PlaySay: Moved to DC, raised VC funds, launched Facebook platform at TechCrunch Disrupt

Tom Paine

PlaySay, the Philly-born startup that helps people learn languages on mobile devices and which went through the GoodCompany Ventures incubator program in 2010, has since migrated down I-95 to Washington, DC. It has received $550,000 in VC funding from Novak, Biddle Venture Partners (it had also raised some angel funds). Founder Ryan Meinzer tells me via phone there were several good reasons to locate in DC: to be closer to its financial backers (Novak Biddle is based in the Maryland suburbs), because the Federal government and the many international organizations there are important clients for the language learning market, and because of the international orientation of the area and the supply of linguistics talent located there.

PlaySay officially launched at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2011 in September.
PlaySay's platform is now on Facebook; if you search for a non-Facebook web presence for it right now you won't find it. (PlaySay may have one soon, though it will likely be of secondary importance.) PlaySay built its app, which it describes as a "language learning layer on Facebook", using HTML5 tailored for the iPad. An Android app will come later, but currently PlaySay is focused on optimizing its UI for the iPad. Available now only for Spanish, PlaySay allows users to match images to words and combine them together to learn phrases, and share them with others. A key product development goal is to enhance the social gaming aspect within the Facebook platform. PlaySay plans to monetize utlilizing Facebook credits to enable user access to premium features.

In addition to the Facebook app, PlaySay is working on smartphone apps which leverage relationships with other information providers. In September it announced a content licensing deal with McGraw-Hill Professional, one of the largest publishers of language learning books and materials. It looks like one iOS app from the McGraw relationship is already live. Some similar arrangements with other partners may be in the works.

Meinzer, who is from central Pennsylvania (Hershey, Lancaster) and attended Temple, saw the need for PlaySay when he went to work in Japan and needed to learn Japanese quickly. He started making digital flashcards for himself so he could start learning several new words every day. PlaySay currently has six employees, including an expert in linguistics. Meinzer says English as a Second Language may be the next market segment PlaySay enters in addition to Spanish. Some have questioned the choice of Facebook as a platform, though Meinzer believes it is best for creating the type of immersive experience he wants. Some early feedback has suggested that the UI is not yet as intuitive as some users would like.

Rosetta Stone is a big player in the market (though it has struggled lately), but Meinzer looks at newer startups such as Voxy, MindSnacks (which went through the DreamIt Ventures program), and Livemocha as being his most direct competitors.


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