Language platform Busuu acquires video tutor startup, now plans IPO

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Language-learning platform Busuu, which has fast expanded to take on traditional giants like Duolingo, says it has acquired the live video tutoring company Verbling for an undisclosed amount, other than calling it a “double-digit million dollar acquisition.”

As a result, Busuu will now use the Verbling platform to expand into the live video tutoring space for its consumer users and corporate clients.

Busuu says it recently surpassed 100 million users globally, makes it one of the world’s fastest-growing EdTech companies. It says it reach cash flow break-even last year, and plans to generate over $40 million in revenues in 2020.

CEO and cofounder Bernhard Niesner said “we also plan to go public in the future.”

Speaking to TechCrunch, he said: “We are operating in the massive $60bn global language learning market, with digital language learning only representing a tiny 10% market share right now. This digital part will grow fast due to wider consumer adoption driven by better learning outcomes, expected to reach $17bn market value in 2027. Getting access to the capital markets would allow us to accelerate our growth, expand into other learning areas and build a truly globally leading, multi-billion dollar, digital learning business.”

The new Verbling-based ‘Busuu live’ will be a combination of their AI-powered learning content, interaction with other learners plus 1-1 live tutoring with professional teachers.

“We are also excited to leverage our 4bn data points from our learners to provide useful information to our new 10,000+ live teachers about their students. So whenever a teacher starts a live lesson, they will have access to relevant information about the progress of their students within Busuu, so they can fully adapt their lessons to the individual needs of their learners.”

Busuu was originally founded in Madrid in 2008 and in 2012 moved to London, but now plans to open an office back in its ‘home town.’

Niesner said: “The London hiring market has become increasingly more competitive over the last couple of years (also due to Brexit, competition from Facebook and Google etc) while the Spanish startup-ecosystem has made tremendous progress.”

Verbling was founded in San Francisco in 2011 by the Swedish co-founders Mikael Bernstein (CEO) and Gustav Rydstedt (CTO) who met while studying at Stanford University. After attending the Y-Combinator program, Verbling raised over $4.4m from Learn Capital, DFJ and Bullpen Capital. The platform has over 10,000 pre-vetted live teachers and offers interactive 1-1 lessons in nearly 60 different languages.

Mikael Bernstein, Co-Founder and CEO, Verbling said: “We are very excited to be joining forces with Busuu’s talented and experienced team, combining our world-class tutors with Busuu’s AI-powered platform will enable language learners across the globe to reach proficiency even faster.”

Following the acquisition, Verbling’s team members, including co-founders Mikael Bernstein (CEO) and Gustav Rydstedt (CTO) will join Busuu.

For context, the main publicly-listed language learning business is Rosetta Stone but they belong to the old version of language learning and have not yet done their shift to mobile, although they might survive that. There are expectations that both Duolingo and VIPKids (the Chinese English learning unicorn) will go public soon.