Luis von Ahn, Co-Founder and CEO of Duolingo — How to Be (Truly) Mission-Driven, Monetization Experiments, 10x Growth, Org Chart Iterations for Impacting Metrics, The Intricate Path to an IPO, Best Hiring Practices, Catching Exam Cheaters, The Allure of Toto Toilets, The Future of Duolingo, and How to Stand Out in Your Career (#607)

Artist's rendering of Luis von Ahn.
Illustration via 99designs

“Whenever somebody asks you to do something a long time from now, change the framing and say, ‘What if it was tomorrow? Would you want to do this or not?’ Almost invariably, the answer is, ‘No, I definitely don’t want to do this tomorrow.’ And then you should answer based on that.”

— Luis von Ahn

Luis von Ahn (@LuisvonAhn) is an entrepreneur and consulting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who is considered one of the pioneers of crowdsourcing. He is known for co-inventing CAPTCHAs, being a MacArthur fellow, and selling two companies to Google in his twenties.

He is currently the co-founder and CEO of Duolingo, a language-learning platform created to bring free language education to the world. With more than 500 million users, it is now the most popular language-learning platform and the most downloaded education app in the world.

Luis has been named one of the Brilliant 10 by Popular Science, one of the 50 Best Brains in Science by Discover, one of the Innovators Under 35 by MIT Technology Review, and one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company. Luis also won the 2018 Lemelson-MIT prize, the largest cash prize for invention in the U.S.

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. You can also watch the interview on YouTube here.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#607: Luis von Ahn, Co-Founder and CEO of Duolingo — How to Be (Truly) Mission-Driven, Monetization Experiments, 10x Growth, Org Chart Iterations for Impacting Metrics, The Intricate Path to an IPO, Best Hiring Practices, Catching Exam Cheaters, The Allure of Toto Toilets, The Future of Duolingo, and How to Stand Out in Your Career

This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs. Whether you are looking to hire now for a critical role or thinking about needs that you may have in the future, LinkedIn Jobs can help. LinkedIn screens candidates for the hard and soft skills you’re looking for and puts your job in front of candidates looking for job opportunities that match what you have to offer.

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Want to hear the last time Luis von Ahn was on this show? Have a listen to our conversation here, in which we discuss why Luis left Google before his vesting phase was complete, the pros and cons of running a tech company, Duolingo’s evolving business model, how Duolingo compares to college instruction, how Luis vets and recruits computer science engineers, entrepreneurial resources, and much more.

#135: Luis Von Ahn on Learning Languages, Building Companies, and Changing the World

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Luis von Ahn:

Twitter | LinkedIn

SHOW NOTES

  • [05:03] Why the Duolingo owl is green
  • [06:47] The core cause behind Duolingo’s creation, and how Duolingo has evolved over the years
  • [12:48] Duolingo’s monetization efforts that didn’t quite pan out
  • [21:06] After initial reluctance, how was the Duolingo workforce convinced monetization needed to happen?
  • [25:06] As machine-driven translation services get more sophisticated, will human beings still seek to learn other languages via Duolingo?
  • [29:31] The most pursued/influential languages in the Duolingo system currently
  • [39:14] The development of Duolingo’s org chart
  • [45:40] Why Duolingo uses a daily metric
  • [48:33] Book recommendations
  • [50:26] Luis’ most worthwhile investments
  • [52:20] New beliefs, behaviors, or habits
  • [55:20] Recent life-changing purchases
  • [1:02:39] What Luis’ updated 2022 billboard might say
  • [1:06:14] What Luis means when he refers to Duolingo’s “mission,” and how the company’s long view affects decision making
  • [1:12:34] How Duolingo hires good candidates for the long haul
  • [1:18:50] Why and how Duolingo went public
  • [1:25:42] The biggest challenges Luis faces as CEO of a public company
  • [1:30:50] Duolingo is expanding to teach more than languages
  • [1:36:18] The Duolingo English Test: proficiency testing from home accepted by 4,200 academic programs across the world
  • [1:39:51] How Luis’ expertise at catching cheaters during his time as a professor at Carnegie Mellon makes Duolingo products more trustworthy as accredited sources
  • [1:43:39] The brief conversation with Luis’ personal trainer that changed his routine breakfast — to a different routine breakfast
  • [1:44:38] Advice to young, driven people entering the working world
  • [1:48:07] How Luis has become better at saying “No.”
  • [1:49:56] Luis’ request of the audience and parting thoughts

MORE GUEST QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW

“Something like 97 percent of our active users use Duolingo for free. Still, we make more money than all other education apps. We’re very proud of that.”
— Luis von Ahn

“If you’re not brushing with an electric toothbrush, you’re doing it wrong.”
— Luis von Ahn

“The attitude of just finding a way to become useful gets you a lot farther.”
— Luis von Ahn

“Hopefully, most people have seen the Duolingo owl. It’s our mascot. First of all, it’s an owl because in most Western countries, owls represent knowledge. Turns out this is just not true at all in Asia. Now that we’ve been expanding to Asia, people ask us, ‘Why the hell are you using an owl? Owls are just vicious animals.'”
— Luis von Ahn

“Whenever somebody asks you to do something a long time from now, change the framing and say, ‘What if it was tomorrow? Would you want to do this or not?’ Almost invariably, the answer is, ‘No, I definitely don’t want to do this tomorrow.’ And then you should answer based on that.”
— Luis von Ahn

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4 Replies to “Luis von Ahn, Co-Founder and CEO of Duolingo — How to Be (Truly) Mission-Driven, Monetization Experiments, 10x Growth, Org Chart Iterations for Impacting Metrics, The Intricate Path to an IPO, Best Hiring Practices, Catching Exam Cheaters, The Allure of Toto Toilets, The Future of Duolingo, and How to Stand Out in Your Career (#607)”

  1. Greetings from Guatemala Tim, is really nice to listen your podcast, special the episode where you talk with Luis Von Ahn.

    I agree with Luis about the corruption in my country and I believe that one of the solution to this issues could be to stop giving money to my government, specially the money to help the poor people, because that money never reach those people, usually the people at the government stole it.

    Another solution could be to legalize the market of marijuana, this industry provides a lot of jobs and incomes, and right now, just the narcos get the benefits of this business. Just ponder it.

  2. [Moderator: Link to mindvalley dot com slash ultramind slash web removed.] Tim wondering if you have come across these guys in your research

  3. I really enjoyed this episode. I used DuoLingo to learn some Vietnamese when I was visiting there and really like the teaching method.

    What boggles my mind though, is while they have fairly useless and made up languages like Klingon and Esperanto, they don’t have Thai. I know that Thai is not widely used but neither is Vietnamese and certainly not High Valyrian.

    Millions of people visit Thailand every year, thousands of digital nomads spend considerable time there and tens of thousands of expats live there. I think it would have a large following and I for one would even pay to have it as an option. I’d love to hear some feedback on this from Luis von Ahn or a representative.

  4. Hey there! Can you guys update your notes to be more like the podcastnotes.org? I am no way affiliated with this company, but often times find myself going to their webpage for consolidated show notes. It would be helpful for your listeners to have the notes in that format