The Pitch 2017 winner talks about building his business

David Montiel built language app Beelinguapp in his spare time. Inspired by learning through audio books he started coding in the evenings after his day job at eBay. It’s been downloaded 400,000 times, has a 4.7 out of 5.0 rating on Google Play and has been generating revenue from its inception.

We caught up Montiel after he won The Pitch 2017 to hear more about his approach to running and building the business, and what he’s got planned.

How does it feel to win The Pitch?

It’s one of the greatest experiences. Hopefully, this project ends up being a big product and this will be one of the key moments together with getting the Editors’ Choice on Google Play and the Kickstarter campaign for the iPhone version. Not only because of what it means to win but in terms of motivation, it makes me aware of what I’ve achieved. 

I don’t get a lot of chances to get other people to evaluate the product. All of the other contestants were amazing. Even more than the press and the prize, it’s much more about my motivation and effort.

What did you learn from the experience?

The first part of the event, the Boot Camp, was really helpful. It takes people with cool products and helps give them their first steps to turn them into successful businesses. It was really important for me to get that information and to be surrounded by people that have similar questions at this level of building the company. Even if I hadn’t won, I would have said the same thing.

How many downloads and active users have you got at the moment?

It’s more than 350,000 members, probably 30,000-40,000 on iOS, where it was released last month. Daily active users of 6,000. The users on iOS are spending lots more per user, which is something I’ve heard before. That makes me very hopeful.

Are there any other statistics that you think are important?

The two most important things are that user and revenue growth has been continuous and exponential. It’s all been driven by different key moments. The product was available on Android when the Kickstarter campaign to fund the iOS app began, that brought awareness. After that, I was featured in a couple of newspapers. Then we got Editors’ Choice on Google Play, which lifts us up on the ranking. I’ve always had these milestones that kept the growth happening.

I’m still impressed about the slide in The Pitch presentation when it gets compared to the other products. If you search ‘learn languages’ we are normally in the top ten or top five results.

We have 4.7, which is the highest rating, none of them has more than that. That means users like it, it’s a seal of approval and it’s competing with huge companies that have spent millions of dollars on marketing. It’s impressive just to see it there.

What about marketing?

I have done marketing for research. For example, when I wanted to come up with a phrase to go with the product, the words ‘learn languages with audiobooks’. To come up with that I made a Facebook campaign with five different titles. That was the best performing. In a way it was advertising, but it was an A/B test.

You’re a keen advocate of lean startup, when did you get interested in this approach?

The technical part of the success and the efficiency is all based on lean startup. There’s no other way to do it. The fact that there is a known system that works to build systems of this kind is really important. Because it has been invented all I have to do is apply this science. I got the book, read it and have been following since. 

In general, every time you want to take a step that’s risky the best thing to do is to make an A/B test where a small percentage of the users see the new development. Based on that you can very easily project how the rest of the market will react.

For example, the app has two ways to be seen when you’re reading the text. On a split screen with both or you can see a single view and change it with a switch. I thought seeing a single view would be most popular, but I did an A/B test to see. The performance of the split screen was better so I knew that had to be the default option.

How do you balance your day job with building the business?

I have a lot of fun building it. I don’t see it as work and then after work more work. I have fun at work, I love it and I have fun programming this. I’m looking forward to my free time.

I haven’t stopped visiting friends, I just use all the time I can. I say jokingly that nearly 80% of the app was built on the train, I take the train to work and to travel at the weekends.

I spend an hour and a half a day walking and listening to audiobooks, which is where the idea came from. When I found a word I didn’t understand, I’d have to take out another app to see what the word exactly meant and then I had five versions – I needed the exact sentence in my native language. I try to use the time to do something productive and that’s how I’ve been able to read a lot of books about product development.

I now know English, Spanish and German, maybe I’m halfway with Portuguese.

What are your plans for the future?

It’s exciting. I’m sure that at some point next year I’m going to be working on this full time. I’m getting to a point where it’s just too much work, there are too many things that require my attention that aren’t related to just programming.

It’s a good feeling that it is going well. My next step is to educate myself about investment and whether that’s something for me. I want to get the best deal possible out of this. I want to get funded and hire the right people. Winning The Pitch made me realise that that’s the step that needs to happen now.

Growth is the most important part of the business. I haven’t focused on monetization. The products I have to sell are part of an experiment to prove a hypothesis that users would spend money in the app, but I haven’t done anything like A/B testing with different prices or different pricing methodologies. In spite of this, the product is already profitable.

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Chris Goodfellow
Chris is founder and CEO of Inkwell, the company that runs The Pitch. He’s a journalist and editor by trade, and his work has been featured by everyone from The Guardian and The Financial Times to Vice magazine.

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