Ryan Bliss

Language Learning App - My journey so far

This year I am earning a master’s of entrepreneurship in Notre Dame’s ESTEEM program. One of the cooler parts of the program is that students are paired up with companies or research projects for a capstone project. I have been extremely fortunate to be paired with Fathom to help them bring to market a language learning app for my capstone project. In addition to weekly video conferences with the development team and capstone coursework, these past three months have been packed with unique experiences and professional growth.

In October, I was able to leave Indiana and spend a week in Dublin at Fathom headquarters. I was able to work alongside the development team and meet the rest of the company. I sat in on interviews, draft a business model for the app, hear stories about the infamous escape room Christmas party of 2018, and experience the best burger that I have ever tasted. I finished the trip by touring Trinity College and getting stuck in the Dublin Marathon on my way to the airport.

The ACTFL Conference

In November, Stephen, the creator and coder of the app, and I attended the ACTFL Conference in Washington, DC. ACTFL is the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. This conference had over 8,000 language educators, school administrators, and linguists attend.

ACTFL 2019

Through interviews, listening to presentations by experienced language teachers, and scoping out the current foreign language market at the expo, we validated that there is a need for new language learning technology and that we are tackling the problem in a unique way. On the trip there were two key highlights that have helped me progress with my project.

The SAMR method

The first was a talk by Mike and Lisa Camp. They discussed the SAMR method, a process that teachers should use when choosing technologies for their class.

  • Substitution
  • Augmentation
  • Modification
  • Redefinition

Teachers want their implementation of technology to modify or redefine the learning activity. As someone who is creating a technology for a classroom, it is imperative that teachers easily access the top two categories when using the app. This allowed me to truly understand the motivations of teachers and their buying experience.

Back to High School

The second highlight was getting the opportunity to meet and interview my own high school Spanish teacher. Through this interview, I was able to schedule a live demo of the app in her classroom at the start of the second semester.

On my last day home on Christmas break, I was able to do a live demo of the app in Señora Nierman’s Honor Spanish 1 classes at Gonzaga College High School. It was great to return to the halls of my alma mater.

Gonzaga high school

During the product development experience, it is important to continually test your prototype or product throughout the design experience. Up until the demo, only people inside Fathom had used the app, so it was extremely helpful to get roughly 50 students to try it out and get feedback.

During the demo they were extremely engaged and put the app through the gauntlet. They found bugs in the program, discussed ways to make it more user friendly, and the last class showed how quickly a chat feature designed for students to ask questions about homework could turn into an instant messaging server. What impressed me the most was how much time and thought they put into a feedback survey. From this demo and their feedback, our app has improved tremendously in the past few weeks.

To hear more about the event, check out Gonzaga’s article here


This past year has been a hectic journey, but it is just the beginning. Through the feedback provided from the demo, Stephen has been able to iterate the product and it is now ready for a few beta testers. In addition to gaining a few users, I need to come up with strategies to monetize and market the app beyond my personal teacher network.

If you are interested in the product you can connect with me on LinkedIn or email


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