I’m excited to share that the acquisition of OKpanda by ALC Press (Freebit) has been completed!
Starting with the acquisition of OKpanda Live in March we worked closely with ALC to produce a winning combination in the English learning space. Working with a Japanese public company and perhaps the most renowned publisher of English learning materials in Japan has been an exhilarating experience.
While I will no longer be involved, OKpanda’s core operations team and teachers have joined ALC, and our unique synergies make me confident they will take OKpanda’s products and brand to ever greater heights.
OKpanda is the 4th company I’ve sold, but saying goodbye is no easier. Still, while I will dearly miss OKpanda I am excited and eager to take a short break and then start a new journey (more on that soon).
Our “why” at OKpanda was always a passion to help people who want to help themselves.
When we started the company 6 years ago, we bet that the English learning space would be disrupted by companies leveraging mobile and video as well as distributed labor. That prophecy came true, and huge companies were built in the process.
Since inception, OKpanda helped 1M+ users learn English, primarily in Japan, and built a product which is still years ahead of industry in the integration of pedagogy with technology and human teachers with software.
We employed hundreds of teachers from 35+ countries, won Apple Japan’s app of the year award and had our apps featured innumerable times reaching a million users with no marketing spend; we produced an in-house English learner’s dictionary with 25K+ original entries (a monumental effort) and had students answer more than 30M questions.
Though we hadn’t grown as large as some, our students’ accomplishments and my visceral experience teaching on our platform for years make me confident we have lived up to our “why”.
I’m deeply grateful to have worked with such amazing teammates (Yoav Pasovsky, Michi Fukui, Nikolaos Bitoulas, Ofir Weinstock, Yusuke Kawanabe, Ari Bezman, Y Paul Sussman, Giulia Tarditi, Sam Ridgeway, to name a few).
They challenged me with fiercely held ideas, pushed us all to constantly improve, faced adversity, and made real sacrifices without ever losing their kindness or motivation.
As a team, we’ve been incredibly lucky to work with phenomenal investors and advisors. These additional teammates encouraged and supported us in all the right ways and never intervened in the wrong ways.
Thank you Mike Hirshland and raanan bar-cohen (Resolute Ventures), Mitch Kapor (Kapor Capital), Batara Eto (East Ventures), Dave McClure (500 Startups), Dror Berman (Innovation Endeavors), Jung-hee Ryu (Futureplay), Hiro Maeda (Beenos), Lee Linden, Eric Wu, Benjamin Joffe, Kirill Makharinsky, Dan Peguine, David Young, Keith Schacht, Ramu Yalamanchi, immad akhund, Yahya Mokhtarzada, Saeju Jeong, Jun Makihara, Yasumasa Yamamoto, Matt Romaine, Jonathan Swanson, John Kim, Brian Leung, Michel Shultz, Kiyo Kobayashi, Sam Ahn, Jaspar Weir, Bryce Maddock, Zachary Aarons, Hector Hulian, Roger Dickey, Vekrum Kaushik, Amitt Mahajan, Adam Foroughi, Eric Silberstein, Anand Swaminathan, Gokul Rajaram, rajaram giri, Ilan Abehassera, Russ Fradin, Arik Czerniak, Max Burger and Miguel Burger-Calderon, Saad Khan, Tabreez Verjee, Andy Lam, Itamar Mula, Daniel Shir, Farbood Nivi, Blaine Vess, Charles Browne, and Karen Price.
You provided consistent, invaluable feedback and were always there to take my call. I’m grateful and honored that many of you have not only been investors, but have become dear friends.
I feel blessed to have worked with our phenomenal teachers who cared so much about their students and helped us build a world-class teaching system.
In these years I….
… managed a distributed team, including teachers, of over 100 people
… got the equivalent of a Ph.D. in second language acquisition
… became a much better manager and CEO, through many mistakes and much sage advice
… learned an incredible amount about doing business in Japan, including providing Japanese-level customer service, communicating with partners, and closing deals
… racked up many hundreds of thousands of miles between offices in Tokyo, NYC, and Berlin
… got married and had Maya, a lovely and strapping 2yo
Finally, I’m thankful to all the many students who put their trust in us.
Today, on the way to the New York Public Library at Bryant Park, where I wrote this, I was driven by Abdusalam, a Lyft driver from Yemen.
We got talking about life, and I shared that I recently sold a company and took this day for writing and thinking.
Abdusalam then told me about his nephew, who just came from Yemen and knew very little English, and how he tried to get a local private tutor but that it was too expensive at $600/month.
It was touching to hear Abdusalam’s concern for his nephew, the need for English and the opportunity it could provide. Naturally I mentioned he should try downloading OKpanda; I (and he) was shocked to find Abdusalam *already* had it on his phone!
It was in a newsletter he was subscribed to for useful apps, he remembered, and was on a list of recommended apps for English learners. Abdusalam hadn’t opened it yet.
I mentioned I would reach out to the new owners to hook him up with some free lessons :)