Vocabulary App Leksi Helps Students Improve Literacy

While many of us wish we had a word bank the size of the Webster dictionary, it may not be too far from our reach. In the time it takes to grab a smartphone and open up literacy app Leksi, students can compile the new words they hear or read and play games to improve their vocabulary wherever they go.

Unsatisfied with the limited vocabulary apps in edtech, Danelson Rosa, founder and CEO of Leksi, left Wall Street to fill the void in grade-school literacy. We caught up with Rosa as he tells us about his startup and how he hopes to motivate students.

Company at a Glance:

LeksiCompany name: Leksi
Date founded: January 2014
Founder’s name: Danelson Rosa
Website: Leksi.education
Company Twitter: LeksiEducation
Company Facebook: facebook.com/LeksiEducation
Founder’s Twitter: dan3lson
Company market segment: Grades 3-12
Product stage: Beta

What does your company do? Who are your core customers?
Leksi helps students improve their literacy and performance in school with a niche app that focuses on vocabulary development. Our core customers are parents and schools/school-related entities.

How did you come across the problem you’re addressing? What was your process of arriving at a solution?
Leksi was first a passion project of mine before it became a startup that I wanted to see through. Leksi started as a way to solve my personal frustrations when learning new vocabulary words: I wanted an app that helped me keep track of, organize, and learn words that I collected. After looking around, I didn’t find anything that stood out and met my expectations, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and create it myself. As I learned more about the importance of vocabulary and the lack of time and instruction spent in and outside of the classrooms, it felt like I had an opportunity to have a big impact on students if only I could really execute on this idea. To arrive to the main solution, I first researched how to best learn vocabulary via the web, books, publications, etc. I took those findings and created a game-like experience out of them and have been testing and revising the product to ensure it’s one that our users can’t get enough of.

What are you doing differently than your competitors? Do you expect to develop other differences in the future?
Compared to our competitors, the biggest differentiation is that Leksi, in terms of explicit vocabulary instruction, is based on academic research and best practices for learning new words. We also provide a more robust tool that enables both students and their instructors to personalize the learning experience. We do expect to develop other differences in the future as it’s the only way to keep things fresh for our users and ward off any copycats.

What are you working on currently? What should we expect to see from your company in the next 12 months?
Speaking of keeping things fresh and warding off any copycats, we’re currently iterating on the product and implementing some really great feedback that we received from students after ending a 10-week pilot with Friends Seminary, a private school here in New York City. That includes making the three core game-like activities even more engaging while also introducing new ways to practice and initially solidify the learning of new words. Outside of the product itself, we’d love to grow the team especially in the co-founder department. Though we’re making progress, we can only go as fast, be so innovative, and deliver so much to our users with just me, the founder, leading the way and doing it all.

How are you changing the face of education?
There’s much research and strong positive correlations that show(s) how important vocabulary is for students in and outside of the classroom. The challenge is that we don’t see much explicit instruction happening because of the lack of time, awareness, priority, and so on. We strongly believe that if we deliver a way for students to be very excited about learning new words and strengthening their understanding of their lexicon, we can begin to see the effects it has and over the long-term, they’ll certainly be much better off for it. It’s really interesting to think of potential answers for a question like, “what if the word gap, for any grade-level student, never existed?”

What other startups or product builds have you been a part of, and what was your role? How has your past career prepared you for your current role?
As my background is in technology, after working for a Wall Street firm and pursuing my education technology startup, I have a combined 4+ years experience in the tech field as a web designer, business analyst, project coordinator, user experience designer, full-stack web developer, and entrepreneur. I’m able to excitedly combine these skills and use them in different ways as I change hats to execute on tasks that move the chains forward.

Who do you look to as a role model or mentor for your company?
As far as mentors for Leksi goes, we’ve been fortunate to have a relationship with the NYC SCORE and the NYC iZone offices. The support, push, perspectives, etc. that they’ve been providing has been invaluable and truly helpful.

Where do you think the education technology market is going in the next five years, especially in your market segment?
This is a tricky one as this market is unique given who the users are and how it has been historically with change and being cutting-edge!

What advice, if any, do you have for someone launching a company in the education technology market?
To sum it all up in a tweet-sized message: recognize opportunity, have a partner/build a team, and build and constantly iterate on the product until it’s absolutely loved.

Jennifer Ortakales

Jennifer Ortakales

Jennifer is a Boston-based freelance journalist who has covered emerging fashion and New York Fashion Week for Papercut magazine. When she isn't talking people's ears off, she studies art history and reconstructs thrift clothes into her own designs.