Resolved to pickup a new language in 2013? MindSnacks wants to help, and its popular educational games are now available on the iPad.
Today, the San Francisco-based company is also releasing six new multi-player games, updates to its three classic games, and is teaching subject-specific skills like sentence composition and word connotations.
MindSnacks is known for its highly-visual games that make it fun to learn a new language, or brush up on spelling and grammar. Venture capital firm Sequoia Capital poured over $6 million into the startup because it can do far more than develop addictive games. The bet seems to be paying off – since it launched in 2010, the company’s educational apps have been downloaded 5 million times.
“To outside observers, they look like typical games,” said Jesse Pickard, the company’s CEO. “But we have really interesting things going on in the back-end, like a learning algorithm that surfaces words and phrases that are relevant to you and you need to study at that point in time.” Users are repeatedly tested to ensure they’ve retained information, and the company sends out progress reports on a weekly basis with detailed information about students’ strengths and weaknesses.
In this regard, the company competes with Cerego, memory management tool that spun out of a privately-funded think tank. Cerego specializes in helping its users retain facts, and has already taken off in Japan as an English language-learning tool for businesses.
Pickard told me he came up with the idea for the company while working as a UX designer in New York City. For this reason, the games are designed to be the perfect accompaniment to a long subway ride — as long as they’ve been pre-downloaded, WiFi is not required. It’s ideal for people that are learning a new language — games in Spanish, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Mandarin Chinese are currently available.
The games are designed for users of all ages and skill-levels. Pickard hopes the games will prove useful to teachers, but realizes that a challenge is that most students aren’t equipped with iPads and iPhones. Typically, according to Pickard, students take it in turns to play the games as an “after school treat.”
With more U.S. schools opting to purchase iPads and other devices, MindSnacks has a massive market opportunity. When the founders piloted the games in classrooms, they discovered that students’ grades lifted by 10 percent. So MindSnacks is currently building games to help teachers with math and science instruction, as well as tests like the LSAT and GRE. The number-one grossing game helps students’ study for the SAT.