At the end of 2019, 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced, with that number predicted to rise to 1 billion by 2050. Once resettled, many refugees face huge challenges in getting a job, let alone a decent job. BGV portfolio company Chatterbox, has created a solution that enables highly qualified, but marginalised workers to find employment teaching their native languages, whilst helping businesses transform their global outlook.
BGV initially invested in Chatterbox in 2016, and they have since gone from strength to strength. Having featured Chatterbox as a case study in our latest Impact & Learning Report, we were delighted to welcome Mursal Hedayat - CEO and Co-Founder, to our report launch event to talk about their recent commercial and impact successes, and to share what’s next for the company. Read the highlights of the conversation below, or watch the full interview here.
Milly Shotter (BGV Brand and Communications Manager): Thanks for joining us Mursal, can you kick off by introducing yourself and Chatterbox?
Mursal Hedayat: Of course, my name’s Mursal and I’m the CEO and co-founder of Chatterbox. We were part of the BGV programme many years ago and since then have had many pivots!We operate in the language learning industry, which is a huge market. The online segment of this is growing like crazy, especially as a result of the pandemic, with an estimated growth of 22 billion dollars over the next 3 years. It’s a really great space to be in, and a great space to create economic opportunities - which is what Chatterbox is all about.
"When it comes to online learning, there is evidence that blended solutions are best - those which marry people and tech. The problem with this is that there is a global teacher shortage."
We think the first generation of language tools leave a lot to be desired, and don’t do what they’re supposed to. We’ve all downloaded a language app on our phones, only to delete it a few weeks later right? When it comes to online learning, there is evidence that blended solutions are best - those which marry people and tech. The problem with this is that there is a global teacher shortage. With this in mind, our product is novel in two ways. The first being from a tech perspective. We use a ‘human in the loop’ language model to deliver a (soon to be university accredited) language learning experience from teachers who are not formally trained or qualified, but who are native linguists. The second way our approach is novel, is in the economic opportunities we provide. All of our language coaches have a degree, and usually decades of experience in areas such as academia, law or science. Yet in spite of this, they are unemployed or under-employed in the UK because they are refugees. Instances of economic exclusion have become normalised, but we at Chatterbox, see this as a huge waste of talent.
"We have now welcomed Unilever, McKinsey and PwC as some of our first clients, and revenue has been growing by more than 30% month on month."
Our most recent pivot happened at the start of 2020, just as we closed our pre-seed round with Founders Factory. We have now welcomed Unilever, McKinsey and PwC as some of our first clients, and revenue has been growing by more than 30% month on month. We’re closing our seed round in the next few weeks.
MS: In the report we talk about some of the milestones you’ve reached, such as securing 12 key enterprise contracts in one year since launching your B2B offering. Can you tell us more about these partnerships and the opportunities they provide for scale - both in terms of impact and commercially?
MH: We’ve now reached 15 key enterprise contracts - we’re growing faster than our team is! I think it’s important to consider that within the language learning market there are lots of startups all vying for space. It’s an exciting space to be in and most VCs have a bet in the market. When you have a huge number of companies all trying to get the attention of corporates and individual learners, differentiation is really important, and that’s where our impact story has been one of the most powerful assets you could possibly have.
"We are the Rosetta Stone for the conscious capitalism age."
We are the Rosetta Stone for the conscious capitalism age. This is a really powerful message to take to the 30-50% of individual learners and consumers who make purchasing decisions based on social impact, as well as the 95% of S&P 500 companies who publicly proclaim their alignment with the ESG goals. This has helped open the door to huge corporates, within which we have ample scope to grow. For example, we can land in one country office of PwC and then continue to sell into the group over time. An interesting opportunity, and one we’re developing further now that our seed round is closing, is to enable larger corporations to hire directly from our talent pool. This would deepen our impact greatly and is probably where my co-founder and I are most excited to take Chatterbox next.
MS: It’s great to see your progress as a company but also because we can see the direct outcomes for the people you’re working with. Are there any stories you can share about the tangible impact you’ve had on your users?
MH: For sure! One of our first language coaches was Wajed Basha who had been a primary school teacher in Syria. Her story would have been much like my mother’s had it not been for Chatterbox. Wajed’s husband proudly kept her university degree and certification as a teacher, but these became worthless in the UK. Before we met her, she wasn’t getting any replies from the jobs she’d applied for. It was very difficult to see friends and family who were also achieving very little, despite the significant accomplishments they had brought with them from Syria.
"When Wajed became involved in Chatterbox, she was able to earn an income and gain confidence by using her skills to train professionals around the world."
My mother became unemployed for 10 years, occasionally working as a cleaner. When she came back into the job market, her CV was not one employers wanted to pick up. But when Wajed became involved in Chatterbox, she was able to work as a language coach, earn an income, and gain confidence and motivation by using her skills to train professionals around the world. We’ve since written her a reference letter to study a masters degree in education - which she recently graduated from! Years later, she’s still a language coach on our platform. I think this perfectly demonstrates the uplifting effect Chatterbox has on the employability of people in our talent pool. Perhaps more importantly, we see that our users love working with us so much that they stay on no matter how their life circumstances improve and change over time.
MS: So what’s next for Chatterbox and how can people help?
MH: Well, we’re just about to close our seed round with GMG Ventures. This is such an exciting moment for a female co-founder team to be in the 1% of female founded companies that get VC backing. It’s a real privilege and we want to do a good job and take Chatterbox to full scale. To do this we need to build our leadership and core team. If there is anyone who can help us find our colleagues so we can build the strongest team possible for Chatterbox, please do reach out.
MS: Thank you so much for joining us.
MH: Thanks for inviting me!
If you want to contact Mursal directly, you can fill out the contact form on the Chatterbox website.