When I, Tiago Butzke, was younger. I always dreamed of living abroad, and even tho, my go-to dream country was Germany (I am a German descendent), I knew that learning English could bring me many more opportunities.
My idea for the future was, When I finish high school, I will join an exchange program to learn English abroad, and then, one day probably move to a different country.
I finished the high school, but joining in a language exchange program was not an option for me, I had no money, I had to start the university, I had to get a job, etc…
At the same time, I started learning English online. During this journey, I found tons of interesting tools for learning English. Previously there was Livemocha, later, Duolingo, Memrise… They were all amazing apps for acquiring vocabulary and building grammar knowledge.
When I finished my high university studies, I worked as Software Engineer, started my startup, moved to São Paulo with my girlfriend (today my wife Camila Butzke), worked again as a Software Engineer. All in all the dream of living abroad was back in my mind. I applied for many companies until I got some interviews scheduled.
The first job interview I had was with a company in the Netherlands. There were two cool guys, they talked about the company, the life in the Netherlands, a little bit about the company’s culture, and it got the point of the first question. I started to answer it, looking for the words in my mind, getting even more nervous. They just interrupt me saying: “Sorry, we really liked you, and we think you are a good fit for us. But you need to work in your English. Try to improve it and reschedule the interview with us”. Those guys were really nice, I promise you, they could just have said: WTF! get out of here!
All those years studying English and I couldn’t answer the first question. I know that I knew the subject, I understood what they asked, I had the words for the answer in my mind. I was not able to put the words together, in the right sequence and fast enough. It was missing something.
At this point, I could even read a whole book in English. I was just not able to talk to anyone.
I am Brazilian, in Brazil, it is not easy to find someone who speaks English. Even when I found someone, I was too shy to even try.
I searched and found some apps for finding a tandem online. I don’t know how many messages to prospect tandems I’ve sent, it was so hard to get an answer.
I started to think about what would be the easiest way to have people together for practicing languages online. Then, in December 2014, I built the first version of LangRoulette. It was like a ChatRoulette but for practicing languages.
You had to select the languages you knew and the ones you wanted to practice. The online app would bring you a partner. There was a live video and a text chat. You could keep chatting with that partner or click to find the next one.
The problem was that it was so difficult to have people online, at the same time, with the language skills that matched. It was discouraging to see that a person signed up, tried to find someone and failed. Then, three minutes later the perfect partner would sign up and fail as well. Because of three minutes, you had two users frustrated. So I decided to shut the site down.
Even tho there was still a problem in there, without a solution. And I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it.
I started to think about a new product that could solve this issue. An App that would still have the advantage of easily finding the partner, but instead of real-time video, users would be able to exchange audio messages. Then, I interviewed some of our users to validate the concept.
This was in the middle of 2015. I was working for a startup in São Paulo when I approached one of the brightest engineers that I’ve met, Felipe Girotti, and presented the idea to him. He was also struggling with learning English, so he joined to start building the MVP (minimum viable product).
As I had lots of encouragement from my wife, I’ve never stopped looking for a job abroad. Even with so many “Improve your English” answers. Some months after we’d started the MVP project I got a job offer to work in Germany. I couldn’t refuse it and I didn’t. We came to Germany, some months later Girotti and his wife had twins. As a consequence, we paused the project for an undetermined time.
On my first day of work, I couldn’t really understand what people were talking to me. I was working in a global company with people from all around the world, with all sorts of different accents. I was silent during lunchtime for months.
By the end of 2017, Girotti also came to work in Germany. He had the same issues that I had when I got here. We were impressed by how could be possible that this problem was still not solved. I decided then to put LangRoulette’s website back up, but with signup for the app’s waiting list.
I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t announce anywhere, I didn’t do anything. And our user base was growing every day with people that we’re searching for a way of practicing a language online. This was the validation that we needed. There was still a problem worth solving.
I also talked about LangRoulette to Sahil Gulhane. He was the kind of guy that started in a mini job for the company that I was working for. He gave so many thoughts that he was hired as quality assurance, then marketing, and finally product manager. He is from India and was learning German and loved LangRoulette’s concept. He joined the project helping with the MVP specifications.
So, we restarted. We worked a lot during the last couple of months to have the first version of LangRoulette running. Camila turned into a QA (quality assurance). Girotti was sleeping on our couch and we were working during weekends and nights in the MVP. Now you can find it on Google Play Store and Apple Store is coming soon.
We still have our full-time jobs, and to be honest, it’s not easy to keep going in parallel. But we want to fix this problem. We can’t believe that it still so hard to find a partner and practice the language you want. We don’t want to have people facing the same problems that we’ve faced anymore.