The Story Behind Vividize

Fall 2018

I love to challenge myself. I’ve challenged myself in different fields and the realm of language learning is especially thrilling. In 2018, during my second year at university, I wanted to attend an exchange program to learn a new language.

I asked myself: "In five years from now, if I could speak any new language, completely disregarding how difficult the learning process might be, what language would I like to speak?" Having come across multiple sources highlighting the rising interest towards Mandarin, I thought it would be quite exciting to be able to speak fluent Mandarin.

Our university offered an exchange program to Chengdu. Setting the goal to apply for that exchange program, I registered for the beginner's course in Mandarin.

Fall 2019

Having completed the beginner's course in Mandarin, and with some self-study under my belt, I arrived in Chengdu in August 2019. With some prior knowledge in Mandarin, the student coordinator placed me in the A2-class. As I walked into the classroom for the first time, the whiteboard was filled with Chinese characters. My jaw dropped. Having only completed a few character writing exercises in the past, I wondered whether I had come to the right class.

In that moment, wanting to test my limits, I mentally slammed my fist onto the table and resolved to learn every single character on the board and to ace that course.

The course was challenging, with writing and pronunciation proving especially hard. However, the warm class atmosphere, the surrounding culture, nature, and friendly people left a deep impression on me, fueling my desire to learn more.

As the class progressed, I soon set my eyes on a bigger goal: to apply for a master's degree program taught in Mandarin in Shanghai. In order to do this, I'd would be required to spend more time studying Mandarin, and so I decided to extend my exchange by a further 12 months in Chengdu.

Spring 2020

The course in Chengdu concluded in January 2020, and people were gearing up for the Lunar New Year celebration. I traveled to Finland to reunite with my family and awaited the commencement of the new semester. Suddenly, due to the rapid spread of Covid-19, the Chinese borders closed. Exchange students who were spending their holidays abroad found themselves unable to return to China, necessitating a swift and drastic alteration in the teaching plan.

Despite the unexpected turn of events, I attended the online lessons and continued my studies. To reach my goal of applying for the master's degree program in Shanghai, I aimed to first pass the HSK 4 and then tackle the HSK 5 exam.

Winter 2020

In October 2020, I was preparing for the HSK 4 exam. I used flashcards and spaced repetition system to study the vocabulary, completed several mock exams, and focused on my weak areas. During the preparation process, mastering the vocabulary emerged as the most challenging part, requiring a significant amount of time to memorize and retain the 1,200 words. I passed the HSK 4 with a good score, but I realized that same preparation method would be unsustainable for HSK 5 with the daunting vocbaulary of 2,500 word.

To ease the burden, I opted for the computer-based HSK 5 exam, which emphasized character recognition over rote memorization.Despite the intense preparation and the less daunting test format, my score fell just shy of the passing mark. I intended to retake the exam, but I acknowledged that the repetition-based method, even with the aid of flashcards and a spaced-repetition system, wasn't cutting it. There had to be a more effective way to learn characters.

Spring 2021

While exploring new ways of learning simplified characters, I stumbled upon an unconventional method. The characters were deconstructed into smaller components, akin to disassembling a jigsaw puzzle. Each component had a short story aiding in memorizing both the character's shape and meaning. These components, much like puzzle pieces, were then reassembled, significantly aiding in memorizing the target character. I gave this method a try and, to my astonishment, I was able to learn much faster and easier compared to the repetition-based method.

However, a challenge arose: I had to craft the stories myself.

This sparked an idea—what if these stories could be created for others? Moreover, could they be rendered more memorable through visual representation?

After finding no similar app online and conducting an experiment with participants that yielded promising results, I was inspired to pursue a new approach to teaching simplified characters: constructing the target character alongside short stories for the user. Thus, the concept for Vividize was born.

Autumn 2021

The more I thought about the potential of Vividize, the more convinced I became that it had to be built. At that time, as I was completing my master's degree in business and was thus more inclined towards managing the business side of Vividize, I needed a tech-savvy partner to develop the app. I reached out to Samuli, my oldest friend, who was studying computer science at the university, and invited him to discuss a business idea.

I shared my vision with Samuli in detail, explaining what Vividize was about and how it could revolutionize the way Chinese characters are learned. Having studied Japanese, he immediately grasped the challenges associated with learning Chinese characters that I was referring to. He was intrigued, and thus, we embarked on the journey of developing Vividize together.

