Karin Tsai, director of engineering at Duolingo will be speaking at TechCrunch City Spotlight: Pittsburgh on June 29

TechCrunch City Spotlight: Pittsburgh is getting closer, with impressive featured speakers including Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian and Mayor Bill Peduto. However, we’ve saved the best for last: Our last speaker is Karin Tsai, director of engineering at Duolingo, a $2.4 billion business that is all about making language learning fun and accessible.

The event will be held on June 29, so make sure to register here (for free) to listen to these conversations, enjoy the pitch-off and network with local talent.

Tsai joined Duolingo in 2012 as one of its first engineers, and firsthand witnessed the growth of the company from a scrappy startup into a 400-person global business. Her timestamp on the company has made her a key decision-maker in many of its biggest decisions, from which features to scrap to how to monetize without compromising its mission of providing free education to all.

One thing to note is that even though a whimsical owl and creative UX might seem straightforward, the language learning universe is controversial and requires healthy debate — and testing — for anyone within it.

“We’re trying to do things that no other apps really tackle: How do we create an experience that actually makes you extremely proficient in a language while accommodating the expectations from our learners” to be fun and convenient, Tsai told me when I interviewed her for my Duolingo EC-1. “Balancing efficacy with engagement is something that we constantly struggle with.”

In this chat, Tsai will break down how Duolingo turned to A/B testing to answer some of its biggest questions. We’ll also chat about more meta topics, as when to give up on measuring the unmeasurable, and when tests fail and instinct reigns supreme. Tsai admitted to me once that Duolingo spent years trying to figure out how to find a metric that could encompass learning comprehension and engagement in one fell swoop.

“What used to freeze us is that we thought we would need such a metric to make progress,” she explained. “And I think what honestly liberated us was saying essentially, ‘Screw it.’ We couldn’t make progress waiting for a learning metric.”

I’ll be interviewing Tsai, so anyone who registers for this event is welcome to throw me questions for her that I’ll try to incorporate into my chat.

Tsai will give us the startup builder perspective, while Mayor Peduto will speak to the challenges of building a startup ecosystem, and Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian will discuss how to go from student to startup with the correct resources.

Don’t forget to register for this free event on June 29th (click here to register) so you can watch these chats and riff with audience members during networking opportunities. If you’re an early-stage startup founder based in Pittsburgh, you should apply to pitch your startup (click here to apply). Expect to do a live two-minute pitch, get feedback from local VCs, and maybe even win our pitch-off.

I can’t wait to see you there!

Mayor Bill Peduto will be speaking at TechCrunch City Spotlight: Pittsburgh on June 29

Last week we announced that Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian will be speaking at our upcoming City Spotlight: Pittsburgh event. Today, we’re excited to announce another big guest: Mayor Bill Peduto.

The event will be held on June 29. You can register here for free to listen to our conversations with Mayor Peduto and Jahanian, among others.

An alumni of both Carnegie Mellon University and Pennsylvania State University, Peduto served on Pittsburgh’s City Council for a dozen years before being elected mayor in 2014. I’ve spoken with the mayor on numerous occasions, and aside from being one of the city’s biggest cheerleaders, he’s also a staunch proponent of the startup scene bolstered by local universities like CMU.

“Having two world-class research universities allows us to draw the companies here in order to be able to utilize that talent. At the same time, that talent is building out the startup community,” Peduto told me in a recent conversation. “The other components of the startup community are now, for the first time, being properly invested in. I think what you’re seeing change over the past five years in Pittsburgh is West Coast VCs aren’t looking to move startups to California. They’re looking to invest in Pittsburgh.”

Having resources like those universities has been instrumental in building out Pittsburgh’s startup community. But the city — which long bore the scars of rustbelt depression — has traditionally had difficulty retaining much of its talent, losing out to better-known startup ecosystems in places like New York and San Francisco.

But that’s changing — and the city is changing along with it. Pittsburgh currently has one of the world’s most vibrant robotic startup ecosystems, is at the center of much of the world’s autonomous vehicle research and has birthed successful companies like Duolingo.

Event organizer Matt Burns will be speaking to Mayor Peduto about the challenges and successes in building up such an ecosystem.

We’re still looking for startups to participate in the event. It’s free to register and participate in networking and watch the event (click here to register). It’s also free to apply to pitch your startup at the event (click here to apply). We’re looking for early-stage companies from the greater Pittsburgh area that can give a two-minute pitch to a panel of local venture capitalists in exchange for feedback.

Pitch us, Pittsburgh

We’re getting closer to putting our spotlight on Pittsburgh, and there’s quite a bit going on behind the scenes. We’ve been spending a ton of time chatting with folks who are on the ground in the city, and we’ve had a great time learning and listening, which we think will make this installment of our Spotlight series the most dynamic yet.

As we share more details on who will be participating, such as CMU’s President Farnam Jahanian, we still want to hear from those of you building companies in the ‘Burgh.

We’ve heard from nearly 50 companies focusing on things like digital health, small business loans, patent development, robotics and clean tech, and we’ll be picking three companies to pitch live during the event on June 29th.

Because we expect all types of attendees, including investors, this could be an opportunity to take things to the next level, be it through recruiting new employees or finding a new advisor. After all, anything can happen at a TechCrunch event.

Simply fill out this form and your company could be chosen to pitch during the event.

Additionally, and to learn more about who’s who and what’s what in Pittsburgh, we’re going to be hosting a conversation on Twitter Spaces tomorrow (Friday) at 4 p.m. ET. Co-hosting will be one of our favorite Yinzers, Kit Mueller. Expect a bit of trivia, updates on news and happenings in the city and more.

Register for the event today, come chat with us tomorrow and submit your company or pass the word along to someone who should!


June 29, 2021

2:00 p.m. EDT
Building Pittsburgh. Speaker to be announced!

2:20 p.m. EDT
Developing Duolingo. Karin Tsai, head of engineering, is set to speak on the trade-offs between engagement and edtech, scale and satisfaction, and how a simple A/B test can help.

2:40 p.m. EDT
From Student to Startup. CMU President Farnam Jahanian will speak on the school’s cutting-edge robotics and automation research and how it’s keeping innovative startups in Pittsburgh.

3:10 p.m. EDT
Pittsburgh Pitch-off. Startups will have two minutes to deliver their pitch, and our speakers will have four minutes to give their feedback. Pittsburgh startups should apply here



Calling all Yinzers, TechCrunch is (virtually) headed to Pittsburgh!

We’ve had a blast meeting new folks in different cities this year and we’re keeping the train rolling. We learned quite a bit about what’s happening now in Miami and got up to speed on what’s been happening in the great city of Detroit

Up next? Pittsburgh. Register for free the event here.

That’s right, on June 29th, the TechCrunch City Spotlight is heading to The Iron City. The River City. Blitzburgh (for you Steelers fans). The Pitt. 

A perfect blend of history and modern technology makes for an amazing venue. So far we’ve heard about the medical advancements, robots and self-driving cars. But we know there’s more! (Your unofficial mayor is there on the ground dropping us hints.)

Did you know the Kleiner Perkins origin story centers around Pittsburgh? And speaking of Steelers, have you been keeping tabs on former safety Will Allen’s turn as a VC? Speaking of big hits, Duolingo is on fire. Our own Natasha Mascarenhas recently wrote a four-part EC-1 on the company that has grown to 500 million registered learners.

These are all things that we’ve been digging into as we prepare for next month.

We’re going to have some special guests and interesting panels, and we’re of course going to share the stage with the best and brightest in the city. 

That’s where you come in!

If you’re building something awesome and you’re based in Mark Cuban’s old stomping grounds, we want to hear from you. We’ll be doing a pitch feedback session like the ones you’ve been watching on Extra Crunch Live. So drop us a note here and maybe you’ll be one of the companies to show everyone why Pittsburgh is hot.

Register now and hit us up with tips and unknown facts about your city. (Heads up, we already know about John Fetterman’s Sheetz fandom.)

See you soon!