1:06 - Hating school, loving learning
4:58 - A good vs successful entrepreneur.
10:21 - The early days of Babbel
19:22 - How doubt helps us
23:29 - Picking the paid subscription model
Markus Witte is the co-founder and former CEO at Babbel, the top-grossing language learning app which has been around since 2007. Nowadays he serves as its executive chairman. Markus is based in Berlin and has a background in academia, specifically the social sciences.
A passion for learning, not school
Although Markus has always been in love with learning, he often struggled to find motivation at school, since it seemed to him that most of his teachers mechanically repeated the same information over and over again. He fit in much better in academia, where people had more of a passion for their subjects.
What makes a good entrepreneur?
Markus says entrepreneurs are not made, they happen. There's no such thing as an entrepreneurial DNA, only entrepreneurial moments — and what we make of them.
He also thinks it's important to distinguish between "good" and "successful." You can be reckless and still get lucky. To be "good," you need the ability to convert everything around you into success, even your limitations.
It seems to Markus that the mindset of "just following your gut" is a luxury. He says you shouldn’t let it guide you if you don't have a cushion to fall back on. In fact, you should cultivate doubt.
Creating and pivoting Babbel
Markus and his co-founders created Babbel because they thought language learning was something everyone would need at some point in their lives, and also because they knew nothing about the subject and were keen on learning more.
Their first prototype was nice-looking, but nobody could learn a language with it. Out of arrogance, they assumed this was a tech problem, but soon realized that it was more a matter of didactics, and so called in some specialists: teachers.
Even though these were rare in 2009, they opted for a subscription-based business model, since they figured you can't optimize both for building advertising revenue and for building a good learning product. Investing money in a subscription, they think, also helps learners stick to their goals.
"In school, a lot hinges on good teachers."
"I was too in love with learning to feel like school was worthwhile."
"The entrepreneurial thing is to find strength where you feel you have weaknesses."
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