June is Pride Month—a time for us to come together to bring visibility and belonging, and to celebrate the diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and identities of the LGBTQ+ community. Over the next few weeks, Lindsey Scrase, Managing Director, Global SMB and Startups at Google Cloud, will showcase conversations with startups led by LGBTQ+ founders and how they use Google Cloud to grow their businesses. This feature highlights Beepboop and its co-founders, Devon Saliga, CEO, and Matt Douglass, CTO.
Lindsey: Thank you so much Devon and Matt for taking the time to speak with me today. Let’s start by learning more about your company – what inspired you to found Beepboop?
Devon Saliga: As a closeted gay kid, langauge learning provided me an escape to another world. This passion led me to Dartmouth College’s Rassias Center, which is known for developing innovative language drills where a highly trained instructor guides full classrooms of students through rapid-paced, round-robin speaking exercises proven to be 40% more effective than traditional classroom techniques in helping students gain fluency. It was the opposite of boring lectures and rote memorization of vocab and grammar. Through these methods I learned Japanese, which opened up a world of opportunity, helping me to get my first job at Goldman Sachs. Sadly, not everyone has access to this type of language education. That’s why we created Beepboop, where our technology gives all language teachers the ability to run these effective exercises in both their online and in-person classrooms.
Lindsey: What an incredible way to learn a new language, and clearly it’s quite effective. My wife is Austrian and I’ve been slowly trying to learn German and agree that conversation and engagement with the language is vastly more effective than trying to memorize! So from there, where did the name Beepboop come from and what makes the company unique?
Devon: Our classes are like massive multiplayer games of language-learning hot potato where spoken challenges are passed from student to student. Students without any scheduling can hop into ongoing live classes and start playing.
Speaking a language can be intimidating, so our instructors say “beepboop” to let students know when they’ve made a mistake. It’s a lighthearted word that puts a smile on everyone’s face.
Lindsey: Maybe I’ll try out using “Beepboop” with my kids when they make a mistake, it has a nice ring to it! So what languages do you teach on Beepboop?
Devon: Our go-to-market languages are English and Spanish and our curriculum is geared toward employers who want to recruit, retain and upskill their workforce through language learning. Globally, over $9 billion is spent on business English education alone. It’s a gigantic market and our innovative group-based learning approach enables companies to offer Beepboop to more of its employees for less. We have over 100,000 students and have carved out some really interesting niches for ourselves, like medical Spanish.
Lindsey: Clearly there is a market for this and it’s an incredible opportunity to have an impact in helping so many people. What major challenges did your team overcome in getting to where you are today?
Matt Douglass: We adapted in-person language drills to support remote learning and developed unique techniques to quickly train new instructors. We initially struggled with lagged video and frozen screens because many students worldwide don’t have fast internet. In response, we built an inclusive, audio-only teaching platform that enables everyone to comfortably participate in conversational drills—without worrying about slow connections or how they look on camera.
Lindsey: Ok, so it sounds like having the right platform and technology has been critical to supporting you in scaling and pivoting when needed. Why did Beepboop standardize on Google Cloud?
Devon: Before I partnered with an amazing CTO like Matt, I had to run product and engineering while focusing on business development and creating a compelling online curriculum. I honestly didn’t have the time or technical skills to create a minimal viable product (MVP) from the ground up. Fortunately, Google Cloud offered easy-to-use tools, APIs, and integrated solutions such as Firebase that enabled my small team of Dartmouth students to code an alpha version of Beepboop in just three months. The Startup Success Managers also provided much-needed technical guidance and credits so that we could affordably trial different solutions.
Lindsey: You’re not alone and we hear time and time again from startups who appreciate the simplicity and speed of going from concept to MVP with Firebase and our tools and APIs. I’m so glad that was your experience and that our Startup Success team provided the support you needed to get going quickly. From there, how have Google Cloud solutions helped Beepboop grow?
