March and April seem like they flew by. My goodness, here we are, in May already! Maybe I need to readjust my view of time as I feel like every time I write one of these I'm saying something like "wow look at the time fly". But maybe that's just life...
Anyway, we've been up to some stuff the past two months! And have even more exciting things on the horizon as result of the major ground work we've been able to achieve lately. Let's get into it 🥸
I'm combining March and April for this update since I didn't get a chance to publish the update for last month.
March was like the part of the RPG game where you’re running through all the grass in the field after leaving the first big city, on your way to the mountains, trying to find all the low-level monsters to take down in order to test out your new abilities and level up before venturing into the deep forest where you know the true monsters lie.
As announced last post, we’re structuring a re-write of pretty much the entirety of NativShark, as such a full audit of all the systems was to be done. And in the process, we've been fixing bugs that can’t go on existing any longer. Which works well because then we get to test the hypothesis of the new way we want to do things and build by testing.
We’re going full ship of Theseus on NativShark. Not burn the city and rebuild. Rather, piece by piece NS 1.0 will become NS 2.0 rather seamlessly. From a user perspective, you won’t really notice until all a sudden there’s a new UI, as that’ll be one of the later parts of the conversion process.
One of the biggest features that has been the bane of our existence since the dawn of time is the Streak tracking feature. However, in early April we put out an update to it that has seemingly finally solved it! (that said, if you do notice anything strange about your streak, make sure to send us a message in our discord community or support email). Oh, and we added in the ability for you to hide your streak entirely too if you're the kind of person that isn't motivated by them.
We've also massively increased the overall speed across several of the operations on the site. One of the most noticeable being when you're learning new vocab and kanji. That part of the site used to be annoyingly slow but now it speeds by without loading troubles ^^
A couple other quality of life updates have made it in as well, for example, when you're just starting out and learning Katakana and Hiragana for the first time you can now head over to the quizzes section and select "Learned" and the quiz will set up a custom quiz for you only on the kana you've seen so far, and none of the ones that are unfamiliar. Also! If you're starting to use NativShark and you're already familiar with Kana, you can now properly skip through each individual section that you're familiar with. And, you can undo a skip if you did it accidentally.
We improved the billing history view so that it makes more sense when you take a look at that, and consolidated the "gift code" entry boxes (there used to be two of them, now there's just one).
We put out a couple speed and performance updates that massively sped up the learning new vocab and kanji experience. That was a super nice update... A lot of progress on the speed and efficiency of that site has been made in the past two months actually, always more to optimise though!
Some updates and enhancements went in to the audio and Shadow Loops across the site. Previously they wouldn't play, or would randomly stop but we switched to a different method of parsing audio on the site and saw improvements though (this is another one that if you notice issues, be sure to report them so we can keep taking in data on it).
As for content, we've managed to consistently get 1 - 3 units released weekly for the past 3 months, even through Niko & Rei having a new child, and other team members moving to new houses and all kinds of disruptive things. We're working on hiring new contracted writers over the next two months such that hopefully soon we can drastically increase the publishing speed. Really excited for that! Soon enough no students will be able to stay caught up with the production rate. Our focus remains on getting core content out rapidly. Someday it'll turn to extra credit and fun blog posts (was asked about this in an email), but for now I think we all can agree and look forward to the completion of Phase Two and beyond!
For media we started posting reels on our Instagram account and sharing daily stories of everyday life things in Japan posted by Ty. If you're interested in bits here and there of life in Japan, feel free to give us a follow ^^
We started a TikTok account too, with some voice overs about things from Japanese of life. Chie has been having fun with that one haha.
Here's some highlights from our podcast episodes over the past month or so that students have been finding helpful and sharing in the community pretty frequently as we covered some commonly asked study questions here:
Oh! Also, I met up with Daniel Yoder host of The Konnichiwa Podcast which was a good time. We have a lot of overlap in the kind of podcast content we're making and perhaps someday we'll work on some stuff together...! Anyway, if you haven't heard of their podcast, give it a listen. They do a good job.
On to the business and growth—
We've grown around 45% in the past three months, and in April we passed 1,000 subscribed students which represents 20% of our first major goal as a company of 5,000 subscribed students. This also puts us about 50% of the way to reaching profitability at current team size. 5,000 students represents about $1M ARR, so right now at 20% of that we're sitting around $200,000 ARR. Not bad so far, but still have work to do to not be burning negative in cash every month, and still quite a ways to go until we can save up for bigger expansion efforts. So, once we cross that threshold we'll be able to invest more in team expansion etc.
To celebrate such a big milestone for us as 1,000 paid subscribers we ran a little giveaway in our community of 1 year free access to NativShark to a random student who reacted to our announcement. And as a team we went out together and ate もつ鍋 at one of our favourite places in Fukuoka:
It was a great time. Looking forward to hitting future milestones as a team and as a community!
In the spirit of transparency to make sure our trajectory makes sense: some have reached out in the past month and asked about when or if we'd like to bring the NativShark methodology to other languages and as I've mentioned previously, for sure we would love to.
In the past we haven't really had an idea about the economics of it, but now that we've been doing this for a minute, we can estimate that at the time when we reach that first big goal of 5,000 or so students, we should be in a place where we can support initial expansion in that direction.
So, for now, heads down and that's the goal, let's do it together :)
I'm encouraged by the growth we've had these past two months and I'm looking forward to continuing to build out our services!
With the massive amount of ground work we've managed to lay the past two months, we're finally starting to build some of the really cool features we've been waiting for.
Coming in the next two months is a huge upgrade to the study toolset at NativShark. We're adding a super robust dictionary and search feature that will let you search all our Units and their content, our sentence archives, dialogue archives and several added dictionaries. We'll be denoting whether a definition you've found is a "certified" NativShark definition, or if it's from a third party source, and if it is, which one it's from.
The other major system we're working on next is the progression / pace system.
Instead of the system dictating to the student the pace at which new units are assigned, the student will drive the pace system by setting a review level tolerance. Which effectively switches things over to a more "mastery" based learning system and makes the pace significantly more flexible and adaptive to every individual student.
Another huge perk of this approach— Flashcard Avalanches will be gone forever with this update ^^ And, we'll be able to create custom study decks in "one-click" for words, sentences or phrases we might want to study a little extra. In addition to being able to easily add anything from the new dictionary to your custom deck.
We've chosen to adjust the system in this way after reviewing lots of usage data, talking with 100's of students and listening to loads of feedback. I'm really excited! This lays the groundwork for even more cool possibilities down the line as well.
The first steps to making a not ridiculous placement test are in the works as well. Avoiding all the pitfalls of normal placement tests is quite the challenge but we've got a pretty cool solution in mind. But more on that in the future :)
And that's the update! Progress is rolling along well. We're adding new students all the time, working away towards our goal. Got some exciting stuff coming up, will be fun to share with everyone when the time comes.
Thanks for reading, best of luck on your studies and see you in the next one!