Spring 2022

After some testing and iteration, the MVP of Vividize began taking shape. Vividize was being developed in collaboration with the Chinese language students at Turku University, and the feedback was promising. However, with more questions than answers on business development, Samuli and I were in need of a boost for our startup.

After some consultation, we were tipped off about a renowned business accelerator program, Kiuas, located on the campus of Aalto University. We Googled Kiuas, and the program seemed fantastic. Although we had some hesitations about our startup being in the initial stages, we crafted the most compelling application we could and submitted it before the deadline. To our surprise, we were invited for an interview and Vividize was accepted into the spring batch of 2022.

The coaching and insights from multiple mentors provided the boost we were searching for, opening a new avenue for Vividize to develop faster and further.

Autumn 2022

As Kiuas concluded, our team had expanded, and we dedicated the summer to advancing Vividize. However, as autumn approached, our team wasn't prepared for a full-time commitment, and I considered the option of developing Vividize alongside a full-time job too restricting. Soon, I realized that pursuing further education would offer more time flexibility compared to full-time employment, and it would also provide the opportunity to live in a Chinese-speaking environment.

Since Mainland China remained inaccessible due to the pandemic, study programs there were out of the question. Instead, I discovered a program in Hong Kong, specializing in AI and education technology. My application was accepted, paving the way for another immersive experience in Chinese language and culture, albeit this time amidst a Cantonese-speaking environment.

Winter 2022

As Vividize progressed, our understanding of content development also grew. Initially, our vision was centered around short animations, but the preparation process proved to be very complicated. Making alterations to animations afterward was time-consuming, and it became evident that feedback at an earlier stage was needed.

Our solution was to post animation storyboards on social media to collect user feedback before the animation was made. To our surprise, the storyboards generated much more attention compared to our animations. After evaluating the response, our team decided to pivot to making exclusively storyboards.

Spring 2023: January - March

With the guidance of principles outlined in the book Running Lean by Ash Maurya, our team conducted numerous problem interviews. We interacted with several Chinese language students and teachers, which helped us to validate the problem and assess the impact of current learning methods.

These interviews confirmed our assumptions regarding the difficulty of learning simplified characters. With these insights, our team further refined Vividize and began preparing to make our first selling pitches. As Vividize became ready for early-access use, we successfully acquired our initial customers at the outset of 2023.

Spring 2023: April - May

Alongside my studies, I discovered that Hong Kong hosted many startup events. One event that caught my eye was a pitching competition organized by the Education University of Hong Kong in partnership with Hong Kong Science Park. Encouraged by our initial customer traction, I registered Vividize and we entered the competition.

I've always been simultaneously nervous and excited to perform in front of a crowd, and this occasion was particularly exciting: to present a new method of learning simplified characters to a jury of native-Mandarin speakers.

The pitch resonated well with the judges, earning us a spot among the winners and an invitation to join the ideation program at Hong Kong Science Park. This was yet again a confidence boost for Vividize.

Summer 2023

During the spring of 2023, our team had our eyes fixed on the summer launch date, eagerly awaiting the reunion of our team. After completing my studies and concluding my stay in Hong Kong, we resumed our weekly work sessions in Helsinki.

With a few final tweaks and edits, Vividize was launched on the 7th of June on Android.

As some startup founders say, launching is the beginning of the real learning, and this has been the case for us. The number of downloads has exceeded our expectations, and the excited feedback has been truly encouraging. Armed with user feedback, our team is committed to bringing you the fastest and most memorable simplified character learning app to date.

- Felix on behalf of team Vividize

User Testimonials

"Vividize has helped me to learn to write and read Chinese easier because of the short and memorable animations with step by step progression to more complicated characters. I recommend Vividize if you have just started learning Chinese, or if you already have studied it for a while."
Juho Uusitalo
"I am a beginner in Chinese, and I have been using Vividize for 1 month. So far, the experience has been surprisingly good! The animations and GIFs used in the app helped me to remember Chinese characters easily. Very excited to share Vividize with my friends!"
Ceibon Son
"After testing many other applications, Vividize is now one of my favourites for learning and memorizing Chinese characters! I like its interface and simplicity."
Marwa Khamis

What our users say

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