How Duolingo Hosts 500 Events a Month And You Can Too

How Duolingo Hosts 500 Events a Month And You Can Too

Podcast to Blog Post

Episode 1

On the first episode of the C2C Podcast, Derek Anderson, CEO and Co-Founder of Bevy talks with Laura Nestler, Head of Community at Duolingo, about how she built a community from the ground up.
(Full Podcast Transcript)

Building a company is hard work. It’s not just about having a million dollar idea, it’s about having the right timing, building a network, finding funding, finding more funding, finding even more funding… Louis von Ahn, founder and CEO of Duolingo built the company from the ground up, based on an idea he had about utilizing otherwise wasted time for something good. Duolingo’s mission is to bring free education to the world. In an interview on the C2C Podcast with “the community unicorn”, Laura Nestler, Head of Community at Duolingo, Derek Andersen, CEO and Co-Founder of Bevy, discovered just how Duolingo came to be, and how the company built a huge, international community that seems to be growing exponentially.

In 2017, Duolingo began experimenting with different programs to continue engaging their users after they have completed a course. Rather than moving to another language in another course, Duolingo tried a a lot of different ways to continue the learning beyond the initial course; Duolingo Stories, which was another lesson, but at a more advanced level, and they have a Duolingo podcast which helps people as they are listening. Then, they wondered, “is there a way to mobilize them to join communities of Duolingo users, and meet and practice together in person?” (Laura Nestler). And thus, Duolingo’s in real life community was born.

But how? How do you begin even thinking about mobilizing 200 million users to get off their couch and go practice with each other? Laura breaks it down simply, into what she calls, ‘a playbook’.

“What you do is you plan an event yourself. You say, “Okay, I live in Seattle. I am going to try and use the tools I have to get 10 people to show up to a bar and speak in Spanish for an hour, and I'm going to record it every single step along the way." So, I'm going to document the email that I send to people. I'm going to document the response that I send when they RSVP. I'm going to document the email that I send to the business to reserve my space. And then basically, this should be like a Bible when you're done so that if you fall off a cliff, the next community manager can just pick it up and be able to replicate everything that you've already done.”

Laura speaks about the importance of the playbook while growing a community from the ground up. Once you’ve figured out this process that works, your playbook will ensure you have a consistent, successful way to run events through your community. “You can grow to 10 cities, you can grow to 50 cities, you can grow to 100 cities,” Nestler says.

When they first began to grow, the community team at Duolingo didn’t know how to choose the direction in which to grow: Do they focus on events for a bunch of languages in one city? Or do they focus on one or two languages, but roll out in a bunch of cities? Ultimately, in Duolingo’s case, it came down to choosing the right people to help grow and build your community. Laura says, “we decided not to be specific about language or not to be specific about city and just be specific about the process. So creating the right conditions, putting the right structures in place, and introducing the right people.” Laura suggests, “you’re only bottle-necked by the amount of people who apply and the amount of people you can onboard. So once you have your process in place, once you have your system and all your documentation, if 100 people apply, the only limitation you have is how long it will take you to get that playbook in the hands of 100 people.”

Ok, so you’ve hosted a few events, you’ve now got your playbook, so then, the question becomes, how do find more people in more cities to host events? The next step to building this community is finding those leaders, the super-users, the unicorns. Whether it is an application process, social media blasts, some kind of incentive for applying or being selected, it is imperative that your community knows you need them. The importance of finding the right leaders for your community is undeniable. Laura says, “there is nothing more important than your leader in any community…that person who is your one, that person who's going to plan your events, they are the driver of all of your success.”

Derek, who is also the CEO and Founder of Startup Grind, knows all about how important it is to put the right leaders into any community. He says, “you optimize around those people or give them whatever they need, and because they become your champions, they become the people you refer to, they become…the examples on the hill that everyone else is going to be looking towards and trying to emulate.”

Once you’ve found your leaders, the advocates for the community, the drivers of success, how do you make sure they will stay? Perks, of course! Your leaders should be rewarded with more perks and more opportunities. In order to successfully create this ‘snowflake method’ as Laura calls it, she suggests you first need to understand why these people are motivated to volunteer with you. She says:

“You have to build ways in your leadership structure to allow your leaders…to feel like they're a part of it, they need to feel like they're getting better at something, and they need to feel like they have the ability to choose their own adventure, or else they'll feel like they're working for you, which is not what you want"

Every business is different; some host online communities, others are building IRL communities, but no matter where your community lives, whether it’s online or IRL, the impact it can have on the company can be staggering. In the case of Duolingo’s giant, international, and ever-growing community, the question is, can the company feel the impact of the community? Laura answers, “if this [community] provides people free and accessible access to education, this is us succeeding at our company's mission.” That’s it. Duolingo’s community is moving quickly, and while it is huge, the percentage of those 200 million Duolingo users that are actually getting off the couch and going to these IRL events is quite small. But, the cost of hosting these events versus the cost of a huge, international marketing campaign, it just doesn’t compare. Laura ends the interview with an inspiring anecdote:

“We see [the community] as an ability for people like Nor, the Syrian refugee, who is going to events in Istanbul and learning Turkish for free to be able to connect with her community and get a job as a software engineer. It's tangible, it's palpable, even if it is just a very, very small fraction of the people.”

To learn more about Duolingo's community and how they are using Bevy, read the Case Study!

What to read next:

Derek Anderson, CEO and Co-Founder of Bevy talks with Brent Messenger, Community Manager at Fiverr, about customer to customer marketing and how he uses the Snowflake model to build his communities. From Obama to Fiverr: How the Snowflake Model Creates Movements.

About Author

Beth McIntyre

Community & Events Marketing Manager at Bevy! Passionate about building our community and connecting with members. When I'm not writing for the Bevy Blog, I'm writing about my global travels!

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