Today we’re here with a co-founder of yoli, James Lalonde. yoli is a mandarin language learning platform that runs completely within WeChat. Founded in October 2015, yoli has experienced great success with their first platform providing English classes, and have recently started providing Mandarin classes. If you’d like to improve your Mandarin, be sure to try a free trial through the QR code below.
There are many different language learning apps and options on the market, why did you think yoli was different when you first started?
All the existing offerings focused on either outdated lessons and topics or were a free talk platform, they all also required making appointments in advance. We wanted to bring on demand high quality 1:1 learning to anyone with WeChat and a phone.
With the expansion into offering Mandarin lessons, is there a possibility that you will look into other languages such as Spanish and German?
We eventually plan to teach any and all languages. The platform is completely scalable and has proven profitable on even a small user base so even esoteric languages can be covered as long as there are enough people who want to study and teach it.
Can I try the new Mandarin classes? How does it work?
Absolutely! All you need to do is go into the yoli Mandarin WeChat account and press Start Class, then Start Now. It’s a few clicks away and free, definitely give it a whirl!
What is some of the most heartwarming or motivational feedback you’ve gotten from your users?
Many of our yoli students are quite active in the groups and have made lots of friends. They tell us yoli has changed their lives and given them not only motivation to improve linguistically but socially and culturally as well. The vast majority of our students are on the platform every day. Many say yoli gives them confidence to face the world.
As yoli is one of the few services that run completely within WeChat, tell us about what you think WeChat will hold in store for yoli in the future, and the opportunities you believe WeChat can offer.
We strongly believe that for the better part of the next decade people will not use an app for everything but will increasingly use their messaging app to perform most of what they need to do with their phones. What you see with WeChat is a preview to what will happen all over the world. This is coming from someone who is a founder and large shareholder in one of the most successful mobile phone game companies in China—me. We will continue to build out our functionality so that in a cool interface you will have all your language study resources (and 1:1 classes at your fingertips in your messaging app.) We will also branch out from WeChat. We have prototypes of our service running on Facebook messenger right now.
What are some ways you have found helpful to manage a team that is not based in the same city, whether its communication between the founders, or managing the group of teachers?
Clear and frequent communication of goals, best practices and quick resolution times to all issues that come up is key. We err on the side of over communication and don’t assume everyone has seen something that has been posted in WeChat just once. We share our common and personal goals and objectives as well to ensure we are all aligned. Decision-making is distributed and the emphasis is on making the best decision with the data you have very quickly.
James, I’ve read that you have been through several start-ups. What would you say is the most attractive aspect of growing with a start-up?
For me it is the ultimate challenge to start a company from scratch and have it grow and support many happy employees that are doing work that is personally fulfilling to them. The first company I started still has a hundred employees, the second one about 300, and with yoli we currently work with upwards of 400 people. Knowing that they all have a job they love makes all the hard work worth it. In addition, I personally get massive benefits from mentoring my colleagues and the daily learning experience that is a startup.
As you speak Japanese and Chinese fluently, how do you think speaking a foreign language has benefited you?
J: Being able to speak and understand a foreign language opens up a whole world of possibilities for friendship, learning, understanding. Simply said it makes your life richer and in the process makes you more tolerant to new ideas and ways of thinking.
Please share one piece of advice you would give to another fellow language learner.
J: Speak as much as you can in the target languages. You will have to create most of your opportunities to speak so get over any shyness you have by just doing it. Also if you want to start a conversation, ask a question. People typically love talking about themselves or what they like or are good at.
What is one thing on your bucket list that you would like to accomplish in 2017?
J: I want to finish editing a book I have written in English and Chinese on the 24 Seasons in the Chinese calendar. Really looking forward to adding the photos and doing the final edit on the text and birthing this one. I previously wrote a best selling business book in Japanese and I find that writing a book in a foreign language is the ultimate in proving to yourself you actually know the language when native speakers actually pay to buy it!
Check out the Mandarin yoli platform here and try a FREE lesson with the QR code below.