By Jesse Maddox, CEO

For nearly two years ending in 2010, I lived, worked, and travelled in 10 different countries throughout Asia. When I arrived in Vietnam, it didn't take long to learn that without any language skills it was going to be rough. I'm not sure if you've ever asked where the restroom is using only your hands, but it’s just a tad bit embarrassing. That’s just the start: lacking language skills, my plans were easily thwarted and I often found myself frustrated. Perhaps worst of all, I had no sense for the culture I was now living in.

Something had to be done. Yet after an exhaustive search for options in app stores, bookstores, and websites, it became quickly apparent that each option had some fatal flaw. They were either ridiculously expensive, or they tried to teach me phrases that I would never use, or they were simply impractical and difficult to use.

Finding no suitable approaches, I was forced to do things the old fashioned way. I found two local tutors whom I met with each day during lunch and created my own digital flashcards. I finally started to see some progress.

The importance and usefulness of knowing a bit of the local lingo was driven home to me one day in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. I was walking around and was approached by a fruit seller- pretty standard.

Usually in this situation, the traveler ends up in "No Mode"- they say "no" over and over, and eventually either erupt in frustration or ignore the person- an unfortunate scenario for both parties. I know it’s unpleasant for the traveler- you’re traveling to enjoy the culture, not clash with it. I can only imagine how the other person feels. No one likes being talked down to and ignored.

But this time, when the fruit seller approached, I simply smiled and said “No rồi” (pronounced ‘naw zoi’) — “I’m full already”. A huge grin came over her face, she laughed, and said something back which I didn’t understand. It didn’t matter; in just two short syllables I’d avoided an awkward situation, engaged positively with the local culture, and had a memorable experience myself.


As I picked up more useful phrases, something magical started to happen. My work colleagues appreciated my effort and the interest I showed in their culture. Taxi drivers suddenly became friendly and my fares magically started decreasing. At every turn, locals got more than a chuckle out of my attempts to communicate. Getting around town became much easier and much more enjoyable.

Most importantly, I was able to start connecting with people and the culture. We may not have been able to discuss Socrates with each other and we didn’t necessarily share the same interests, but I found myself in countless situations where I was able to share a few words, an idea, or a laugh with people.

With such poor resources available to the millions of other travelers like myself, my thoughts swirled around ideas and possibilities that would eventually result in TripLingo.

Over the next year, TripLingo began to take shape. The goal was simple: make it easy and enjoyable for travelers to learn the local lingo. Fundamentally, the idea for TripLingo can be broken down into three beliefs:

  1. Learning some local lingo should be easy and enjoyable. It shouldn't feel like pulling teeth.
  2. You should learn the language the way it’s actually spoken. That includes the idioms, slang, and vernacular that color a language and add to its beauty.
  3. Fluency is overrated. Most travelers don’t have the time or inclination to achieve fluency, but you can get 80% of the effect with 10% of the effort, just by focusing on what’s important.

Fast forward to January of 2011. In what can only be considered an extremely fortunate series of events, after returning from abroad I stumbled into the other co-founders of TripLingo at a local event.

Our newly-formed team shared my passion for making travel and language learning awesome, and they also brought a formidable set up of technical and design talent that would allow us to turn our vision into reality. In short order, we raised some angel funding, built out our V1, and finally launched our TripLingo for five languages on the Apple Appstore on May 5, 2011- Cinco de Mayo.

Throughout 2011 we added an additional 7 languages, including a free version in Dari for American troops in Afghanistan. By the end of 2011, we had launched TripLingo in 12 languages on both iOS and Android.

Throughout 2012, we built on our vision by adding essential new features, additional languages and began to form partnerships in the travel industry. Our work was noticed, and were thrilled to earn Runner-Up nods as “Best Travel Startup” and “Audience Choice” at Phocuswright, as well as being named by Business Insider as one of the “11 Groundbreaking Inventions of 2011.”

We were off to a great start, and were able to raise additional capital from a roster of great investors in 2012 to continue to fuel our efforts.

We hit 2013 in stride, releasing Version 2 of the application to wide acclaim. We crossed the 100,000 download mark, and then just a few months later hit 200,000 downloads. To know that hundreds of thousands of people had improved their travel experiences is a thrill that excites us to this day.

Throughout 2013, we began to focus on serving enterprise customers and travel agencies. One of my proudest moments was receiving word that we’d been selected by the Global Business Travel Association as the “Business Travel Innovation of the Year”. I vividly remember calling the team back at the office to relay the news, and just a few hours later it was an honor to take the stage in front of 7,000 travel professionals to receive the award just before George W. Bush took the stage.


We were humbled to receive the award, which helped us in our efforts to serve enterprise travelers. Over the next months, we worked to improve our understanding of the pain points of business travelers and how we would help. The learning we did contributed to making the product even better, and our efforts have been rewarded with partnerships with some of the largest travel agencies in the world and the ability to count numerous Fortune 100 enterprises as our customers.

Armed with a solid base of customers and constant improvements in the product, we began 2014 by releasing Version 3 of TripLingo- a major step forward along nearly ever dimension, and have continued our progress signing major partners and world-renowned enterprises as customers. Version 3 brings us that much closer to realizing our goal of making TripLingo the essential travel companion for international travel.

Over the past three years, literally hundreds of individuals across thousands of hours have contributed to making TripLingo what it is today. And we’re just getting started. We’re excited to continue the journey, and thrilled to have you along for the ride.

Warm regards,