Photo credit: Vox-TVNOW/Bernd-Michael Maurer
At the tender age of 25, Ehsan Allahyar Parsa leads educational startups aimed at helping people learn quickly using adaptive technology. A veteran digital nomad and accomplished polyglot who can speak 10 languages, he studied Spanish in Colombia while studying undergrad and Mandarin while earning his MBA in technology and innovation management in Beijing.
Parsa founded Rootify—which he describes as “the AI-assisted Tinder for languages”—to help people tap into their understanding of their own language to quickly learn others. He pitched Rootify on Germany’s Die Höhle der Löwen (the equivalent of the program Shark Tank in the U.S.) and is now getting requests for help from institutions that used to ignore digital education. His startup is currently offering an advent calendar that uses mmhmm to share knowledge with aspiring entrepreneurs.
We talked to him about his business, how he discovered mmhmm, and what has changed for the better now that everyone is learning from home.
How did Rootify get started?
Rootify's journey actually began three years ago. I started it because I was a voluntary language mediator and I realized that we had an influx of refugees. My parents are from Iran, but I was born in Germany. I not only grew up trilingual, with English in school, but I also grew up between those different cultures. I realized how close these languages are even though they appear so distant.
I realized that even if I would work here voluntarily full time, there's such a demand for new learners who want to learn German but they're struggling with it. So I started to think, how can I get myself out of the equation that gets something more scalable? This is how we started Rootify. We launched our German-English language pairing, and we will continue with the most demanded languages like Spanish and French soon. And then in the middle and long run, I hope to provide the niche languages like my mother tongue, Farsi, to help all those who need it most right now.
Tell me about the advent calendar.
The advent calendar is from my first startup, called the ParsAcademy. The ParsAcademy was started back in 2016, when I was still a solopreneur, and I wanted to provide digital education. With the pandemic right now everything is switching to digital, but four years ago, especially in Germany, it was kind of avant garde.
We use the ParsAcademy platform to provide education; we call it the Netflix for personal growth. Every day you have like five- to 15-minute nuggets of knowledge that every entrepreneur should have. And I'm not doing this on my own. I also invited my mentors and my other colleagues I'm strongly connected with in Frankfurt, Berlin, and Munich. For example, the very first one is also a renowned personality in the German startup scene, Joerg Rheinboldt, the managing director of APX.
Due to the high demand and success, we we will be offering an entrepreneurial book club, which will also be in English and in the mmhmm software. We will keep the daily 5-minute nugget frame, and summarize a key book every day, so you get to read a book every day with this class. We will focus each month on one category, for example personal growth, leadership, and how to start up.
How did you come across mmhmm?
Actually it was Joerg [Rheinboldt]. He is also my entrepreneurial mentor, and he sits on Rootify’s advisory board.
When I asked him to give me a video of himself for our calendar, he sent me this video and then in the bottom right corner I saw your logo. I was amazed how he zoomed himself small and bigger. And then I was like, OK, I’ve got to redo all the videos—I want to use this. Thank you for your amazing software. I really fell in love with it instantly.
How has the pandemic improved things for you?
The first thing I say is that my mom finally doesn't doubt that I have a company because everybody's working from home.
And the second one, obviously, is the big boom and acceleration for digital education. Now institutions have to become digital, so the professorship that used to deny my idea four years ago now is begging for digital solutions to be implemented into their university or businesses. So that means that both my edutech startups have more relevance. I've been trying to explain for four years and now I don't have to explain it anymore. Now it’s like, “Can you just do it quickly so we can use it? No questions asked.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.