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Regular version of the site

A Language-Learning Jungle

Ainur Abdulnasyrov is founder and director of one of the largest and most popular online language-learning services in Russia, LinguaLeo.

— Ainur, your business success started from an offline project, the Native Speakers’ Club, which you managed when you were an undergraduate student at the HSE. Why have you decided to go online? And how did the idea of LinguaLeo appear?

— I’ve always wanted to have a go at e-business. When I was a 4th-year student, I had an idea to create a web service for studying foreign languages, with the working title “LingvoMania”. I tried to run this idea by several different people, and during class I kept thinking about how I can use what I’m being taught for the new project. At that time, the Native Speakers’ Club was already a stable business bringing in a constant profit, but I felt that it had reached its limits in terms of potential for rapid growth, and my analysis of online language resources showed that the internet is a more promising space in terms of implementing and advancing these kinds of services. I needed money to start the new project, and that’s why I decided to sell my share in the Club to my partners. Together with a team of three developers and a marketing specialist, we spent the money on a 6-months trip to Thailand, where we developed a beta version of the interactive language-learning internet service, LinguaLeo.

— After the launch of the beta version you probably had to work out how to grow the project? How did you manage to attract investment? What difficulties did you face?

— It seemed to me that I knew exactly what we needed to do to launch a new internet project. We developed a LinguaLeo prototype, and the investor liked it a lot, but we didn’t get the money, as it turned out that we and the investor had totally different plans for the project. Six months later, quite by chance, at an event where, once again, I spoke about the Native Speakers’ Club and our new LinguaLeo project, I met Egor Rudi, a business angel. As a result of this meeting, he and his partner invested $200,000 in LinguaLeo. In summer 2011, we won one of the most prestigious innovative project competitions – BIT. Thanks to this victory, we started cooperation with the venture fund Runa Capital, with which we finally concluded an investment deal for $3million dollars.

That was ‘smart’ money, - with it came experience, expertise, connections and people who had several successful international businesses under their belt with capitalization of hundreds of millions of dollars.

— Let’s get back to your student years. Why did you choose economics?

— I was unsure for some time, comparing different universities, looking at their websites, and I realised that interesting things were going on at the HSE. I decided to enter the Pre-University Training Department in Ufa, my native city. Initially I was going to apply for the Faculty of Management, but when I was submitting my application, I was persuaded to try to enter the Faculty of Economics – the strongest at the University. I think that at the Faculty of Management we wouldn’t have had such a huge number of hours of ‘micro’, ‘macro’ and econometrics, but today I’m grateful for all of them, since I use that knowledge actively in my analysis of different economic indicators and models.

— What was it like – studying at the HSE?

— Exactly as more experienced friends predicted, the main task is to survive the first year (the workload was huge), and after that it became easier. In the middle of the second year I managed to start a part-time job giving English lessons. I overdid the marketing, and was bombarded with phone calls, but I had to study, so I could only take two students. When I was a 3rd-year student, I met a native English-speaking student who wanted to teach English, and I offered him the students who called me but I didn’t have time to teach. This way I shared my clients and got a small commission from that. The demand for these classes was so high that I understood we needed to launch a service for individual selection of native-speaking teachers. That’s how the Native Speakers’ Club arose. It got us into the HSE Business Incubator, and after a year we had 100 teachers, and the next year 150.

See also:

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HSE Graduation Party: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Star Wars Party to Launch Graduates

The club Space Moscow will become a spaceship for one night to whisk HSE graduates away into the film fantasy world of Star Wars. Guests will greet one another with, ‘May the HSE be with you!’ assured that this is just the beginning and HSE is the launch pad for their journey into a new life.

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She Teaches Economics in London

Svetlana Bryzgalova, HSE graduate in Nizhny Novgorod, is studying and working in the London School of Economics. In September she delivered several open lectures and workshops for the HSE students in Nizhny Novgorod.

ICEF Graduates Get Diplomas

On September 25, 2013, the 13th HSE International College of Economics and Finance graduation ceremony took place at the residence of Timothy Barrow, Ambassador of the United Kingdom to the Russian Federation.

Volunteer Clowns in Moscow

The children’s festival ‘Red’ recently took place place in Moscow. The event was organized by Konstantin Sedov, HSE graduate. Konstantin is founder of the ‘Hospital Clowns’ charity, which has been active since 2008.