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Luis von Ahn, Co-Founder of Duolingo — How to Be (Truly) Mission-Driven, 10x Growth, and More

Luis von Ahn, Co-Founder and CEO of Duolingo — How to Be (Truly) Mission-Driven, Monetization Experiments, 10x Growth, Org Chart Iterations for Impacting Metrics, The Intricate Path to an IPO, Best Hiring Practices, Catching Exam Cheaters, The Allure of Toto Toilets, The Future of Duolingo, and How to Stand Out in Your Career | Brought to you by Athletic Greens all-in-one nutritional supplement (, Helix Sleep premium mattresses (, and LinkedIn Jobs recruitment platform with 800M+ users (

Luis von Ahn (@LuisvonAhn) is an entrepreneur and consulting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who is considered one of the pioneers of crowdsourcing. He is known for co-inventing CAPTCHAs, being a MacArthur fellow, and selling two companies to Google in his twenties.

He is currently the co-founder and CEO of Duolingo, a language-learning platform created to bring free language education to the world. With more than 500 million users, it is now the most popular language-learning platform and the most downloaded education app in the world.

Luis has been named one of the Brilliant 10 by Popular Science, one of the 50 Best Brains in Science by Discover, one of the Innovators Under 35 by MIT Technology Review, and one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company. Luis also won the 2018 Lemelson-MIT prize, the largest cash prize for invention in the U.S.

Show notes:

Please enjoy!


00:00 Start
00:01:29 Why the Duolingo owl is green
00:03:11 The core cause behind Duolingo’s creation, and how Duolingo has evolved over the years
00:09:43 Duolingo’s monetization efforts that didn’t quite pan out
00:18:22 After initial reluctance, how was the Duolingo workforce convinced monetization needed to happen?
00:22:37 As machine-driven translation services get more sophisticated, will human beings still seek to learn other languages via Duolingo?
00:27:16 The most pursued/influential languages in the Duolingo system currently
00:36:17 The development of Duolingo’s org chart
00:43:22 Why Duolingo uses a daily metric
00:46:35 Book recommendations
00:48:33 Luis’s most worthwhile investments
00:50:40 New beliefs, behaviors, or habits
00:54:04 Recent life-changing purchases
01:01:35 What Luis’s updated 2022 billboard might say
01:05:39 What Luis means when he refers to Duolingo’s “mission,” and how the company’s long view affects decision making
01:12:45 How Duolingo hires good candidates for the long haul
01:19:56 Why and how Duolingo went public
01:28:09 The biggest challenges Luis faces as CEO of a public company
01:33:02 Duolingo is expanding to teach more than languages
01:39:02 The Duolingo English Test: proficiency testing from home accepted by 4,200 academic programs across the world
01:42:52 How Luis’s expertise at catching cheaters during his time as a professor at Carnegie Mellon makes Duolingo products more trustworthy as accredited sources
01:47:10 The brief conversation with Luis’ personal trainer that changed his routine breakfast — to a different routine breakfast
01:48:06 Advice to young, driven people entering the working world
01:52:05 How Luis has become better at saying “No.”
01:53:53 Luis’s request of the audience and parting thoughts

About Tim Ferriss:
Tim Ferriss is one of Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Business People” and an early-stage tech investor/advisor in Uber, Facebook, Twitter, Shopify, Duolingo, Alibaba, and 50+ other companies. He is also the author of five #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers: The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Chef, Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors. The Observer and other media have named him “the Oprah of audio” due to the influence of his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, which has exceeded 700 million downloads and been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three years running.

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