54 START-UP ALLEY MyBuddy.AI
COUNTRY: RUSSIA/US STARTED: 2017
Until the coronavirus pandemic drove classroom education around the world to a screeching halt, it was an uphill struggle to persuade venture capitalists to invest in education apps, according to Ivan Crewkov, co-founder of MyBuddy.AI, a voice-based English tutor for kids. “If you’re not a parent, you don’t get it,” he explains. “Plus, when you’re working with children, you have two customers to appeal to – the child and the parents – which makes sales more tricky.” Now, as parents and teachers grapple with new remote-learning solutions, edtech has become hot property and, in April, MyBuddy.AI received over $1m in seed funding from Russian firm Leta Capital. But the full story behind the three-year- old company’s growth is more of a slow burn, and the tech behind the app and the pedigree of its co-founders was already attracting significant angel investment.
Crewkov and his fellow co-founder Dima Plotnikov moved with their families from Russia to Silicon Valley in 2014 with their former company, CubicAI, a voice assistant that had the misfortune to launch just before the release of Amazon Echo. After selling off the hardware part of that company, the pair examined how they could apply their voice expertise to another venture – and it was their children who provided inspiration. Crewkov’s daughter, who had attended a Russian preschool, was struggling to speak English after transferring to an English- speaking school. “Four months later, she still wasn’t able to speak a word of English and it turns out that this is a common issue for kids in immigrant communities,” he says. Crewkov adds that in his adopted home state of California, up to 60% of children start as English learners. He says that there are around 500m such children around the
WE’RE TRYING TO UNDERSTAND A THREE-YEAR-OLD GIRL FROM CHINA OR MEXICO WHO IS SAYING HER FIRSTWORDS IN ENGLISH
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