Q&A with Cristobal Viedma, CEO of Monkimun
EdTech Times spoke with Cristobal Viedma, CEO and co-founder of Monkimun, a developer of mobile apps for pre-K children foreign language learning. Read below about how this edtech startup is furthering the foreign language education among our littlest learners.
Company at Glance:
Founders: Cristobal Viedma (CEO), Marieta Viedma (CPO)
Founded: January 2014
Category: Language Learning (Pre-K)
Product stage: Beta/Market
LinkedIn company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/monkimun
Company Twitter: http://twitter.com/monkimungames
Founder Twitter: http://twitter.com/viedma
ETT: What is the market segment your company is in?
Monkimun is an award-winning educational technology company that makes language learning fun for toddlers and kids. The company offers unique language learning apps in the three most-spoken languages in the world, English, Spanish and Chinese Mandarin, for children ages two-to-six.
Monkimum’s fun, mobile, age-appropriate language learning apps are designed to reinforce a young child’s mother tongue or introduce the sounds and structure of a second language, a very important step in being able to speak it fluently. Monkimun currently sells its products directly to parents, and will expand to preschools and daycare centers in the future.
ETT: Who are your core customers and how did you come across the problem you’re addressing and how did you define it – what was your process in identifying it?
There is ample scientific proof that children who become multilingual reap lifelong advantages, including better test scores (especially in math, reading, and vocabulary), and enhanced memory, planning, and multitasking skills. Parents worldwide want to give their children the very best foundation for future success and recognize helping their children become multilingual is an easy way to give them a competitive edge. Starting language learning in toddlerhood can really make a positive impact on future success. Before the age of six, children’s brains are at their most flexible and cognitively (and temporarily) suited to acquire multiple languages with ease. After this early learning window, the brain’s plasticity diminishes dramatically and and language learning becomes harder.
Touch screen devices offer a powerful interactive platform to engage children in learning–in a fun and age-appropriate way. However until Monkimun introduced its educational games, children were seriously underserved, lacking any comprehensive curriculum in this format. Monkimun has filled that gap, and currently offers young children five award winning children’s language learning apps including Monki Hide and Seek, Monki Animal Builder, Monki Birthday Party and the Google’s 2014 best app award winning Monki Chinese Class. Each of the apps can be easily downloaded from the Apple Store, Amazon, and Google play. The company will soon release a subscription platform that integrates all lessons and content to offer a one stop shop for parents looking to raise multilingual kids.
Eight years ago Marieta Viedma, Monkimun Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, started a chain of after-school centers. Currently she has five centers with hundreds of students ranging from two to 16 years old. This experience, combined with being mother of a three-year-old daughter, made clear the need for proper language education that could begin at an early age, when kids were best-suited to learn a new language.
ETT: And how did you develop a solution to this particular problem and what was your process of arriving at it?
First we took our students’ needs into consideration. Two to six year old children needed something engaging and fun, something that felt like a game but was really an education lesson, and there was nothing on the market serving them.
Kids this young, even if they are exactly the same age, differ greatly in their psychological development, so we decided an adaptive learning solution was needed. In other words, the presentation of our material is driven by and adaptable to our students’ interaction with the material and matches their needs at their learning level. Our presentation of the content transforms our learners from passive receptors of information to collaborators in the educational process.
Because of the age of our audience, we must pay special attention to safety. We believe a safe environment must be free of ads.
Finally, we learned our audience’s attention span is limited (even 30 seconds can sometimes seem like a long time), therefore our lessons must be short, impactful and there needed to be many of them to reinforce a topic.
It was clear there was nothing on the market that matched these requirements. Monkimun’s apps were born to fill that void and have been in high demand ever since. Young children have spent nearly 30 million minutes engaged with Monkimun’s language lessons.
ETT: What it is that you’re doing differently than your competitors? And do you expect to develop other differentiators in the future?
Monkimun has a laser focus–language learning for young children ages two to six. That, combined with a scalable adaptive learning platform, rather than one-off apps, differentiate us. Our lessons meet children exactly where they are. Being children, they engage as if they’re playing a fun game, while instead they are engaged in learning. We call this edufying games, where our competitors do the exact opposite. They gamify education. It’s a different starting point and makes a huge difference in the children’s experience and desire to interact with the content. Our approach has earned us a significant, albeit young, fanbase. To date, children have spent nearly 30 million minutes absorbed in language learning with Monkimun apps.
The adaptive platform behind the Monkimun language learning apps allow us to customize learning lessons to the exact level of the child. The more the child plays with Monkimun, the better learning experience we can offer.
ETT: Please describe your product development strategy and product stage. What we should expect to see from your company in the next 12 months – i.e. describe your potential next milestones?
