A family move to Mumbai in his early teens gave Hank Breckenridge an appreciation for unfamiliar surroundings, the young entrepreneur from Leawood said.
“While I lived in India, I got super interested in learning about different cultures and little bits of different languages. I had friends from 13 different countries and actually learned how to say ‘duck’ in each of their languages,” said Breckenridge, who graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School in 2019 and is now a sophomore at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Furthering his passion for language, Breckenridge founded NAMA — a language-learning, messaging application that uses Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3).
What is GPT-3? It’s a state-of-the-art language model made up of 175 billion parameters and generates text using algorithms that are pre-trained.
GPT-3 can create anything that has a language structure — it’s able to answer questions, write essays, summarize long texts, translate languages, take memos and create computer code.
“Users are able to learn a language just by messaging the friends they already message,” Breckenridge explained. “We use GPT-3 for a chatbot AI that users can message with, and it has more structured learning within it. So that’s one of our most powerful features right now.”
With NAMA’s application of the advanced technology, Breckenridge said he sees the app as a tool to pick up where the popular language-learning application Duolingo leaves off.
“We have the capabilities and the power to completely change the way that people go about learning the language,” Breckenridge said. “Duolingo has already done that to some extent, but they’re pretty limited. I think [NAMA] is a very natural next step to Duolingo because you take what you learn there, and you come and practice it with us to refine your skills. It’s really an immersive experience.”
Along with a learning experience, NAMA is a platform for users across the global spectrum to connect with one another, Breckenridge added.
“The passion comes from being able to connect people in a new way. We don’t just have to learn on the app; it can be a platform for communication. If I wanted to message a friend in China and we don’t speak each other’s language — I could message them in English and they could message me in Chinese, and we would each see the messages in our native language.”
As a full-time college student studying computer sciences and statistics, Breckenridge praised his small team — Nico Lopez (a Facebook engineer) and Jörg Doku (an ex-Facebook AI/ex-Google Brain research engineer) — for their help with developing and updating the app. Breckenridge’s mentor, a serial entrepreneur who remains behind the scenes, provides funding for the venture.
The team had plans to launch NAMA on the Apple App Store at the end of January, but Reddit and Discord proved to be more powerful platforms.
“We did a demo launch on Reddit using TestFlight; we just posted a link [on Reddit] and got about 50 users in two hours,” Breckenridge shared. “Then we realized that we don’t really need to launch on the App Store right now.”
TestFlight is an online service for over-the-air installation and testing of mobile applications. It’s currently owned by Apple Inc and only offered to developers within the iOS Developer Program.
“We want to prove the concept more and refine our product before we really go live,” he continued. “TestFlight gives us the control we would like to have in that with the number of users and who gets what build and how fast we can push things out. We can have code on our computer downloaded onto someone’s phone in 30 minutes with TestFlight, whereas it would take multiple days with the App Store.”
NAMA does not currently have a website, but Breckenridge encourages those who are interested to join the NAMA Discord channel where the team interacts with users and releases the newest versions of the application.
Click here to join NAMA’s Discord.
Post-grad plans are still far in the future for Breckenridge, he said, but he hopes to continue paving an entrepreneurial path and return to Kansas City.
“I plan on always having Kansas City be some sort of home base,” Breckenridge shared. “… It’s been a dream of mine to build a tech startup in Kansas City and give back to the community that’s given me so much.”