Matt: Beepboop now supports massive classes of up to 200 students with a customized WebRTC platform built on the highly secure Google Cloud. We use Firestore for all data that doesn’t require a real-time lookup and Firebase for our react apps. We also leverage Firebase Realtime Database to automatically message teachers when students need extra help, alert students and teachers when their internet connection slows, and even power peer-to-peer language-learning games that run autonomously without live teachers!
Right now our instructors are fully responsible for tracking student performance in real time and then adjusting the intensity and the pace of their classes accordingly. This becomes more and more challenging with each additional student in a class. We’re aiming to simplify the process of teaching while giving our students more corrective feedback by using Google Cloud AI and machine learning products to develop deep learning algorithms that automatically detect slight mispronunciations and monitor the melodic intonations of Spanish and English.
Lindsey: It’s incredible to see what you’ve already done in such a short period of time and also your vision of what’s next. Before we switch topics, can you share what excites you the most about Beepboop?
Devon: Seeing Beepboop positively disrupt the education industry and democratize foreign language instruction. We hear every day from our students how their language skills got them a promotion or how just after a few months on our platform they can now confidently interact with native speakers. Our high success rate speaks for itself, pun intended.
Matt: It’s exciting to see how the technology behind Beepboop creates safe and supportive spaces for our students and instructors. Beepboop automatically mutes and unmutes microphones so that every student can equally participate in our conversational drills. Beepboop also gives students a chance to correct their mistakes—and alerts teachers if people need extra help or time to answer a question.
Lindsey: One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing how companies are using our technology to drive incredible impact in the world and this is an amazing example of doing just that! Thank you for sharing more about Beepboop and your vision for the future.
Now, given it’s Pride month, let’s shift gears. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community I am thrilled to see increasing visibility of LGBTQ+ founders. Can you talk about how being part of the LGBTQ+ community impacted your and Beepboop’s success?
Matt: Even before the days of Harvey Milk, the LGBTQ+ community always found creative ways to work together to further important causes. I’ve experienced the same support as an LGBTQ+ entrepreneur. Working through our community, I’ve met many other founders and shared ideas and strategies we’re incorporating to help Beepboop succeed. We also connected with StartOut, an organization focused on building a world where every LGBTQ+ entrepreneur has equal access to lead, succeed, and shape the workforce of the future. StartOut gives us further networking opportunities too, which is why I’m talking to you today.
Devon: As part of StartOut, we joined their Growth Lab, which is a six-month accelerator that provides strategic guidance and mentorship. It was a game changer for us. Now we’re connected to tons of investors and are part of a dynamic and diverse community that continues to be supportive, understanding, and encouraging.
Lindsey: I love seeing the community coming together to provide support – which as you mentioned is such a cornerstone of LGBTQ+ history. Do you have any advice for others in the LGBTQ+ community looking to start and grow their own companies?
Devon: We’ve learned it takes a lot of networking, listening, and collaboration to build a successful company. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, friends, and your community—and don’t be afraid to ask yourself tough questions about what you’re doing and change course if needed.
There are many organizations dedicated to helping the LGBTQ+ high tech community, including StartOut, Serif, and Gaingels. Google for Small Business also offers tools and resources for LGBTQ-friendly businesses such as LGBTQ+ friendly tags, transgender safespace attributes for business profiles, and tips to create more inclusive and innovative workplaces.
Matt: Giving back to the LGBTQ+ community by mentoring new startups is equally important. Sharing your successes and failures can help others avoid similar mistakes and bring their ideas to market faster. We’re fortunate that the LGBTQ+ leaders—especially the startup organizations and founder networks—have been extremely supportive of Beepboop.
Lindsey: Thank you so much for sharing those insights and resources, and I’ll add a couple of others – Lesbians who Tech and Out in Tech. I also want to thank you for all you’re doing to be visible and give back. I have no doubt you’re an inspiration for so many founders.
So in closing Devon, what are the next steps for Beepboop?
Devon: We look forward to working more with partners such as Google for Startups and StartOut to further democratize language learning and teach students around the world how to confidently speak a new language.
Lindsey: Thank you. And we look forward to partnering with you to do just that!
By: Lindsey Scrase (Managing Director, Global SMB and Startups, Google Cloud)
Source: Google Cloud Blog