Genii’s English-Learning Game and the Search for the Right Customers

September 11, 2011

2:57 pm

There may be as many as 2 billion people learning English worldwide – a huge market motivated by the promise of higher-paying jobs and new lifestyles. Genii is exploring that market with its first English-learning game, VocabGenii.

“We think there is a lot of potential in gaming in education,” says cofounder Rebecca Li, whose background is in consulting and sales and marketing. “We designed the game to have universal appeal.”

VocabGenii is a simple, 90-second game that involves deciphering scrambled words based on their definitions, inspired by Word Challenge on Facebook.

After seeing users spring up in areas like Argentina, India and Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Europe, Li and cofounder James Mak are searching for the right market. So far, Hong Kong high schools are not it: according to Mak, these schools do assign online homework, but not games. They’ve also found that parents in the United States are not inclined to drill their children on vocabulary outside of school.

More promising targets are standardized test takers, but Genii is now focusing its attention on schools in the United States. Li and Mak are spending the summer in Boston connecting with teachers and looking for seed funding. They hope to incorporate feedback from educators, like an upstate New York teacher who uses VocabGenii in class and whose students love to beat him at the game.

The next stage for Genii – from the plural of both “genius” and “genie” – is to customize their game for different student needs. That might mean focusing on grammar or spelling, and allowing teachers to track student progress over a semester.

Genii joins a host of education startups trying to break into a conservative market. Neither Li nor Mak has a gaming background, so finding the right customers and developing more games will be a learning experience for them as well.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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