“Playing is the most effective way of learning”: Interview with LingoKids’s founder & CEO, Cristobal Viedma (Sponsored)

It’s no surprise that virtual learning (and edtech in general) finds itself in the spotlight. Screen time has gone up for startup teams, and uiversity students alike – but what about early learning? With the majority of children across Europe (and indeed the world) homeschooling for the better part of the last year, the world has been on the lookout for technology that is not only engaging for young children, but also feels less like ‘screen time’ and more like ‘playtime’.

Founded in 2015 in Madrid, Lingokids is a language learning service for children ages 2-8 that is currently teaching millions of children worldwide every month. Leading with their unique ‘playlearning’ approach, they’re making learning fun, as well as helping children learn wider soft skills like creativity and caring for the environment. We spoke with founder and CEO Cristobal Viedma to find out more about the growth of Lingokids, his insights on edtech for children and his predictions for the sector post-COVID.

Hello, thank you for joining us! Could you briefly tell us about why you started Lingokids, and what makes you unique?

Some years ago, my sister was looking for an educational learning app in English for her two year old daughter Marieta, and she asked me for help to find it. We couldn’t seem to find any specialized early-childhood learning tools, and anything we found was based on very basic and often obsolete learning methods.

We are different from other platforms in the market because we use what we call the ‘Playlearning’ method: the more children play, the more they’ll learn. Our content and games not only teach words, colours, numbers, animals, fruits, and everyday language, but also 21st-century skills and topics, such as creativity, caring for the environment, critical thinking, collaboration, and empathy. Additionally, we’re developing new STEM games, in line with the market needs of the future, to truly prepare these children for the workplace.

All our content is developed exclusively in-house, some, in collaboration with Oxford University Press. Parents can also join our Parents Community, where they can read the latest parenting tips and news, participate in discussions with other families, receive helpful advice, and learn how to get the most out of Lingokids.

According to a study we launched in June 2020, over 80% of parents are concerned about the amount of screentime their children are consuming. We build a safe experience from the ground up, our app is kidSAFE certified and Lingokids respects children’s data and privacy protection law. It’s also ad-free, which is essential; a publication by the American Association of Pediatrics reported that children younger than 8 years old are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising.

What’s so special about ‘Playlearning’?

Playing is the most effective way of learning and it has always been there. We bring offline playlearning – for example, with puzzles or different kinds of board games – online to achieve results that really bring out the best in each child. Lingokids has over 650 interactive games and activities with following principle of the more children play, the more they’ll learn.

You’ve already built a team of almost 100, who have helped you to together reach over 25 million families around the world. What advice would you give to other founders expanding their team, possibly across borders?

  • Trust the team and the people on what they’re doing. They’re the experts.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of a powerful ‘People & Culture’ team (responsible for the wellbeing of employees and the company culture), they can make a huge difference.
  • Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to bring on the right team – it takes a lot of work to hire right and to onboard people successfully. Both are essential.
  • Set the right foundations for the team when it’s around 40-50 people. The complexity and number of connections grow exponentially with every new hire.
  • Bet on diversity and build a multicultural team. Employees are everything, and with an excellent team involved in the project you can create amazing things. Cultivate an environment based on diverse nationalities and cultures as well as disciplines, expertises and backgrounds, as this really enriches everyone and brings different points of view to the table. It’s crucial in this day and age.

Since the pandemic many families around the world have been educating at home. What do you think has changed as a result, when it comes to edtech?

Edtech and e-learning apps were already experiencing tremendous growth and the pandemic has accelerated all these changes. Here at Lingokids, we have grown from 11 million users to 25 million. Educational apps have moved from ‘early adopters’,  to ‘early majority’.

While e-learning used to be a supplementary option to traditional education, now it has become essential at home or even at schools. Parents and teachers are looking for tools that are educational, safe and fun, making education more flexible, personalized and autonomous.

At Lingokids we focus on producing this kind of safe, educational, fun and quality content, and try to account for the effects of the pandemic on children’s learning. That’s why we have donated over 40,000 licenses to schools and ONGs, like UNICEF and Save the Children.

What have been your biggest challenges as a CEO/founder?

One of the main challenges, and also the least expected, has been precisely moving from a founder position into a CEO position. You cannot get into the details of every decision and this can be frustrating, but it’s part of the journey.

Balancing the long-term strategy of the company with its short-term needs is also a major challenge. As Lingokids grows, I need to shift from a tactic-led approach, to a strategy-led approach, letting the team execute on the tactics, and providing them with the medium for long-term strategy and direction.

Finally, and given all of the above, work-life balance and learning to rest is another major topic for me as the company grows. Building a large company is a marathon that takes decades – I can’t treat it as a sprint!

What’s on the cards for Lingokids in 2021 and beyond?

Our goal is to keep adding value to families around the world and growing the team to support them. We plan on expanding the experience beyond a mobile app into a full service for families.

As we scale, we are also very focused on improving the way we work and operate the company overall. A team of 20 people serving a few million families is not the same as a 100+ people team serving 100 million families.

The company is growing rapidly at the moment, and recruiting a number of new employees; what type of profiles are you looking for to sustain Lingokids in the next phase of its development?

As far as expertise goes, we’re mainly looking for stack RoR engineers, React Native and Mobile developers, data analysts and data scientists. In addition, we’re recruiting Product Managers and Game Animators.

Culturewise, Lingokids is flexible: workers can either work remotely, but our headquarters in Madrid are also open. We’re looking for professionals who are familiar with edtech or have previously worked in tech companies, are used to challenges and like to work in collaborative and changing environments.

Some of the benefits we offer are, besides flexibility in schedules and remote work, up to $2.000 for training (around 1690) including books, courses and related content such as language lessons in English, Portuguese and Spanish. We also give every team member stock options upon joining. And last but not least, Lingokids has a traditional free lunch for all employees every Friday.