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The Story of Diglot: A Language Learning Start-Up

Diglot dispatches with traditional methods of language education and makes language-learning fun, engaging and effective for beginners. The company creates books that weave foreign words into English sentences so that readers can learn languages while reading classic novels like The Great Gatsby, Sherlock Holmes or Pride and Prejudice. Evan McGloughlin and Cian McNally, Diglot’s co-founders, discuss the story behind the language-learning start-up.

The Team

Evan and Cian live five minutes down the road from one another in Skerries. They played rugby together as children and, after going their separate ways for a few years, found themselves back together again as teenagers in the Institute of Education. They both went on to study at Trinity – Cian in psychology and Evan in neuroscience – where the idea of Diglot began to form towards the end of their penultimate year. The team came up with the business name as well as the concept of their first book, Learn Spanish with Sherlock Holmes, which was published in June 2020. By the end of the year, they had launched the Diglot website and sold over 500 books.

Cian has always been interested in language-learning; he recalls how one evening he began talking with a linguist at a party, who told him about research projects taking place in South Africa. These projects showed that the best way for children to learn languages in a classroom setting is for a teacher to speak in different languages. Following on from further research into the study, Cian found that the best way to learn languages is to read novels that mix languages together. However, the problem is that this method of language-learning is not available to beginners. Cian sees language-learning as simple for intermediate or advanced learners; all they must do is read a book or watch a movie which ‘will get you insanely good, insanely quick’. Meanwhile, beginners must study lists of vocabulary, memorise grammar rules, and read small sentences instead of stories. This led to the idea of Diglot, which aims to bridge this gap and cut out the textbook form of language-learning. As Evan says, Diglot is about ‘making language learning accessible to people who maybe traditionally do not like language learning’ by allowing them to acquire language subconsciously through reading a book.

Where They Are Now

The Diglot team spent the past five months in Spain, where they were able to keep their burn rate low whilst delving into Spanish culture. The base location of the company is subject to change depending on different programmes and projects. As Evan says, Diglot is a ‘very multicultural company so it makes sense for us to travel around the place’. Cian agrees that ‘we can be anywhere in the world working away, which is a real privilege’.

There are ‘a lot of pieces to put together’ in creating a Diglot book. The novels Diglot use are all public domain and out of copyright, which makes the script easily accessible online. The text is sent through an in-house algorithm, which was developed by Diglot’s Head of Research and Development, Oisín Morrin. This produces a script weaved with foreign words, with the percentage of weaving dependent on the difficulty level of the book. This script is then sent to a translator who restores the nuance and ‘beauty of the language’ and is edited and proof-read several times before being sent back to the team. The design process is usually carried out by Evan, who arranges the chapter headings and grammar lists in accordance with a prescribed template. This script is then sent to a cover designer, who designs the front cover and back page of the book. Once this is completed, the script and cover are uploaded to a book publisher who manufactures and distributes the book.

In terms of marketing and promotion, the Diglot team are of the view that they were ‘pretty lucky early on’. The books got ‘unbelievable promotion’ from the ‘bookstagram’ community on Instagram. This community is made up of influencers with between 20,000 and 100,000 followers that share books on their account. This created a ‘very positive-sum relationship’, as Diglot were able to get great promotion and the bookstagram influencers were able to get engaging and innovative content.

In February 2021, Diglot secured a spot in Tangent LaunchBox Accelerator, a competitive summer programme run by Trinity which provides mentorship, funding and a collaborative environment to Trinity students with a start-up business. Evan says that the advantages of the programme are ‘insane and incalculable on multiple dimensions’. Although the team is awarded funding, this is ‘secondary’ to the connections and the network that they build. Not only were they able to get free legal advice that was ‘unbelievably beneficial’, but they were also able to access business mentors that they were able to consult with and talk to each week. As Cian notes, one person or one piece of advice can ‘fundamentally change your business’. The entrepreneurial environment provided by LaunchBox also had a positive impact on the Diglot team. Evan talks of the ‘constant positive reinforcement’ from being around like-minded people, reminding that ‘you can actually build something and have an impact on the world’. Cian agrees that having that support and group of friends has had a positive impact on his mindset and that ‘mindset is everything’ when it comes to running a start-up.

Evan says that one of the most challenging aspects of the start-up has been ‘figuring out leadership, how to manage people, and how to get the most out of people’. With 80 translators in over 20 countries around the world, leadership and management is ‘really important’ for the Diglot team. The style and tone of leadership plays into what the business represents and what it seeks to accomplish. It is important to manage people in an effective way but also in a way which enables them to excel, grow and learn. Evan identifies this as the ‘biggest challenge’, especially in the current online environment; organising people and managing relationships over Zoom is ‘challenging’ and ‘hard to get right’. When asked about the key success factors of the business, Cian recognises the importance of having software to manage people. The Diglot team utilises Notion, a project-management software which helps to take cognitive energy off the team. This has helped the company to automate all cognitive work and manage the multi-part production process at Diglot.

Plans For The Future

Diglot is expanding its book titles and languages every week. The team currently have books in Arabic, Hindi, Mandarin and Japanese in production. For the first time, a person will be able to pick up the Great Gatsby and at the same time pick up a few words of Japanese or Mandarin. As Evan says, ‘that is just not a thing that has existed up until now’. The Diglot team also plan to work directly with authors and weave their books in some exciting projects they have coming up. They also hope to expand into audio books, so that a person will be able to listen to their favourite story in English with foreign words weaved into the audio. The goal of the company is that a person will be able to bring any book, either fiction or non-fiction, and weave the book using Diglot’s system. That person would be able to nominate their language and difficulty level and then start reading from day one. It will be exciting to see how Diglot will continue to reimagine language learning and make it more accessible, engaging and fun for beginners.

