Under the Shell: How Edwin learned to teach

Edwin co-founders Dmitry Stavisky and Dmitry Alekseev

In 1991, Dmitry Stavisky realized that that the way he had learned English wasn’t good enough. “I was on a business trip to Boston from Moscow,” he recalls. “I thought I knew English well enough but it turned out my English was very theoretical; it was really hard for me to understand and to be understood. And I had work to do… It was learning by shock and immersion.”

That memory stayed with him, and 25 years later, together with his co-founder Dmitry Alekseev, Stavisky embarked on a mission to help people learn English. The two entrepreneurs realized that while students wanted to learn English, they needed to pass standardized English language exams. Moreover, they recognized that the current methods of language instruction were either insufficient to reach English fluency or too expensive for the 800 million students studying English each year.

“English is taught in public schools and universities, but in most places it’s not taught well enough,” Stavisky says. In order to pass exams like the TOEFL, people often resort to paying for private language schools that can be very expensive and and not very effective. “These days, serious students who need to pass standardized English language tests need a better solution.”

Edwin is the better solution that Stavisky and Alekseev created. The service is distinguished by its use of artificial intelligence. “We’ve incorporated AI from the beginning,” Stavisky says. “The idea is for Edwin to automate much of the routine work that teachers do and let them focus on the most nuanced high-value aspects of teaching.”

More than 770,000 students have used Edwin for English language instruction

In March 2017, they launched their first product, Words, which offers vocabulary practice skills using the Facebook Messenger platform. And in March of this year, they released Tactics and Practice for TOEFL, which also works with Messenger. Both products are designed for English learners speaking Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Hindi, with other languages to be added soon. Already more than 770,000 students have used these services.

Stavisky and Alekseev describe Tactics and Practice for TOEFL as follows:

As former students of English as a foreign language ourselves, we know the best way to teach a language is to provide each student with personalized 1:1 tutoring. That’s what Edwin does. By combining effective pedagogical materials, dictionary content from Oxford University Press, the latest technology and on-demand human instructors, we’re building an educational service that is more effective, and much more affordable, than traditional language-learning techniques.

Aside from being non-native English speakers (and both named Dmitry), the founders possess a pretty unique set of skills. “We know how to build large-scale educational and consumer services and launch them in international markets.” Alekseev led product teams at Yandex to build services used by 10 million people each day. Stavisky oversaw international operations for Evernote and was CEO of Lingualeo, an early English language learning service with over 13 million students. In addition to the U.S.-based co-founders, Edwin has a small team of developers and linguists across Europe. Edwin joined All Turtles as a studio company upon its opening in June 2017.

Next for Edwin? A new product designed for the TOEIC exam will be ready this summer. Also underway are integrations with voice assistants. “It’s the obvious next platform,” Stavisky says. “It will be so helpful for students to practice speaking.”