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E268: Memrise: AI-driven Language Learning Platform and the Power of Immersive Experiences with Ben Whately

by Sean Boyce

In this episode, Ben Whately, the Co-founder and Chief Stategy Officer of Memrise, an innovative language learning app, shares his background in neuroscience and the development of a unique language learning approach. The episode explores the limitations of traditional methods and the power of experiential learning. Sean and Ben discuss Memrise’s evolution to an AI-driven platform, offering personalized courses and immersive experiences, along with the potential of AI in language learning and the importance of resilience in the startup world.

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Ben Whately is a versatile entrepreneur and tech innovator who has made significant strides in the world of language learning and climate tech. As the Co-founder of Memrise, a language-learning app with over 65 million users, he has played a pivotal role in transforming the way people learn languages. Currently serving as Memrise’s Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Ben combines his expertise in pedagogy, social products, media entertainment, and business strategy to continually enhance the learning experience for millions. Beyond language learning, Ben is also the CEO of Angry Teenagers, utilizing Web3 technology to combat climate change. Here are a few of the topics we’ll discuss on this episode of Product Launch:

  • Memrise initially focused on memorizing words and phrases in context, then expanded to incorporate other aspects of language learning.
  • Being an early adopter of mobile can give a business a significant growth advantage.
  • AI startups have the potential to disrupt industries and ride the wave of innovation.
  • Balancing user feedback and founder-level insights is crucial for product development.
  • Understanding the changing customer insights and adapting to them can lead to business success.
  • Timing played a significant role in Memrise’s success with AI integration.
Connect with Ben Whately:
Connect with our host, Sean Boyce:
  • 12:18 – “The reason that we unlocked growth was that we got onto mobile early enough that there were only two or three other mobile language learning apps. Apple and Google have to keep featuring different ones. We got on there early enough that we got big featuring early. We then got really good at working with Google and really understanding how to give the Google team the information that they want. Google is so metrics-driven that the more you can show them how they are building things that are helping you to grow your business, the more the internal team in Google can show off to their bosses, Hey look, this is how Google, this is how we work. Look at the great impact we had. And that allows you to get more visibility.”
  • 15:56 – “So for us, the big growth channel was getting in the app stores early enough and then SEO taking over later on. We’ve never been able to compete with Duolingo or Babbel on marketing spend. They spend tens, hundreds of millions. I think our marketing spend last month was probably like $4,000. Like we just don’t spend money on it, it’s all organic. But we reach a point where we’re like, we’ve got two massive gorillas in the room, and Duolingo and Babbel who are spending a huge amount and getting massive traction on that. It sucks a lot of the air out of the room.”
  • 25:46 – “Clearly, generative AI is a way, that allows us to create tools there that you can practice with in a way that had never been possible before. So that’s really been the kind of renaissance for Memrise, being another platform shift, getting into AI, Generative AI, before anyone else was there and applying it in all these different ways.”
  • 19:33 – “I actually now see this a lot in companies that I advise where you’re trying to get this balance between really good product and growth thinking where you’re talking to your users all the time, you’re understanding what it is they want, you’re testing things really, really quickly. Particularly growth experiments have to be super fast. You want to be doing five iterations a week and getting them out with this idea of we’ve actually got to build something that’s quite fundamentally different.”
  • 27:20 – “I feel like that’s another key takeaway here is people expect people like you and I, in terms of the products that we’re building to have a plan hammered out all the way through in terms of how we’re going to get there. But a lot of it keeps going. Build yourself a sustainable path to be able to continue to keep going and then take advantage of the opportunities that come at you from wherever. Just like this one I’ve used the AI stuff that you guys are building and Memrise. It’s fantastic and it really does create much more of that immersive experience.”