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The Doyle Twins: Sustainable and Affordable Fashion

Over 30 million people around the world are registered on Depop; a ‘community-powered fashion ecosystem’ where users can buy and sell pre-loved clothing. 90% of these active users are under the age of 26, reflecting Generation Z’s interest in sustainable style and vintage fashion. Most Irish users will be familiar with The Doyle Twins, who pride themselves on being ‘sustainable as well as affordable’. In 2020, the account became one of the first verified Depop sellers in Ireland and has continued to grow in popularity with 39 thousand followers as of October 2021. Speaking with Isabel and Emily-Jane, Trinity Business Review gains insight into the story, success, and future of The Doyle Twins.

The Team

The Doyle Twins is managed by twins, Isabel and Emily-Jane, who became interested in vintage fashion in their teens. In 2018, the twins decided to clear out their wardrobe and sold some old items on their account. Within a few months, they found themselves regularly selling clothes on Depop and by 2019, the twins were buying with the ‘exclusive aim of promoting sustainable vintage fashion and selling for a profit on Depop’. It was initially the look of vintage clothes which sparked the twins’ interest in pre-loved fashion. However, as they became aware of the negative impact the fast-fashion industry is having on the environment, the twins committed to buying only second-hand clothes. Although they did not set out to build a business, Isabel and Emily-Jane soon recognised the business opportunity before them and began to consciously build their brand: The Doyle Twins. 

When asked about the popularity of Depop amongst young adults and students, the twins attribute the growth of the platform to a few things. Firstly, an increased awareness of the adverse impact the fast-fashion industry is having on the environment. Secondly, Isabel comments that there has been ‘a societal shift towards second-hand and vintage clothing being embraced as trendier’. Although people may have veered away from wearing charity shop buys ten years ago, now it is considered ‘the epitome of cool’. Isabella Vrana is a big style icon for the twins, and people often joke that they dress like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (which they take as a compliment!). Thirdly, the Covid-19 pandemic and prolonged periods of lockdown have driven consumers towards online shopping platforms, especially Depop. Although these factors have contributed to the ‘natural development’ of the business, the key driver behind the success of The Doyle Twins is the team’s constant ambition and innovation.   

Where They Are Now

The Doyle Twins is currently based between the twins’ family home in Rathmines and their student accommodation on campus (which is conveniently located just around the corner from the post office). As both twins are in final year, Isabel in law and business and Emily-Jane in physiotherapy, they ‘try not to let the work build up’ by spreading it out evenly across the week. The divvying up of tasks depends on how busy the twins are; this flexibility highlights the brilliant teamwork which exists between the pair. When Isabel is working, Emily-Jane can fill in; and when Emily-Jane is on placement, Isabel can step up.  

In the start, they thrifted all their stock in Ireland. However, the restrictions to in-person shopping brought about last year forced the twins to alter their supply chain and now the business sources approximately 50% of its stock from the UK. The Doyle Twins has a structured system in place. All newly purchased and unlogged stock is stored in specific boxes on arrival. Most days the twins photograph new items together for the account. Once photographed and logged, these items are then moved to a separate box or rail. Once an item is sold, it is moved to the “to be posted” box before being sent off to its new wardrobe. Twice a week, one or both of the twins package and post the items of clothing. Usually, Isabel takes on the biweekly post office trips, whilst Emily-Jane manages the online activity of the business. However, the work often does not exceed an hour a day and the twins make sure to take the odd day off!

When asked about the impact Working From Home and Covid-19 has had on the business, the twins are of the view that the pandemic definitely had a positive impact on The Doyle Twins. Emily-Jane comments that the growth of the business can be directly related to people being forced to buy online as in-person retail closed. Nonetheless, when the economy began to re-open, the twins retained business and customers due to the strong brand they had established.

However, the business journey has not been without its challenges. Over summer 2021, the business faced ‘a period of tension’ when both twins moved out of home and away from the office. Emily-Jane was living full-time in Cavan and on placement in Monaghan; Isabel was living on the other side of the city working over 40 hours a week in an office job and ‘madly training’ for the national rowing championships (which her team won!). Despite the difficulties faced running the business during this period, the twins got through it and are now back together living on campus.

In light of the busy year ahead, the twins emphasise the importance of ‘having a routine’ and ‘good time-management’. When asked about the key factors to The Doyle Twins’ success, Isabel is of the view that their price point resonates strongly with buyers, especially students. They recognise that people may be dissuaded from buying sustainable fashion pieces by hefty price-tags, opting for cheaper and poor quality fast-fashion items. However, The Doyle Twins make sure to offer sustainable and high-quality clothing at a relatively low price point. Isabel also notes that their brand name, The Doyle Twins, is ‘very strong and quite recognisable’.  

Plans for the Future

When asked about the future of the business, Isabel comments that they are ‘taking it one day at a time’. Emily-Jane is considering a career as a chartered physiotherapist, whilst Isabel may pursue a career as a solicitor. However, the twins have also discussed taking time out after college to focus on the business. The aim would be to organically scale the shop and bring the account as close as possible to larger sellers, based in the US and UK. When asked about other Depop accounts, Emily-Jane says that ‘the top sellers on Depop have an amazing community’ and frequently ask each other questions or give advice. The Depop market would appear to be relatively uncompetitive compared with other business environments. However, the twins have yet to see where the business takes them. Emily-Jane comments that the only thing they know for certain is that they cannot predict what the future has in store. Nonetheless, they are unlikely to see business slow down any time soon as sustainable and vintage style continues to stay in fashion. 

Get In Touch 

For further information (or fashion inspiration), get in touch with The Doyle Twins on Instagram or Depop.