Disruptor 50 2020

42. Duolingo

Founders: Luis von Ahn (CEO), Severin Hacker
Launched: 2011
Headquarters: Pittsburgh
 $148.3 million
Valuation: $1.5 billion (PitchBook)
Key technologies:
AI, cloud computing, machine learning
Online language learning
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 2 (No. 28 in 2019)

George Kavallines

Could there be a better time to learn a new language online than when we're all locked in our houses during a global pandemic? Duolingo, which offers the most-downloaded education app in the world, thinks not. During the coronavirus crisis, it's seen a huge spike in new users. The Pittsburgh-based company offers 95 courses across 38 distinct languages — from the world's most spoken, such as Spanish, French and Italian, to endangered languages like Hawaiian, Navajo and Scottish Gaelic. In addition to its core platform, the company created the Duolingo English Test, an affordable and convenient language certification option accepted by more than 2,000 universities and institutions worldwide.   

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Over the past year, the company has expanded into podcasts for Spanish and French learners and added Duolingo Plus, a subscription-based option for the app that removes ads and provides users with additional features. Duolingo raised $30 million from Capital G in December, and an additional $10 million from General Atlantic in April, bringing its total funding to $148.3 million. The company is Pittsburgh's first VC-backed unicorn, with a valuation of $1.5 billion.

In March the company launched Duolingo ABC, a free English literacy app for children ages 3 to 6. The company originally planned to unveil the app later this year, but due to the coronavirus pandemic decided to release it early to help parents who are now working remotely and homeschooling their children. The app is free from ads and is available in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It features more than 300 short lessons that teach basic reading and writing skills. For now the app is available only in English and on iOS, though the company says it will likely add other platforms soon.

Duolingo CEO: Company sees increased demand due to lockdowns
A look back at the CNBC Disruptor 50: 8 years, 209 companies