Making $10k/m from a French learning app

(highsignal.io)

185 points | by geocrasher 365 days ago

14 comments

  • Pete-Codes 365 days ago
    Cheers for posting this. That’s my site! It’s very cool how he learned to code so quickly as well. I’m glad Benjamin can share his story with everyone.

    So many people want to learn languages as well so it’s a huge market to sell to. Very smart.

    Plenty more stories like this coming out every Wednesday in the newsletter btw https://www.highsignal.io/newsletter/

    • xwowsersx 365 days ago
      Nice site! FYI the "load more" at the bottom of the page doesn't seem to do anything for me (Chrome on Google Pixel).
      • Pete-Codes 365 days ago
        Thanks! I'm guessing it's because the Ghost theme needs more articles for that to work. Will have a look
    • CamelRocketFish 365 days ago
      The load more button is broken for me.
  • jimnotgym 365 days ago
    What I learnt from this:

    1) a real expert (a French teacher)

    2) saw a problem in his area of expertise

    3) decided to start solving it even though he had no clear monetisation plan

    4) used the simplest technology he could find to meet his aims

    5) It is a popular field

    I did French for 5 years at school, got taught lots of grammar rules (which I never learnt in English!). The net result is that last time I was in France I had to point at things on the menu. I always thought conversational French would have been much more useful.

    Well done on the app

    • bsaul 365 days ago
      The way english is taught to english people is really a mystery to any french. I know more about english grammar than pretty much any englishman i’ve crossed, simply because french schools teach english the same way they teach french : with a mix of vocabulary and grammar. but it looks like english schools don’t teach grammar at all.
      • yurishimo 364 days ago
        This has been my experience as well as an American. We did have grammar in school, but there was not a large emphasis placed on anything past, "this is an adverb/adjective/noun/verb" as a part of the lesson plan.

        Ultimately, grammar is most important for speaking and writing. Do you really need to know "this is a secondary subject clause" to speak and write with eloquence? I don't think so. This is anecdotal, but I learned to be a better writer by reading more, not by studying grammatical theory.

        Additionally, this could also be colored by my experience growing up in America. We have language classes in school, but literally no one took them seriously. After 3 years of Spanish, I'm not sure if I was even past A1.

        As an adult and moving to a foreign country, I'm learning a second language (Dutch) with much more attention to detail but I'm having the most issues with grammar. Not that I don't understand the concepts, but more-so that I do not know any grammatical vocabulary. Verb/noun/pronoun/adjective/adverb/preposition... yeah those are all of the words I know off the top of my head. So when the teacher said, "this is the infinitive form of the verb", I was completely lost. I'm trying to study the grammatical concepts, but because they aren't everyday words, I tend to forget them quickly.

        Anyway, thanks for reading my rambling! :)

        • jimnotgym 363 days ago
          This is exactly my experience in the UK too.
      • jimnotgym 363 days ago
        Exactly this. They tried to teach us French grammar without teaching us English grammar!

        When I have discussed this with multilingual continental Europeans they have found their understanding of grammar to be a great advantage when learning a new language. To me it is a complete mystery!

        It is pointless trying to teach English people foreign languages this way, unless they are going to start by teaching them their native language this way first!

    • renox 364 days ago
      Well French is super complicated (I know I'm French) but in this case your issue is specialised vocabulary: I have exactly the same issue in English, when I read GoT the hardest part for me was the meal descriptions..
  • supertofu 365 days ago
    Wow! I was a French major in college but my ability to speak French plummeted after I returned from studying in Paris. I love this app's recording feature! It's so helpful to record yourself speaking and then compare your recording to the native speaker. I only wish the app had an advanced track! I'm pretty sure I'll have exhausted all the intermediate lessons by 6 months from now.

    In any case, I am absolutely delighted by this app and it has brought out my inner Francophile :)

    • kieloo 365 days ago
      Hey! I’m the app creator. I’m really glad you are enjoying it.

      I plan on adding more advanced lessons and an constantly improving it so there could be an advanced track within the next few months.

      In any case, feel free to shout me an email if you have any feedback/feature request.

      • ahaucnx 365 days ago
        I am impressed by the amount of people you have on your newsletter mailing list. Can you share how you got so many sign-ups?
        • kieloo 365 days ago
          Honestly, it mostly has to do with the amount of traffic I get. The blog gets 200k monthly visitors and has for years. I know Hacker News hates pop ups but adding one is what worked best for me.
          • moneywoes 364 days ago
            A pop up to subscribe?

            May I ask how you built such a large audience?

      • CamelRocketFish 365 days ago
        Have you considered expanding to more languages? I would love this for Italian
      • supertofu 363 days ago
        That's great to hear! I'll certainly send an email when i've completed the intermediate track! Thanks for building such a fun learning app :)
      • Fgehono 365 days ago
        Any discount for a fellow hner? :)
  • Adiqq 365 days ago
    Personally I find it hard to believe that it's simple for people to start profitable online business. Some people might be lucky and can promote themselves well, but how many fail? How often freelancers are approached with "great ideas for application", but there's zero chance to find paying clients for it. How much can anyone do alone, in comparison to all these big corporations or even smaller companies with dozens employees dedicated to some specific niche?

    Maybe I'm overthinking, but I can't see how single person can do this, without really good idea.

    • segh 365 days ago
      I don't know if it's "simple", but there is a well established corpus of knowledge, as taught by Y Combinator and others. He describes a fairly standard path.

      First he has domain experience (teaching French and English in Korea). This experience exposes him to a problem (students know grammar but can't speak). He then explores solutions to this problem. First with a blog and a book (sells enough to "cover the bills"). Then he iterates to an interactive book (which now was "selling well"), and then finally moves on to build the fully fledged webapp. And with that, out of the 5 billion internet users, he can convince 800 of them to hand over their cash.

      Of course the story is probably streamlined and leaves out the dead ends. You can only connect the dots in retrospect, as Steve Jobs said.

    • kieloo 365 days ago
      I’m the app creator. It’s definitely not simple but it’s also easier than what most people think. Pretty much anyone on Hacker News could do the same given enough time and motivation. The problem is that it takes a long time to see success. You can easily spend years earning close to nothing. I love doing it but there are definitely pros and cons.

      Honestly my idea was not particularly amazing. I was just frustrated with courses that were too focused on grammar and decided to create a solution to this problem. You don’t need an amazing idea, you just need to offer a solution enough people will be happy to pay for :).

      • kirso 364 days ago
        This. In addition I would just add that most people search for some paradigm shift or innovation potential.

        I reckon its much easier to just find a market with personal interests and compete with existing players on a smaller feature for a smaller audience since the demand is already validated.

        How many times you've heard people hating Salesforce?

    • nicbou 365 days ago
      There are many small niches that can sustain one person, but are too small to attract corporate attention.

      I specialize in Berlin bureaucracy. Some guy reviews ebook readers. Sometimes, you have to think small, because everyone is busy thinking big.

      • anonzzzies 365 days ago
        That is the HN problem; everyone here wants to be a unicorn and acts like it (cloud hosting, microservices, serverless etc) while they will never be a unicorn or even close and would be happy with a small company making 10k a month (it would need to be profit in the west, but that’s not so hard in a niche).
      • qgin 364 days ago
        100% agree with this. Look for things that serve needs of real people, but where the scale is too small to be interesting to VCs.
    • sokoloff 365 days ago
      > even smaller companies with dozens employees dedicated to some specific niche?

      Companies with dozens of employees can’t chase a niche with a revenue potential in the low-five figures per month. A solo worker can and do so efficiently enough to leave $10k/mo after expenses.

      Have 30 people working together is an advantage. Having 30 mouths to feed (or more, with family members) is a disadvantage.

  • thunderbong 365 days ago
    From the article -

    > The French Together blog is built on WordPress and the combination of GeneratePress + GenerateBlocks and is hosted by Rocket.net. The French Together app uses Ruby on Rails and is hosted on Render.com.

    > For emails, I just use Bento + ConvertBox. My general philosophy regarding tools is to always try to use the simplest solution possible.

  • eterm 365 days ago
    Can we edit the title to be /month?

    m is usually minute, I went in expecting a vulnerability writeup, although the sub-header made it quickly clear it was a write-up of a product.

    Good clear write up of the product and it's journey though. Nice "boring technologies" of wordpress and rails.

    • Gualdrapo 365 days ago
      I'd always known m in measures as meter, so I read it as they're making $10K per meter.
      • youssefabdelm 365 days ago
        I initially thought it meant $10k per massage
      • triyambakam 365 days ago
        That's exactly what I thought as well, especially given it's re French
      • cushpush 365 days ago
        this is a measurement of salary for olympic swimmers?
    • xnyan 365 days ago
      It’s clear from context, unless there’s a french learning app making over 5 billion dollars a year.
    • 1kurac 365 days ago
      $/mo is widely used.
      • herewulf 365 days ago
        Given there is a sign for dollars, couldn't there be a sign for concepts as frequently occurring as months (etc)?
  • droobles 365 days ago
    I'm (re)learning French this year and I'll check out this app, looks cool.

    It seems many newer language apps are starting to focus on the "comprehensible input" method touted by language learning influencers like Steve Kauffmann, and at least for me it's definitely working. Comprehensible input (video content, books) along with weekly practice on iTalki has absolutely skyrocketed my language learning progress and really I only put in ~5hrs a week. Lots of money in the post-covid market for language learning as it was a hobby a lot of people picked up in quarantine.

  • zikohh 365 days ago
    Is it just me who thought there was a mobile app not a web app?
    • kieloo 365 days ago
      I’m the app creator. I’m working on a mobile app but I wanted to start with a web app since I’m new to coding. I can’t promise anything but I’m hoping to release a mobile app within the next few months.
      • zikohh 364 days ago
        Fwiw, you did a great job and achieved a lot and can make a living from it and all is self taught.

        Props to you. I was a bit curious on doing app development and felt it's a bit harder to start with for a beginner. Hence my question to confirm.

        Nonetheless I'm sure you're gonna smash it.

        • kieloo 362 days ago
          Thanks! Yeah, mobile development felt a lot more complicated which is one of the reasons I decided to start with a web app. I wanted to start simple with my first « big » coding project. Now that I feel more confident, I’m ready to give mobile development a try.
      • JamesAdir 365 days ago
        Can you please share what are you using to code the app?
        • kieloo 365 days ago
          It’s a Ruby on Rails app built with Jumpstart Rails as a base SaaS template. Then the front end is mostly Turbo + Stimulus JS. I tried to keep things simple :).
  • lisasays 365 days ago
    So real quickly - how does this app differ from the little green bird?
    • blamazon 365 days ago
      I've not used the little green bird, but quoting the French Together website: [1]

      > Your French learning journey starts by listening to a fun and realistic conversation between Jérome, Elodie, Stéphane and the other professional voice actors who worked on this French. course.

      > They speak fast, don’t they? That’s how all French people speak (especially Parisians, they are the worst!) Don’t worry though, French Together comes with audio recorded at both slow and normal speed.

      > Listening to the slow audio helps you train your ears to recognize French sounds while listening to the normal audio prepares you for real life French.

      > Do this for a few weeks and you could dramatically improve your understanding of spoken French. Oh and the course also includes audio from a variety of speakers so you get used to different accents and intonations and don’t end up having to ask locals to repeat when you go to France.

      [1]: https://frenchtogether.com/?cta=blog-menu

      • codyb 365 days ago
        Watching the Yankees in Spanish all season has really improved my ability to listen to Spanish. Combined with Anki spaced repetition flashcards (conjugation and vocabulary), Duo Lingo for some general practice, and Pimsleur for speaking and listening I suspect I'll be pretty decent by the end of the year!

        It's definitely a whole skill to be able to listen and disambiguate words spoken at a native speaker's pace in a second (or nth) language.

        • simonbarker87 365 days ago
          I’m doing something similar for Spanish: listening to News in Slow Spanish podcast, Pimsleur, Memrise and then also paying for a tutor through Italki which has really been helping.
          • omgsean 365 days ago
            Check out Dreaming Spanish, hours and hours and hours of free comprehensible input content, and then some premium content on top of that when you run out. It's been great for my listening comprehension.
          • lsllc 365 days ago
            Try Language Transfer, it's really incredible. I realize now I've more or less wasted the last year learning Spanish on Duolingo. Now I have to go and unlearn stuff so I can relearn it properly.

            https://www.languagetransfer.org

            • simonbarker87 364 days ago
              Just tried the first couple of lessons - nice starting point and more technical explanation than other things I have tried so looks promising. Thanks!

              And yes, DL teaches South American Spanish which has a fair few differences to European so that might be the source of the differences.

              • lsllc 363 days ago
                Actually, what I found was that in Duolingo I was learning random, specific versions of verbs such as Quiero (I want), Quiere (she/he wants), Quieres (you want). But I should have been learning the verb starting with the "to form", e.g. Querer (To want). From that you then learn how to conjugate the different variations based on the use-case, which isn't just I, she/he, you, they, we but also is different in the various tenses. But having blindly learned words in Duolingo without explanation is hampering me, I kept reaching for say Quiero and not Querer as I should and then the rules for breaking down the verb and adding the right ending don't work right.

                I wished I'd started with LT, learned the rules, then maybe Duolingo would have been ok for practice (although the gamification sort of annoys me). My Super Duolingo sub is up this summer, I think I might not renew and stick with LT and Dreaming Spanish.

                Regarding Latin American Spanish vs European -- in the LT lessons, they cover the differences in pronunciation when applicable and also differences in word usage (Carro vs El Auto) and even later on talks about "Spanish Idiolects" (e.g. the ways individuals speak Spanish).

        • canadiantim 365 days ago
          Pimsleur pretty clutch
      • lisasays 365 days ago
        C'est bon - thanks for tidy summary.
    • rozenmd 365 days ago
      Duolingo is useless for learning to speak to people, for one
      • KerrAvon 365 days ago
        You won't be able to hold a fluent conversation based only on Duolingo, but it's not _useless_.
      • ilrwbwrkhv 365 days ago
        True. I learnt Swedish on it. Pretty high score and everything. Landed in Sweden. Couldn't understand a thing.
        • havelhovel 365 days ago
          Do you have any recommendations for folks learning Swedish outside of Sweden? So far I’ve been bouncing between Duolingo and 8sidor for reading comprehension.
          • ilrwbwrkhv 365 days ago
            No lol. It was such an embarrassing situation. I was dunking on my wife before landing in Sweden - "hey do you see how good my Swedish is? guess i'll have to do all the talking". And once we reached there, to have to speak English at every situation made me turn red and she looked on with a smirk.

            Duolingo is a bit like Notion. It makes you think you are achieving things but the direction is completely incorrect.

            • lisasays 364 days ago
              So what might a useful environment look like for you?
              • ilrwbwrkhv 364 days ago
                What do you mean? To learn a language?
                • lisasays 362 days ago
                  That's the subject at head.

                  By "environment" I mean of course apps + devices (combined with real-world sources, perhaps).

      • bdcravens 365 days ago
        I wouldn't say it's useless. Won't make you fluent, but I've found the short phrases I can use (just a little over a year of Duolingo, plus HS Spanish classes in the late 90s) useful in a few situations. (I'm in the Houston area, so it's pretty common to encounter Hispanics who do not speak English well)

        Of course, we live in a world where the translations apps on ours phones are approaching a "universal translator" level.

      • shagymoe 365 days ago
        True but it's not totally useless. My comprehension is probably north of 80% but I can't speak as fast as I'd like, which is frustrating.
      • omgsean 365 days ago
        My wife has like a 230 day streak in Duolingo and every time I speak any Spanish to her (I'm like early intermediate level maybe) she doesn't understand. She's just hooked on making number go up.
        • nuclearwast 365 days ago
          Duolingo is kind of garbage. As a native french, for fun, I tried to quickly finish the whole french course. I quit well before halfway. Duolingo would refuse perfectly fine sentences. The accepted answers aren't flexible enough.

          I didn't try english though.

          Esperanto is super easy if you speak both french and english. But man there is less content on the internet than klingon...

        • forgotusername6 365 days ago
          I have a 1400+ day streak in Russian. I can only understand the odd word or two when I listen to a native speaker.
          • EVa5I7bHFq9mnYK 364 days ago
            Good news: you only need to know 5 words to get around in Russia.
            • lisasays 364 days ago
              The most important being of course сука and блять. What are the other 3?
              • EVa5I7bHFq9mnYK 364 days ago
                just step on someone's foot, you will learn all 5 and their variations in no time.
        • KerrAvon 365 days ago
          230 days is not very far in if you're doing the minimum each day, but something simple? ¿Donde esta el gato?
        • no_butterscotch 365 days ago
          Does she supplement her Spanish learning with anything else? Books? TV? Music or podcasts? Or does she ask you to help her?
      • sfblah 365 days ago
        My experience: Essentially all consumer language learning apps are only useful for learning up to maybe CEFR A2 or B1. That makes sense, because that's all the typical consumer has patience for. Going beyond this basically requires hiring a tutor, because so few people ever progress to that point.
  • Hammerhead12321 365 days ago
    Posts like these really need to provide proof of income.

    “I make $xx,xxx per month from MySite, click here to visit MySite!” has become an extremely popular marketing tactic, even though in reality the site could be making next to nothing.

    • kieloo 364 days ago
      I’m the app creator. Honestly I have nothing to sell (other than the French course) so there is no funnel or anything. I’m just sharing my experience.

      I agree with your general point though.

      • huhtenberg 364 days ago
        > I have nothing to sell (other than the French course). I’m just sharing my experience.

        I like your project, but this ^ is blatantly disingenuous.

