Growing Guerrilla Style – Busuu is the second 7 Digit Community

Busuu tweeted recently that their community has officially reached more than 1 million members. This is a very impressive number itself but what I find even more interesting is that Busuu had tweeted exactly one month before to have reached the milestone of 800.000 users.

That is a growth of 200.000 users in 30 days, over 6600 users per day in one single month.

Before we take a closer look at the latest jump in users, let’s take a look back on their growth rate up to September 2010.

To illustrate this I embeded a timeline of the growth based on the tweets of the official Busuu Twitter account with some annotations and what I think were key factors for it below.

For me, there is no doubt that the implementation of the Busuu Berry reward system and the Facebook integration were the two key factors for the growth within the second year. Rewards are a big motivational factor for users to achieve the next level and of course to share their success with their social circle. It’s natural human behavior.

Moreover, this is great viral advertising and it costs Busuu virtually nothing. Ok, they had to invest in the Facebook integration and the Busuu Berry system but looking at the growth rate in 2009 it really paid off, I’d say.

But all of this is of course nothing compared to the recent jump of 200.000 users in 30 days. Quite frankly, at a first glance it looks a bit too good to be true but if we take a second look I think there might be an explanation for that increase: the iPhone apps.

According to the article in the Liechtensteiner Vaterland Busuu got over 200.000 downloads of their applications in two weeks which is again a very impressive number. Babbel for example had “only” 100.000 downloads in two months.

If we now subtract Busuu’s recent “natural” growth rate of about 60.000 users per month we end up with 140.000 people that might have come over the new applications.  Looking at the different iTunes in Europe Busuu apps are everywhere at least amongst the top 20 downloads, sometimes in the top ten for free apps. In Austria the English app is even on the first place. Only on the UK market the only app of Busuu in the top 200 is Spanish at place 45.

On Saturday I had a quick chat on Skype with Bernhard Niesner, Co-Founder of Busuu about this recent increase in users and he confirmed that these are actual users measured on the website itself, meaning 200.000 people signed up with their name and email address on Apparently, the team is also a bit surprised about the current dynamics and the launch of the iPhone apps gave them an extra boost. The team is currently analyzing the data to the details.

Busuu now also claims to be the largest language learning community in Europe. The problem with this is that their competitor Babbel did not share their own user numbers recently, so it does not take them out of the race. The last numbers we have from Busuu’s main competitor on the European market are 700.000 users in April and a growth rate of 80.000 in two and a half months in March. This would convert to a growth rate of 32.000 users per month which would sum up to about 860.000 users in early October 2010, 140.000 less than Busuu. Based on this number Busuu would be right to say they are now the biggest language learning community in Europe. If Babbel attracted more than 32.000 users per month though, we might have another picture. On the other hand Babbel might have shared this milestone in a press release.

To sum this up, the growth of Busuu over the past 12 months is quite impressive and due to a well executed Social Media Marketing strategy. According to Google trends the Busuu website has now about 50.000 unique visitors per day, Babbel 15.000 and Livemocha 110.000.

If we converted this to the number of active users on the site every day (rough estimate as random visitors are also in this number) it would mean that about 5% of Busuu’s users, 1,83% of Livemocha’s and 1,74% of Babbel’s users are active on the sites every day. Taking these numbers, Busuu seems to be the stickiest of the three, probably due to the game mechanics of collecting berries.

If we now take a quick look at the data of Compete, we can see how often every user checks in to the service. Again, those numbers are rough estimates and in the case of Compete very US centered.

According to this data the average Busuu user visits the website about two to three times per month, same for Babbel. Astonishingly enough a Livemocha user however visited the site up to five times per month until August and from there on even ten times per month. This rise is around the time Michael Schutzler became CEO of Livemocha, so if this is due to a change in strategy, it then worked out quite well, apparently.

But in the end user numbers don’t mean that much either as we don’t actually know about the Google Adsense revenue, if the users are active, how long they stay on the site and, even more important, how many of them are paying premium customers which means that Babbel could actually generate more revenue than Busuu and Livemocha as their service might have fewer visitors but due to the change in the business model most of them should be paying customers. But that’s the nature of freemium and both, Busuu and Livemocha are adding users like crazy so there is a good chance for them to convert enough of them into premium members.

Interesting times and one thing is proven once more: language learning communities are massively popular and will be the big players on the language learning market. As soon as they add live teaching to their offer there won’t be a need to take live classes on other services anymore, at least not at the lower to intermediate levels.

Related Links:

  1. Babbel declares Premium Model a Success – Busuu launches new Group Feature
  2. Babbel takes a Technology Lead in the Race
  3. Livemocha and The Seattle Experiment
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  • Jamie

    hi kirsten

    really interesting article, thanks a lot

    as a follow-up to that i would love to hear your thoughts on how those three guys are going to monetise those users and how each of them will fare from a commercial standpoint given these numbers

    a great read


    • KirstenWinkler

      Hi Jamie, glad you enjoyed reading it. For Babbel it's relatively clear as they changed their business model to premium only. So here is the question what the life time value of a language learner is, what kind of learners do they attract, long term or short term students.

      For Busuu and Livemocha it's the question of converting free users to premium subscribers. Hence is the premium content that interesting that I pull my wallet or I am pretty much ok to use the free content and connect with other learners. Don't know if Google Adsense revenue is that interesting in that calculation, might pay for the infrastructure.

  • Louis George Machlan

    Thanks for the in-depth review. I never would have figured all that out. Even your charts got me glassy eyed. You make a good investigative journalist. But, FYI when I ask for more pictures, I am not talking about charts.

    One of the areas that Edupunk is looking at is the phenomenon of Farmville. I am talking with our little group about all parties bringing value to the edupunk village. Just like Farmville, there would be little point in just visiting. Rather all can and should teach… something. Even if it is just sharing how to use a cell phone, all can bring value and therefor help us build an economy of learners and teachers.

    Once I figure out what we are doing, I will give you the exclusive!

    • KirstenWinkler

      I am looking forward to this. And I already have you on my list of interview guests for a while now, love what you are doing with your tribe.

  • Andres

    I'd love to relate these numbers to average student performance and progress. I think that the focus of these communities is not as much the student as it about reflecting their potential to monetise to venture capital.

    But this is part of a much larger debate… Thanks for the info,

    Andres (

    • KirstenWinkler

      I think communities do a great job in lowering the entrance barrier to language learning with the pros and cons related to that. I don't think that they will be the tool of choice for serious language learners from intermediate level upwards. That's a whole different game but no web 2.0 service is really focusing on these customers yet.

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  • Dale Graham

    I just finished the Livemocha Active German course. Completed all 4 levels. I certainly can't recommend it. I learned next to nothing and it's very boring………rinse-lather-repeat. The biggest flaw of all is their small vocabulary content compared to their on-line rivals. Try something else.