He’s just picked up the startup of the year award at the Australian Information Industry Association’s Victoria iAwards, but Language Your Way founder Pawan Lalwani says his language-learning startup hasn’t had the smoothest road to success.
An ex-professional gamer, Lalwani tells StartupSmart the concept for Language Your Way, which is aimed at Chinese speakers learning English, moved gradually from just gamification of language learning to actual game-based learning “using adventure and role-play”.
Language Your Way was founded in 2014 and in its early days, the startup was part of a Founder Institute of Melbourne accelerator programme. But it didn’t make it to the end.
So Lalwani took a step back, identified some of the issues with the original program, and tried again, this time starting with building a network in China.
“I built some connections out there, took my first trip, visited first-, second- and third-tier cities, and built a small prototype,” he says.
Eventually, he found the “third-tier cities were happy to give it a crack”.
Once he knew he had a tangible product, Lalwani set up an advisory board and started building the product.
Lalwani started visiting third-tier Chinese cities in Sichuan province, including Panzhihua, Xichang, Luzhou and Mianyang. They’re not exactly household names in Australia, Lalwani says, but they’re “cities where there are 500,000 people … that’s where the market is”.
Language Your Way raised under $100,000 in a pre-seed funding round two years ago. Since then, however, it has secured $500,000 from a “notable Chinese investor”, with another $1 million available in the future.
But Lalwani doesn’t shout about the funding he secures, preferring to keep his message focused on “customers and target markets, as opposed to just saying ‘we’ve done it’”.
Now, Language Your Way is geared in such a way that it could teach English to a native speaker of any country, with just minor adjustments.
“We’ve created the application in a way that it can be localised. We could get it into Italy, India — anywhere,” says Lalwani.
In Melbourne, the product is even on trial at a parents-and-toddlers group in Richmond, helping the children with “reading, writing, speaking”.
“It becomes a rounded thing,” he says.
Language Your Way has had its ups and downs, Lalwani says, but for startups, “it’s all about perseverance”.
“You have your rollercoasters but there’s always a treat at the other end at some point,” Lalwani says.
“There’s no right or wrong answer,” he adds.
“If you’ve seen a gap in the market and validated your position, it doesn’t matter what anyone says … Business doesn’t have a fixed formula, and nor does entrepreneurship.”