        Disclosing your revenue is a very effective marketing move that gives you a lot of traffic and drives sales up. You cannot not know that and it's extremely unlikely if it weren't one of the reasons for the linked post, if not the primary one.

        If you were up to "just sharing", you would've done it anonymously with the name redacted and no links to your website.

        • kieloo 364 days ago
          That would be true if indie founders and HNers were the audience of my app but they are not for the most part. Doing interviews like this is really not doing much for me marketing wise. Just to give you an idea, this interview generated 5 trial signups which is less than what I get on an average day from Google alone.

          The main thing I gain from this is making connections and meeting fellow indie founders. I’m not sure you will believe me but it’s true. Not everything is a calculated marketing move.

          And sure, I could have shared anonymously but this would make the content way less interesting than knowing what the app is etc.

          • huhtenberg 364 days ago
            Interviews like this are extremely valuable due to their viral spread, resulting publicity and improvements in the search ranking. By your own admission you spend 60% time on marketing, so, no, I don't really believe you hadn't given a single thought to this aspect here and this claim is what I find strongly off-putting.
        • moneywoes 364 days ago
          Thanks

          So many people neglect this fact especially with all the hustle gurus

  • mattgreenrocks 365 days ago
    To the app creator: at $10k/mo, what do you find you spend most of your time on?
    • kieloo 365 days ago
      I built an audience a long time ago so visitors mostly find the blog via SEO and then sign up for the app. In term of time, these days it’s probably 30% coding, 60% marketing, 10% admin/customer support.

      The marketing time is mostly testing new sales page versions, running A/B tests etc.

      But I also sometimes have periods when I spend much more time coding. The next few months will probably be 80% coding while I create a mobile app.

  • danielscrubs 365 days ago
    I have so many questions: - you have paid voice actors on board? Whats the revenue? - what made the users the happiest? - how do you prevent nerd sniping yourself when learning is more fun than creating content?
  • RcouF1uZ4gsC 365 days ago
    > My income can be hard to predict but I expect to pay myself a salary of 70 - 90k this year.

    This is actually pretty low for a software developer.

    • johnsimer 365 days ago
      A dollar you earn from your own business feels as good as 5 you earn from a W2
      • throwaway4good 365 days ago
        That and in most of the world 120.000 usd pr year is a high salary for a software developer (or anyone else for that matter).
      • IG_Semmelweiss 365 days ago
        a dollar from your own business is tax free after all those business writeoffs.

        $5 dollars from your w2 turns into 2.5 dollars after all the governments have taken their pound of flesh...

    • gnicholas 365 days ago
      A typical software developer doesn't also get much equity. This guy owns 100%, and could sell the business, put it in maintenance mode, or pay someone to maintain it.
    • refurb 365 days ago
      Presumably they aren’t spending 40 hours per week on this?

      If they are spending 20 hr per week, that’s equivalent to $140-180k per year.

      Plus whatever income they make doing other things.

    • Pete-Codes 364 days ago
      He owns a business - major difference
  • aborsy 365 days ago
    Well, 15k internationally. As soon as it enters France’s revenue agency, it will be slashed to like 2.45k/m.

    Also, if you deviate from income norms by 10%, you’re considered to be rich and will be disliked. You will lose in other ways more than that 10%.

    Basically, that “dream” doesn’t worth the effort in some places.

    • anonzzzies 365 days ago
      Why would you tell anyone? At least in the EU countries where I have lived and live now, it’s not normal and actually not done to mention ‘what you make’, even among friends, so no one knows how much I make or what I have. I don’t think it’s very different in France ; my uncle, who moved from my birth country to France because he was in the newspapers when he sold his shares for a lot of money, was a poor farmer for his neighbours, they assumed he got his pension from country which allowed him to take them for anis and food now and then. He actually had 20m euro, but no one knew in the town where he lived. Now his son lives in his farm and no one knows anything still.

      It’s a mistake to show off I believe; people treat me like one of them and sometimes I ‘win the lottery’ and treat them to something. But I rather appear poor than rich; it attracts far too much grifters and weirdos. Also I don’t get the urge to spend on crap I don’t need, because it would show I am not one of them. It would be annoying.

      • aborsy 365 days ago
        It’s expected that in many places, you provide a dossier that includes your last few months of paycheck. There can also be cultural elements to gossip and so on.

        In general, people can be a bit sensitive with respect to money across EU. Like, the president of a country buying a suit that is a bit (but not too much) expensive, and there is public outrage. Common, it’s the president of this large country! It’s not so much the impact of that amount of money, rather, topic sensitivity.