it is said to be in the upper tens of millions of yen (tens of thousands of dollars US). Robert T. Huang, founder of Synnex (NYSE: SNX), a major supply chain management company for IT companies, led this round, and four individual US investors including Huang participated in this round. Huang is an active supporter of entrepreneurs and an entrepreneurship center was set up with his name at his alma mater of Kyushu University. This round follows a seed round in March and December of 2015 in which Polyglots secured funds from both East Ventures and Hitomedia (about 35 million yen ≒ $300,000 US from East Ventures, with the total amount secured unknown).

The company launched the Polyglots app in 2014 and followed it up in July of 2015 with the launch of the Mondo app. The ability to learn a language through current events by cooperating with BBC and various news media is one of their merits. In the past year “Mondo” has seen an increase in Japanese language learners from the Philippines and China, etc. and is looking to use the funds secured this time to strengthen promotion efforts, especially in Southeast Asia.

Top: Mondo; Bottom: Polyglots

The Key to Monetization

Polyglots released a function that leads to monetization about six months ago. This feature is called “HandShake” and it connects Japanese language learning users with foreign-language learning Japanese users in the same way Tinder does.

Junya Yamaguchi, Founder and CEO of Polyglots, explained:

Most Japanese people go about learning by quiet self-study. Lots of (Japanese language learning) foreigners want to communicate (with Japanese people).

With the HandShake function, a mutual connection is established between users of “Mondo” and “Polyglots” only when each separate user happens to hit OK, but with “Super HandShake” requiring an in-app purchase, paying users can let the other user know they are requesting a connection.

The HandShake function on Polyglots

He continued:

It’s not like Tinder because you can see whether the other users are studying a language or not on their profile. It’s not like dating apps; people who aren’t studying will not succeed. […]

We have the data on which articles users are most interested in, so users that want to find connections based on this can do so with recommendations produced by our algorithm. And, the Cupid bot will support their chatting.

From the beginning of next year, Polyglots plans to expand the HandShake function, and will add a paid function on the Polyglots app allowing users to study with English tutors. With their sights set on offering face-to-face learning opportunities in Tokyo, they are also seeking to cooperate with on-demand rental space providers like Spacee. Tutors can reference the learning history of student users on the app so even during a first session they are able to provide effective learning opportunities and strengthen the service. In the future they plan to do with same with the Mondo app and offer a service for introducing Japanese-language tutors to non-Japanese speakers.

Now, Polyglots is looked towards China. Using the networks of their investors they are planning to develop a study app for the Chinese language, and intend to expand their services to include Japanese people who wish to learn Chinese, and Chinese learners studying Japanese and English.

Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda