Duolingo filed to go public

The edtech unicorn reveals 129% 2020 revenue growth

Duolingo, a Pittsburgh-based language learning business last valued at $2.4 billion, has officially filed to go public.

The 400-person company, which we explored in great detail in our EC-1, was co-founded by Luis von Ahn, the inventor of CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA, and Severin Hacker. One of the most revealing bits of its story? It’s a route to monetization as a then rare edtech consumer business based outside of Silicon Valley. The company has had a somewhat circuitous journey — full of trial and error — on finding the perfect business model. It eventually landed on subscriptions, despite an original distaste for it thanks to its mission to provide free education.

Luckily, the S-1 reveals that its earlier decisions led to sharp revenue growth at the company.

The vast majority of Duolingo’s revenue comes from subscriptions. In the most recent calendar year, for example, the edtech giant generated 73% of its total top line from subscription incomes. That revenue was followed by advertising incomes and the Duolingo English Test (DET), which represented 17% and 10% of its top line in 2020. (Notably, von Ahn hoped that the DET would be 20% of Duolingo’s revenue by 2019, a figure that it failed to reach by some margin.)

Its multi-part business model appears to be paying off. The company’s revenue grew from $70.8 million in 2019 to $161.7 million in 2020, a 129% increase. Of course some of that growth would have happened sans the recent global pandemic, but it’s not hard to see some COVID-related acceleration in the figures. Duolingo also reported $55.4 million in revenue during the first quarter of 2021, representing a 97% growth from the year-ago period.

The company recently turned profitable on an adjusted basis.

But in more strict accounting terms, net losses have grown for Duolingo. In the three months ended March 31, 2021, for example, the company had net losses of 13.5 million, a sharp increase compared to the same period last year when it had net losses of $2.2 million. And from 2019 to 2020, the company’s GAAP net losses expanded from $13.6 million to $15.8 million.

It should be noted that the company’s net margin improved in 2020, as its revenue more than doubled and its losses barely crept higher. The company’s profitability or lack thereof should not prove to be a problem during its impending listing.

In its S-1 filing, Duolingo provided a placeholder $100 million figure for the funds it expects to raise; we’ll get a better idea of how much capital the edtech unicorn may onboard during its IPO when it sets an IPO price range after its roadshow.

The former startup is effectively the kick-off to the Q3 2021 IPO season, one that several inventors have told TechCrunch will be more than active.

Duolingo has raised $183.3 million in venture capital to date. Investors that have meaningful stakes in the company include NewView Capital, Union Square Ventures, CapitalG, Kleiner Perkins, and General Atlantic, which recently got a spot on the cap table through a secondary transaction.

At a run rate of around $220 million today and growth of more than 100%, Duolingo should not have a problem clearing its privately set $2.4 billion price tag. Unless public-market investors are concerned that the edtech market’s growth is mostly behind it. That Duolingo grew by nearly 100% in the first quarter could temper such concerns.

Factoids and other joy

TechCrunch is still digging its way through Duolingo’s IPO filing, but we’ve found a number of details that add more than a little color to its recent growth and business results. Here are some standouts:

  • A “record low” attrition rate in 2020 in which only four employees, or 2% of its workforce left the company.
  • The company eventually plans to launch a “Duolingo Proficiency Score” across its offered languages, with the hopes of creating a “widely accepted indicator of language proficiency level and make Duolingo a global proficiency standard.”
  • It cited Apple’s “Translate” tool, an iOS app launched in 2020 that allows users to translate text sentences or speech between several languages, as a competitor in the ‘risk factors’ section.
  • And finally, it confirmed that it is seeking potential acquisition candidates to add complementary services to its startup.

Duolingo plans to list on the NASDAQ stock exchange using the ticker symbol DUOL.