When Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker created the Duolingo app in 2012, their mission was to make language learning free, fun, and convenient. They knew that language proficiency—besides being critical for business, education, and travel—was key to economic success for immigrants, who often can’t afford traditional courses. Based in Pittsburgh, Duolingo soon became the most-downloaded education app in the world, hitting 100 million downloads in the Google Play Store by 2017 and 300 million users by 2019. They now offer courses in 38 languages and along with group practice events, they’ve also added an English proficiency test and a paid premium tier. In 2019, their first DuoCon language convention—live streamed on YouTube—attracted over 100,000 unique views.
COVID-19 lockdowns led to a spike in app usage; downloads rose across the globe as the pandemic spread. Monthly users jumped from 30 to 40 million, with "school" and "brain training" cited as the top motivations. Sam Dalsimer, head of PR, says the fastest-growing product was their English proficiency test, used by international students applying to U.S. colleges. “Most physical testing centers had to close,” he points out. “Our exam is online and you can take it anytime.” That accessibility drove a 1,500-percent rise in test takers. This growth spurred a move to Google Drive as their new creative asset repository, improving coordination both internally and with outside agencies. To assist families with young children affected by school closures, they moved up the launch of the Duolingo ABC app to help kids learn to read and write; it also exemplifies Duolingo’s mission. “Much as Luis created Duolingo to improve people’s lives and economic status, he sees similar potential to make a positive impact by making sure kids all around the world can learn to read for free,” Sam explains. “The broader goal behind ABC is to make a dent in global literacy rates.” And that's a language we can all understand.
VXXXV Apparel has been experiencing 60 percent annual growth
When Tirsa Vazquez gave birth to her son, Khalif, in May 2015, she had a lot to juggle: motherhood, her career, college at night, and the Air Force Reserve. As time went on, Tirsa found herself missing important milestones in her son’s life. She knew she wanted a career that gave her flexibility and control, so as soon as she graduated college, she did something about it. In 2017, Tirsa founded VXXXV Apparel, an urban streetwear clothing brand named after her son’s birthday. To get the company off the ground, Tirsa taught herself about the apparel industry, conducting intensive research on manufacturing and design. She debuted her line with a ‘90s-themed fashion show in downtown Philadelphia. From there, the business has taken off and now offers women’s, men’s, and children’s collections.
VXXXV Apparel doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar location, so it relies heavily on Google to drive online sales. When she created the company’s website, Tirsa learned about Google Analytics and Google Ads. “I have a degree in computers, but I didn’t know anything about marketing to people digitally,” Tirsa said. She began using Google Ads to get in front of customers who were searching for businesses like hers and Google Analytics to better understand those customers. “Google Analytics tells me where all my traffic comes from and how long users are on my page,” said Tirsa. “I use it a lot to figure out where my market is and to make sure I’m catering to my customers.”
Since implementing Google Ads, VXXXV Apparel has seen 60% year-over-year revenue growth. As her company continues to expand, Tirsa is looking to hire employees and eventually have her own warehouse. “Digital drives my business, so it would be great to have someone here who is really an expert in that space,” she said. Tirsa also likes to share her own expertise and experience with local business owners by hosting get-togethers. But she is particularly passionate about helping women-owned businesses. “I started this business to put a message out there about women empowerment,” said Tirsa. “A lot of women are discouraged, especially when they have children, because there’s not enough time in the world to do everything. I want to be that person who gives them the reassurance that they can do it.”
For Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, the hat is more than a fashion item. ”I grew up seeing it as a symbol of confidence and empowerment,” she says. Georgiette was raised by her grandparents in Mobile, Alabama, in the mid-1900s. Her grandmother, an active force in the civil rights movement, was an avid hat-wearer herself. “She’s the one who got me wearing them at an early age and gave me my sense of confidence,” Georgiette shares. Today, Georgiette owns over a hundred different hats. And in 2015, when the S & S Hat Company in Philadelphia announced its imminent closure, she put off retirement and purchased the factory to share her passion with the world. “I refused to let it close, and I assured my employees that I would fight to keep it alive,” she recalls. Together with her son, Robert Morgan, she founded American Hats shortly thereafter, manufacturing and selling stylish hats for all occasions.
In 2016, American Hats launched their first e-commerce website and began using AdWords, Google’s advertising program, to reinvigorate their business. “People all over find us online now,” says Robert, noting that online sales have grown from 10 percent of their business to nearly half since starting AdWords. Google Analytics equips the company with the insights to “better understand customers, see how they react to new designs, and identify opportunities for growth,” he adds. And G Suite tools, such as Docs and Drive, enable the team to collaborate across their multiple locations. “It doesn’t matter if Robert is in New York and I’m at the factory. We can use Google tools to get work done,” Georgiette explains. “It’s very, very helpful.”
American Hats has nearly doubled their number of annual customers since going online. “People are just flying through the door now, and we’re even shipping across the country,” exclaims Georgiette. They have expanded their hand-made offerings to include options for men and children, all of which is good news for their workers. “Our employees have been with this factory for 20 to 30 years. They're the original team that made S & S Hat so outstanding in the first place,” she says proudly. To keep the art of hat-making alive, the company has also started a summer program for students interested in learning the craft. “My hope is to generate more interest and to train people so that they have jobs they enjoy,” Georgiette shares. “Small businesses like ours are what keeps revenue flowing throughout our community. They’re the adhesive that pulls us all together."
For motorcycle riders and enthusiasts, RevZilla provides “everything but the bike.” They started out in 2007 as a little shop in South Philly. Today, they’re a thriving e-commerce enterprise operating out of an upsized Navy Yard office. They ship motorcycle parts and accessories all around the globe and in 2016 generated more than $100 million in sales. In the midst of this “hyper-growth,” says Director of Performance Marketing Chrissy Starkweather, RevZilla has stayed true to their passions: motorcycles, customer service, and technology. “Everyone here geeks out over something,” says Chrissy. “A vast majority of us are motorcycle riders and tech geeks ourselves, because that’s what we do here.”
From the beginning, digital marketing has been central to RevZilla’s e-commerce growth, with the majority of their marketing budget going to digital. They use AdWords, Google’s advertising program, and Google Shopping campaigns to connect with customers in both the U.S. and international markets. “The reason why we’re able to grow and invest as much as we do in AdWords is because it’s one of our most productive channels,” says Chrissy. They also have a YouTube channel where they share lifestyle content, tutorials, and bike reviews. With over 6,000 videos, 300,000 subscribers, and 100 million views, the channel has been “critical for building and supporting a really broad and engaged motorcycle community.” RevZilla’s marketing efforts include “a healthy mix of Google’s organic search, YouTube, and AdWords,” Chrissy explains. “They’ve been significant drivers of business overall. And we know this because we also use Google Analytics to see where our customers are coming from.”
RevZilla is “a decade into the game,” but they’re still consistently growing at a double-digit rate. They serve over a million customers annually, and their workforce has more than doubled in the last three years alone. “It’s pretty amazing to be a part of such rapid growth,” says Chrissy, “and it’s still the same company I signed up for.” As the business expands, so does their capacity to build community—not only within the motorcycle world, but in Philadelphia at large. Their philanthropic projects range from computer science education to supporting local charities. And with more community partnerships in the works, RevZilla’s growth will continue to stretch far beyond the company itself.
Werkheiser Jewelers has been in business for 24 years
Werkheiser Jewelers began serving the Lehigh Valley with custom design, restoration, and repair in 1992. The four employees take pride in fine jewelry sales, creating custom jewelry—including wedding bands and engagement rings—and in restoring cherished family heirlooms. They have a laid-back, customer-oriented shop where you’ll be greeted with a smile—and maybe even by one of their dogs. “A lot of people are intimidated walking into a fine jewelry store, because they feel the salespeople won't be friendly or accommodating,” says Alyssa Rizzo-Berg, Media Marketing Manager. “We like to give faces to our names and let people know who we are.”
They launched their website in 2005. Their Google My Business listing shows customers their location and hours, which is especially important during the holiday season, when the shop extends its hours. Google Analytics helps them fine-tune website content. “I track changes I make to the site and how people are responding to them,” Alyssa says. “I’m able to see tangible results. It’s really exciting.” AdWords, Google’s advertising program, has been a particularly valuable digital tool during the busy holidays to reach new customers looking for gifts. The Google Apps for Work suite of tools, especially Google Docs and Google Drive, helps to keep the staff productive by providing ample storage for images and documents. “Being able to back up anything important to me in Google Drive gives me a lot of peace of mind. And if I work from home, I love that I can access anything that I’m working on,” Alyssa says.
Today Werkheiser Jewelers successfully reaches not only past and current customers online, but new, younger customers, as well. “Maybe they’re looking to buy that first big piece of jewelry, or an engagement ring,” she says. “Because of Google, they’re able to find us.” Thanks to optimizing their online presence and their use of Google tools, Werkheiser Jewelers saw the number of visitors to their website increase by nearly 500% over a six-month period. The number of views on their contact page rose almost as much. “It shows that people want to reach out to us,” Alyssa says. “To actually see it in a quantitative form is so validating.”