I’m excited to share below my interview with Niccolo Luccini, CEO of Learntalk which is an up and rising edtech company in the Philippines. Our previous post on the company was a recent training Learntalk provided to the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines Foundation.
Have you considered becoming a teacher before?
Yes, I, in fact, was an English teacher in China between 2009-2010. I taught English to help pay for my Master’s degree at Cambridge University and my study abroad period at Peking University. I love teaching as no two students are the same. When we started Learntalk, I was one of the teachers, and I still teach on the Learntalk platform from time to time.
What were the useful things that you learned in corporate finance that you are applying in running Learntalk?
While at Citigroup and working in Private Equity in London, I studied thousands of businesses, their finances, business models and met dozens of CEOs and founders. I think this training was key in helping me conceptualize Learntalk.
Why did you choose the Philippines to launch given the poor internet connectivity and service?
The Philippines is home for me. My family is here. Any business I am going to start is always going to be here.
Internet connectivity is poor, but it is not that bad. I lived in Central London, and it took me two months to have my internet installed. Things move a lot faster here. I think we have to stop criticizing and start thinking of solutions.
The Philippines is an amazing place to set up a business. We have talented, motivated people with a global perspective. Costs are relatively low. Regulations are beneficial for startups. I do not think it is a coincidence that a lot of regional and global startups have chosen the Philippines as their base, such as Lifetrack, Coins.Ph, Payroll Hero, etc.
How do you envision Learntalk in 7 to 10 years time?
A lot can change in 7-10 years. However, there are two premises that underpin Learntalk’s vision of the future:
- Live instruction is here to stay. Computers and videos are effective at knowledge transfer. In the language learning space, there are many amazing automated apps using games and videos such as Babbel, or Duolingo or ABA English. However, language learning is more than knowledge transfer; fluency in a language requires a level of ‘muscle memory’ which requires true human interaction be indispensable.
- Education is moving online. The internet and smartphones have provided a way to connect students to experts in any field in education instantly, obviating the need for expensive investment in physical infrastructure. This in turn is reducing the marginal cost of education, making it accessible to a much larger audience.
On the B2C (Business to Consumer) side, we are currently developing our app which will make our English teachers accessible, anywhere in the globe, at the click of a button. One click. Within the next couple of years, we would like Learntalk to be present in many more markets, beyond our home market of Spain and South America. Also, I envisage us providing live instruction in multiple languages. Our aim is to make Learntalk indispensable for anyone planning to travel or learn a language.
On the B2E (Business to Education) side , where Learntalk currently provides outsourced language teachers to some language schools and governments in Spain and South America, we are working on deeper backend integration with our clients. Our goal is to link our platform via API with any number of online language schools, universities, and schools so that our pool of expert and trained teachers can be accessible across multiple platforms as a white label solution.
What is the extent of the company’s partnership with the British Council?
We signed a training agreement with the British Council near the end of 2016. They provided teacher training for a handful of senior teachers for a five-month period, culminating in our teachers taking the TKT exam, which is a standardized test for professional ESL teachers jointly administered by the British Council and Cambridge University.
Are there other Edtech companies like Learntalk in the country at the moment?
There are some foreign online language platforms with a large portion of their operations in the Philippines. There are also some ESL call centers which facilitate the outsourcing of language instruction for language schools abroad.
To my knowledge, there are no Filipino-owned live language tuition software platforms that has integrated booking and video conferencing tools like Learntalk, operating in the B2C and B2E spaces. Our current pricing plans, which include Pay As You Go and Total Unlimited features, are equally unrivaled globally as we have adopted principles and business models from the insurance industry. As we release our app and add multiple languages while integrating with our B2E clients via API, our business model will become globally unparalleled.
What innovations are in the pipeline for Learntalk?
We will release our mobile app in Q3 which will make it possible for our students to immediately access a video call, at the click of a button, with one of our professional English teachers.
We have over 200 lesson plans that we have developed in-house and are currently developing an adaptive learning function into our platform. By detecting our student’s interests and level, we can customize an individualized learning path for each student.
We are also in discussions with some online language schools to begin backend integration of our platform via API by year end.
How do you select your teachers for Learntalk?
We have a rigorous 7-stage automated interview process on our platform whereby teacher applicants are filmed via webcam answering questions under timed conditions. This helps us hire quickly and ensure a high level of grammar proficiency of all our teachers.
We then have a 10-step video training program on our platform, culminating in a live group demo class with our training manager.
What is the current mix of local and international students you have?
90% of our students are international, predominantly from Spain, South America, and Indonesia. We aim to rapidly increase this diversity as we enter other markets early next year.
What are the key challenges the company is facing at the moment and how is the company addressing them?
We completed most of the hiring of our core team in Q1 2017. It was very tough until then, but now I think we are in a good place.
The development team is constantly updating and releasing new functionality to our site which is automating large swathes of our operations and improving the customer experience by leaps and bounds. Our growth team is beginning to understand how to effectively reach our target market, while our operations team now have processes in place.
We are all trying to learn as quickly as possible from all our stakeholders, whether they be teachers, students or potential outsourcing clients. This can be painful as it requires frequent reality checks and admission of failure where appropriate, however ultimately this is positive as we constantly endeavor to improve the experience for all concerned. When we do get occasional positive feedback from a teacher, student or client, it makes it all worth it.
If you are looking to improve your English skills at the comforts of your home, visit Learntalk to learn more about their technology and offerings.