Q&A with Dr. Jan Ihmels, the Co-Founder/CEO of Lingua.ly

Speaking a different language is a perk for every entrepreneur. However, you need to hone your language skills continuously. Well, there’s an app for that, called Lingua.ly.

To learn more what the app can help you enhance your entrepreneurial journey, we have a great opportunity to have a Q&A with Dr. Jan Ihmels, the co-founder and CEO of Lingua.ly.


1. Tell us about your Lingua.ly and what service it provides.

We help people learn a language using what’s available for free on the web. That means Twitter, Facebook, and newspaper articles, for example in French, which can be turned into custom lessons for English-speaking users via a dictionary and flashcard maker. Every Lingua.ly user has a news feed full of content that matches their interests and level. So, for example, if you are a dancer and look up “ballet” “shoes” and “lake,” you may get a French news article on the latest production of Swann Lake in Paris, and then you can learn more related words by looking them up as you read. The tool also includes practice games and an extension for Google Chrome so any website can become content for learning.

2. What was the original inspiration behind Lingua.ly?

My co-founder and I have always been avid language learners and polyglots. In college, we would often help keep our skills active by reading foreign newspapers and looking up words we didn’t know. This led to flashcards and then having to review at strategic intervals. With so much content online these days, we decided to create a tool that combined this functionality and completed the learning loop.

3. How does your company and your product stand apart from the competition?

Lingua.ly is a tool for everyone. However, we are particularly helpful for intermediate level users and those who speak a language but need to keep their skills honed. That’s because we provide an immersion experience that exposes learners to a constant stream of authentic language complete with a context-based approach for expanding vocabulary. This is so important in the quest for fluency and advanced proficiency—it’s all about the vocab.

4. Please describe a few of the necessary characteristics that a successful entrepreneur must have?

Above all, an entrepreneur needs to have passion and perseverance. In addition, I think a broad set of interests, can-do-attitude, and a genuine love for what they’re trying to achieve is a must.

5. What is the most significant emerging trend in you industry and how are you planning to adapt to it?

Big data. Everyone is using big data to fuel their platforms, as are we. Beyond this though, we’re hoping to use what our users show us about language learning in order to optimize the experience for everyone else. This is similar to what Duolingo is doing. However, it’s also very different as they deal with a limited scope of vocabulary and Lingua.ly is talking about every word that exists in the language you’re learning.

6. Tell us about the worst business mistake you’ve made?

Early on in the venture we were persuaded to have the product user experience done by an external company, a serious mistake that was costly in time as well as money. For a product company, it is critical to have the core skills covered in-house, in order to be able to release, test and iteratively revise to reach product market fit. This cannot be outsourced.

7. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from launching your business?

In an early stage startup you lack most resources, so it’s critical to have a very strong team around you.

8. What is your favorite quote for entrepreneurs?

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover – Mark Twain, author

9. Finally, give us your best piece of advice for prospective entrepreneurs?

I suppose that would be another quote. “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer” – Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari