Interview with Jung Min Oh, CEO of HayanMind Inc

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The development of the English learning app “Mimiking” dates to two years ago when CEO Jung Min Oh of HayanMind Inc., a developer of Mimiking, was interning at Microsoft in China. There were a lot of Koreans working there, and he noticed something in common in them: while the Koreans were among the most hardworking employees at work, they all had difficulties in communicating with the local people. He deeply sympathized with the situation as he was also dealing with language barriers when he was learning English. As an engineer, he wanted to present a software solution for his colleagues. That yearning has led to the birth of Mimiking today. Mimicking is a mobile application with which people can train their language skills with an AI coach, and is an excellent way to improve speaking skills.

“Our goal is to bring Mimiking to use in all public schools in Korea. We would like to use our technology and contents to move our country one step forward by making more people fluent in English.”

  • Mimiking Opens Up New Opportunity with Unique Contents

There are two ways of learning English: shading and echoing. Both methods are ‘listening to English sentences and repeating them’. One difference between the two is the time difference. In shadowing students are asked to follow sentences almost simultaneously, while in echoing they repeat them after the sentences are finished. Neither method is easy at all for those who are not proficient in speaking English, but these methods are more effective than any other language learning method if students can overcome the initial hurdles. Mimicking supports both shadowing and echoing modes.

“When a baby learns to speak, the mother tells the baby a few words so that he can repeat them back. The baby learns while following his mother’s words. This method is nothing new, but is very important in learning English. Mimiking also adopts the principle of learning a language by repetition.”

The English learning market has already reached saturation. However, Mr. Oh is confident that users will choose Mimiking because of its exceptional technology and contents. “Many people are using TED lectures and news when they study English. But those are not appropriate for English learners to repeat, as the contents are too difficult and fast. At HayanMind, we are making all of our content in-house. Most of our contents are voice recordings of about 2 minutes, spoken by native speakers. We are striving to differentiate Mimiking by creating easy-to-understand and easy-to-repeat contents for everyone.”

One feature that makes Mimiking unique is its ‘audio-based’ lessons. It provides an optimal environment for studying English for users, without textbooks. They just need to open the app to practice English speaking. Only a minimal scope of contents require the users to touch the screen, and HayanMind is planning to further upgrade the app to make it work without any need for user touch. In addition to the intensive training mode (earphone, speakerphone, and phone mode supported), in which users are asked to listen to and follow sentences, there are various other features, including 1-min long story updates created by native speakers on weekdays and an automatic feedback function that tracks voices (automatic rewind function etc.). Reports are also provided to users to show their performance in English speaking training on the app.

  • Our Goal is to Free People From Obsession with English

“The ultimate goal of Mimiking is to free people from their unhealthy obsession with English by making more people fluent in the language. I think this goal is very closely related to the future of our country. That is why we want this app to be used in every public school in Korea. It would be even better if Mimiking were used in conjunction with textbooks. I know it might be a far-fetched idea for now because we are only in our initial stage. If full usage of Mimiking can really happen, however, I would like to focus more on the public interest than on the profit of my company. This is the dream and goal of HayanMind. ”

Mimiking was released last year. Despite months of zero-marketing, a significant number of users have downloaded Mimiking, and there are more than 100 active users. Mr. Oh sees this as a very positive signal, because the number of users has increased even though the app is not in a full-fledged form yet (and has not been marketed). If marketing is started in earnest, users are expected to further increase.

In the first half of 2018, the company will complete all of the preparatory work and plans to attract investment. This will accelerate the growth of HayanMind, bringing Mr. Oh one step closer to realizing the goal of freeing Korean people from their obsession with English. In the long run, he plans to expand his user base to everyone who wants to learn foreign languages all over the world.

“It would be great if our app could evolve into a model that applies to any language on earth. Because whatever language you are learning, speaking practice is a must. To that end, in the short-term, we are currently working on content that will help our users learn Korean and Chinese.”

  • Sincere Support from Start-up KAIST

Mimiking participated in the E*5 KAIST program in the first half of 2017 and Yu-Mi Oh, a co-founder of HayanMind, won the excellence award. In addition, the company has been provided with various support from Start-up KIAST, including workspace and opportunities to participate in networking events related to start-ups and informative seminars.

“I was surprised when I first met with the people at Start-up KAIST. They wanted to help us entrepreneurs with honest sincerity. It’s not easy to feel sincere hearts in relationships these days, but they are different. I was deeply impressed by their heart-felt help and support. ”

He also said that it is a very good opportunity to meet high-profile mentors and panel members who come to Start-up KAIST programs. “I think most students who want to be entrepreneurs are not prepared at all. In that sense, it is a great merit to be able to receive early feedback from those high-profile mentors while the start-ups they want to grow are still in the early stages, with many crude aspects. For me, the comments and feedback from mentors and panel members were of great help in setting the direction for my business. ”

  • Engineer Delivering New Values to People

With plans to attract investment in the first half of next year, HayanMind is busy to supplement Mimiking now. “We initially designed the app for those who are at an intermediate level or higher in English, but we’re now adding features for beginners as well so that even those who do not know English at all can listen to our contents and practice vocalization and pronunciation for English. We also want to be a leader in this field by incorporating our contents into AI speakers.”

Mr. Oh’s dream is to remain an engineer forever. To him, entrepreneurship is a stage for achieving that dream. He wants to continue to create new products and deliver new value to people. On the path to achieving that dream, Mimiking will not stop growing in a new direction to become a part of an everyday routine for those who need to study language.

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