Tim Shey, most recently head of YouTube’s scripted original programming, has moved back into the startup world after leaving Google earlier this year.
Shey has been hired at language-learning app startup Duolingo, where he’s head of studios and content. Duolingo offers courses in 31 different languages, available in an ad-supported free version as well as a premium subscription version that starts at $9.99 per month. The company says it has more than 200 million users worldwide.
“I had a really amazing seven years at Google and YouTube,” Shey told Variety. “I wanted to see what other challenges were out there and get back into a startup environment… I always wanted to take another shot at building out a new studio from scratch.”
Shey said he was already a fan of the app and the company, and jumped at the opportunity to “use content and storytelling to make a meaningful impact on the way people learn.”
Prior to Shey’s arrival, Duolingo had launched several original content initiatives. Those include Duolingo Stories — short stories designed to reinforce language comprehension — and its Spanish Podcast with simple stories en Español, with season 2 det to debut June 28. In addition, the company also produced a 30-minute documentary film, “Something Like Home,” about Syrian refugees and how language informs their experience that it plans to release June 20 (World Refugee Day) on YouTube and other films. The film was directed by Pittsburgh-based photographer Justin Merriman.
Shey will focus on developing and product “different kinds of engaging content that can get people to get to fluency.” Those will span new content formats and range across all levels of language proficiency. He’s also interested in content that helps people learn a language by telling stories about culture, including history, music, food, travel, and fiction.
“This year is going to be about trying a number of things and then seeing what works,” Shey said.
Shey is one of the founding executives on YouTube’s original programming team, formed in 2014. Scripted programming developed and launched by his team include YouTube’s first hour-long dramas, “Step Up: High Water” from Lionsgate and “Impulse” from Doug Liman and Universal Cable Prods. He’s also overseen YouTube original comedies “Foursome” from Awesomeness TV, “Single by 30” from Wong Fu and New Form, and action series “Lifeline,” from Corridor Digital, Studio 71 and Dwayne Johnson. Shey also led deals for YouTube’s first feature-length films, including “Lazer Team” from Rooster Teeth and “The Thinning” from Legendary.
Shey joined YouTube in 2011 when Google acquired early multichannel network startup Next New Networks, where he was co-founder and president. Before joining YouTube’s original programming team, he was director of the YouTube Next Lab and YouTube Spaces. He also was part of YouTube’s Original Channels, under which it funded and launched 200 channels from celebs and influencers.
For now, Shey will continue to remain based in L.A., though he plans to regularly visit Duolingo’s HQ in Pittsburgh. Long term, he said, “we’ll work with the creative community all over the world.”
By the way, Shey — who has a bilingual family — said he’s been using Duolingo to help brush up his Spanish, and now he’s been learning French as well.
Duolingo, founded in 2011, has raised about $108 million in funding to date from investors including Google Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, New Enterprise Associates, Union Square Ventures, Drive Capital, CapitalG, and individual investors including actor Ashton Kutcher and author Tim Ferriss.