Early this summer, Monkimun will launch our adaptive learning platform to a select number of power users. Monkimun will launch a new lesson on that platform every week thereafter.
In addition, Monkimun will launch a new stand-alone application once a month in one of our three core platforms: Apple, Google and Amazon.
Finally, we are exploring partnerships with a variety of notable educational institutions specializing in early childhood education and publishing powerhouses. We are considering co-development of some lessons with them, and investing in the areas in which our young audience will reap the greatest benefit.
ETT: Are you a disruptor, and why so? Do you believe you will remain as a disruptor in near foreseeable future or become a more mature company? Why is that so?
Monkimun is disruptive in the way language learning is delivered to young children, and by the fact we are building a full, effective language learning solution for such a young audience. While perceived competitors (they are not actual competitors), Duolingo, Rosetta Stone or Busuu, are building language learning apps for adults, Monkimun is laser focused on kids two to six years old.
Although language learning experts assert the best age to learn a language is from two- to six, interestingly most language companies do not serve this age group–and if they try, they don’t do it adequately. Among the main reasons, is that its difficult to develop content for kids this young, and teaching dynamics must be adaptable, rather than static. Children do not learn the way adults do and adult content cannot be leveraged to develop content for children, which becomes a problem for established language companies. Children’s content must be developed from the ground up with their particular needs in mind.
At Monkimun, we clearly understand we couldn’t just develop one simple app and claim that we’re teaching languages to children. Our ambition is to develop hundreds of different lessons, completely customized to each child, and offer a one-stop service for parents who want to raise bilingual kids.
ETT: Could you tell us about other startups or product builds that you have been a part of and what your role was?
I was previously head of platform development at Viki, a crowdsourced subtitling platform for movies and television shows, which was acquired by Rakuten in 2013 for $200M.
What attracted me to Viki was the fact that, empowering anybody around the world to subtitle any of the shows we had online, we were helping them to a) learn a new language, and b) spread the culture. People are very exposed to American culture because of Hollywood. Other than what is on the news, people are less exposed to Egypt, Korea, or Romania, for example. It turns out, however, that by breaking down language barriers we can help cross-cultural understanding.
My experience at Viki plays directly into my desire to facilitate language learning, especially at a young age, when children have the easiest time learning it. We see it as a critical element in today’s global society and are delighted in the lifelong advantages it offers to those growing up in today’s competitive world.
ETT: Did you or do you currently have a mentor who is/has been helping you through the startup stages of the company – who is that mentor?
So many people have stood behind the development of Monkimun. While I’ve called out a few, we recognize there are many others who truly believe in our mission and are grateful for all of our supporters.
Razmig Hovaghimian, Executive Officer at Rakuten, has helped us navigate the international venture capital world and shape and sharpen Monkimun’s story. He was the CEO and founder of Viki and has deep knowledge of how startups work, and had allowed us to leverage his deep knowledge at Monkimun.
Kent Liu, ex-general manager of EA mobile in Asia, and ex-director of Jamdat, is a veteran in the mobile industry. He generously shares his significant knowledge and has helped Monkimun make strong business connections across the globe.
Ileana Enesco, Professor of Cognitive Development at the University of Madrid, has worked with us from Monkimun’s infancy, ensuring our lessons were and continue to be perfectly-suited for the young children we are serving. She holds seminars for Monkimun in the University, involving other professors, to provide feedback on how we can improve our products.
ETT: Where is education technology market going in the next few years, especially in your market segment?
We’ve recently seen LinkedIn acquire Lynda for $1.5B, so there’s no doubt the industry is getting more and more interesting. There’s definitely space to grow. Currently there’s only a ratio of ~2% market cap/annual spend in the space.
Currently the app store is like a gold rush where everyone is running to get their position, companies, family studies and indie developers alike. However only about the top 1% of them are actually turning a profit. We believe in three to four years we’ll see more companies trying to enter, but they will be late. Monkimun will be the expert in language learning.
ETT: What advice, if any, do you have for someone thinking about launching a company in the education technology market?
I can share what has worked for Monkimun:
- Having the right experts on board
- Testing regularly with our target audience and key experts
- Deeply understand our audience’s needs
- Understand the barrier of entry: We got in at the right time
- Positioning: Find the void in your market. We certainly were able to do that in the language learning space.
EdTech Times thanks Cristobal for sharing his words of wisdom with our readers, and we recommend you check out Monkimun at
Yevgeny Ioffe, or as people call him, Yev, has been working in both the startup world and established companies. His career spans from joining Xplana Learning as it launched to Cengage Learning to MBS Direct when it acquired Xplana in 2009. Yevgeny brings to EdTech Times his passion for start-ups and technology, along with his interest in the ever evolving world of edtech. Yevgeny obtained his BSc and MA from Brandeis University and MBA from Boston College.