Hi friends! My name is Spiffy. I’m an interplanetary journalist here on Planet Earth interviewing the best and brightest leaders working to make a healthier world by addressing UN SDG #3.
Spiffy: Hi Devon! What challenge is Beepboop addressing? How do you go about doing that?
Devon: You can think of Beepboop as the free UberPool for language learning. We connect groups of students on-demand to live language instructors, in low-bandwidth friendly, audio-only, speaking-focused classes. We’re building technology that enables educators to simultaneously engage hundreds of students in exercises that get them comfortable conversing in a new language. With Beepboop, we want all of the half a billion students studying a new language to actually learn how to speak that new language.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do this?
Devon: I’m from the USA, where most people spend years studying a foreign language but never reach the ability to hold even a basic conversation. Growing up, I studied Japanese abroad and at Dartmouth College – my ability to converse freely in the language opened up innumerable opportunities for me both professionally and personally. I recognize the privileged language instruction I’ve received over the years, and with Beepboop we’re democratizing these methods to make them accessible to the world.
Spiffy: How does it tie into Sustainable development goal #3 Good Health & Wellbeing? How are you making the world a more equitable place?
Devon: In the USA, the language you speak determines the quality of healthcare you receive. In this resource-constrained world, patients perceived as taking longer to treat receive less care. Because of this, the first curriculum we launched was Medical Spanish. With our Beepboop lessons, our live instructors have engaged thousands of students in simulated patient-provider interactions in Spanish. We aim to improve communication in order to improve health outcomes.
Spiffy: So you’re breaking down the barriers between physicians and their patients and helping disadvantaged groups in the process. Has this helped you reach any milestones?
Devon: We’ve recently hit our 15,000th student booking, won a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for our efforts solving health inequities in the underserved communities in New York, and last month had to double our teaching force to keep up with demand. It’s significant because a year ago we were just an idea. We now have created a sustainable business model providing the world with free, high-quality, speaking-focused, language instructions.
Spiffy: That’s some real quick growth! There must have been some failures along the way. How did it feel and how did you overcome that?
Devon: Our first group classes were video conference-based. They were terrible. If just one student was lagging, the entire class became extremely unengaging. We thought the business was over.
However, this was a blessing in disguise. We redesigned all our classes to be audio-only. Not only did the classes become more effective and comfortable for students, but we lowered the barrier to entry, enabling hundreds of millions of students and teachers with slower internet speeds to participate.
Spiffy: The best lessons are the most unexpected, speaking of which. Do you have any lessons you’d like to share?
Devon: We were practicing for a healthcare pitch competition and one of our mentors recommended not mentioning my favorite part of our company, which was that our low-bandwidth solution enables our class to be accessible by millions more users globally. While our vision of expanding access to education means everything to me, he said it wouldn’t score points with these particular judges. Tailoring the pitch to the audience was right, we painfully dropped the low-bandwidth point, but then ended up winning the pitch.
Devon Saliga is CEO and co-founder at Beepboop. Devon has eight years experience at Goldman Sachs in healthcare investment banking and also worked scaling operations as the Finance and Strategy Director at Maven Clinic, a family-focused telehealth startup backed by Sequoia.