Interviews and Reviews

Founder Stories: Juan Linares, CEO & Founder at Volangua. 

During this interview with Juan Linares, we discussed the story of Volangua, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the language learning market, and how it has significantly impacted the adoption of E-learning platforms.

What was your inspiration to create Volangua? Why are you passionate about this?

I’ll need to go to the start of everything to talk about this because Volangua was something I started based on a real-life experience. When I first came to the UK, I wasn’t the proficient English speaker I am today. I had to challenge myself to learn the language and level up.

This involved several language learning classes that I had to search through several catalogs, newspapers, websites, and social media at the time. It was the first place where it clicked that, “What if there was a better way to do this?” and that nobody else needs to go through this same plight.

It was a tough six months, and I wanted to change this around, but in 2012, I just did not know how to.

I think fate showed me how to when I got an opening as a Marketing lead at a language school. I handled their marketing and drove the school to attract more students and introduce new courses.

Being a student a year back to get first-hand knowledge of how the process works from the inside was the breakthrough I needed. I was looking at what the system was offering, what they were doing right, and most importantly, what was wrong.

And this was the learning I was looking to make progress with my idea for Volangua. While I leveled as a Marketing Director, the gaps were even more visible so I decided to start making notes on what was missing.

What problems did Volangua solve?

At the time, there was no real place where any student had visibility on where to get started on learning a language. Especially in the UK, people arriving from other European countries needed to improve their English skills, and there was no real place where they could search, compare and pick a course provider, accommodation, transfer and meet other students following in just 3 clicks without getting lost on sending emails back and forth.

That was the problem we solved with the platform. We reached out to schools in the local market first, told them about the idea, and got them on board. 

We weren’t trying to take away their target audience but were there to build them more leads. It was an offer that these schools couldn’t refuse. 

It was a win for the schools because we were indirectly becoming their marketing arm and SaaS to manage their school operations, and they were on board without hesitation. This was the beginning, and soon we went global within two years, having more than 1000 schools registered in 2 months.

An individual wanting to learn a language, be it academic or conversational, could search the available courses in the region, compare them, and reach out to the school for further information.

And this was not just in the UK but for schools in 65+ countries, for 30+ languages offering 7500 courses.

How did the company get to where it is today? 

The start for Volangua was promising, and based on the initial traction, we knew that the plan would be something huge. That was how we took off with the platform. Volangua soon gained momentum, and it was a snowball effect on how we got more and more schools listed on the platform.

Funding played a massive role in getting us to the place we are right now. We were able to get Pre-Seed financing of based on the plan we pitched, and now we are in the process of getting our second round of funding to go for the next level.

What were the most significant obstacles for the company last year?

The pandemic was tough on all of us. For us as a company, it made us re-look at where we were headed and start all over again. Volangua’s pillar was the language schools listed on our platform. But with the pandemic, international travel got restricted, and in-person learning was extremely limited.

This situation meant that we were on the verge of losing out on partner schools because they were not in a position to operate. After two great years in operation, this was something that my co-founder and I could not afford to have.

Several language schools listed on our platform opted out due to the situation; our vendors supporting us from the start had to withdraw since they couldn’t sustain. 

But we as a team held on, trying to solve the issues that our partners faced, and through this discussion, we came to our newest development – transforming the platform to an online learning platform for Language Schools and Online teachers and also developing our native app for iOS and Android.

This thinking gave the team, let’s say, a renewed hope to work through the pandemic. While facing a global health crisis, my team and I worked from our homes on the new model to sustain the company and resurrect the crumbling industry.

What excites you about the future of language learning?

I think the changing nature of the market and how we are effectively changing our strategies to fit into the dynamic also excites me.

Covid-19 was an all-new learning curve. The boost that Covid-19 gave for learning and online learning was impressive. In fact, online learning after the pandemic has spiked to a record high.

Many people had time on their hands to do new things, and according to the patterns that we are seeing, there is an increased level of attention to learning a new language.

People are opening their to-do lists, and most of them have to learn a second language as an option. In such a setting, we are bridging this and providing Volangua as an alternative. 

That being said, we’ve not stopped improving our product; we’ve gone a notch higher to bring an online learning platform for Volangua to deliver this change.

This move towards a comprehensive online platform was a whole new avenue for us in terms of learning and innovation. Thanks to our team of experts, I think I can safely say that we are a really good place right now.

Where do you see Volangua in two years?

I am thankful for the progress we’ve had in the last 12 months. We are still growing, and the introduction of online learning is where we believe that Volangua needs to go. The new normal of education is online. Soon we will see more and more online learning solutions coming from even leading universities in the world.

Plus, that’s what the world is also looking at today. We, as a platform, want to continue to adapt to suit the customer learning demands while trying to increase market share. We hope that the steady growth we have right now will get us there by 2022.

There is also research on new developments in technology to amplify learning by introducing AI and machine learning. As a company, we want to continue our efforts on these technologies to see how we can enhance our platform as we go.

Any advice to someone looking to start a new venture?

Keep it simple, make sure you don’t let your idea snowball into something too complicated but most importantly, you must absorb as much information as possible. Talk with people about your concept, see their reaction, make sure they are honest with you. You need real feedback, not just people around you telling you how great your product is. Talk to experts, other entrepreneurs, listen carefully to their mistakes, and learn from them. 

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