Luis von Ahn is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Duolingo, among the most successful new-age tech companies. He was also part of the group that invented the vital CAPTCHA security program for websites and later created reCAPTCHA. Luis von Ahn’s net worth is estimated at around $1 billion in 2024

Let’s dive into his career, learn more about his net worth, and get into his life story to see what insights we can learn from von Ahn.

Luis von Ahn’s Net Worth Breakdown:

Since most of Luis von Ahn’s wealth derives from his stake in Duolingo, which he co-founded, his net worth is relatively easy to estimate. While he has sold some Duolingo shares over the years, according to regulatory filings with the SEC, he still holds a 9.2% stake in the company. Here’s how Luis von Ahn’s net worth breaks down:

Asset or Income Source Contribution to Net Worth
Duolingo stock $850 million
Duolingo compensation $750,000 per year
Other investments $100 million
Real estate $50 million
Total Net Worth $1 billion

Luis von Ahn Net Worth: Early Life of a Tech Mogul

Luis von Ahn was born on 19 August 1978 in Guatemala City. His mother was among the first women in Guatemala to complete medical school while his father was a well-known orthopedic surgeon. Luis von Ahn’s first brush with technology was when he was only eight and his mother bought him a Commodore 64 computer.

luis von ahn childhood
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When he applied to Duke University in the US, Luis von Ahn had to fly to El Salvador to take the TOEFL. He spent more than $1,200 on the trip, a huge sum at the time for someone in Central America. He was taken aback by the high cost of learning the English language and was inspired to fix it.

In 2000, von Ahn received his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Duke University and eventually earned his PhD in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005.

His doctoral thesis at university was based on human computation, laying the basis for CAPTCHA and subsequently reCAPTCHA. After his doctorate, von Ahn joined the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science as a faculty.

His joyful teaching style was popular among students and he went on to mentor 20 undergraduate students, most of whom successfully earned doctorates at MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Stanford University.

While teaching at the university, von Ahn thought about creating an educational app that could help people learn new languages. The idea was based on early experience with learning the English language and would later manifest itself in the form of Duolingo.

Luis von Ahn Net Worth: Inventing reCAPTCHA

In 2003, von Ahn created a game that involved pairing two players who were shown the same image. They then described the images and moved on to the next image only if their descriptions matched. The game was eventually sold to Google for an undisclosed amount but in an interview with CNBC, von Ahn said that the amount was “a couple million dollars”.

In 2007, von Ahn founded reCAPTCHA and was the company’s CEO between 2007 and 2009. This company was also acquired by Google for an undisclosed amount, this time for “tens of millions of dollars”, according to von Ahn.

recaptcha
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In 2009, von Ahn, along with his graduate student Severin Hacker, moved on to develop a language education platform. They formed a company named Duolingo and with von Ahn as the CEO, and Hacker as the chief technology officer.

Luis von Ahn’s Net Worth: Becoming a Billionaire

Luis von Ahn co-founded Duolingo in 2011 and incorporated the company in Pittsburgh. It’s unusual for tech companies to have their headquarters in Pittsburgh, a city better known for old-economy industries like steel. However, von Ahn believes that having its headquarters in Pittusburg instead of Silicon Valley has helped the company attract talent

Duolingo continued to grow over the years with backing from venture capital companies including Durable Capital Partners. In 2021, the company went public through the traditional IPO route pricing the shares at $102. Incidentally, 2020 and 2021 were record years for the US IPO markets and a flurry of growth companies went public, with many choosing the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger route.

duolingo ipo
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Almost all the companies that went public in that period through SPAC reverse mergers currently trade at a fraction of their IPO price, yet Duolingo stock currently trades at twice the levels that it priced the IPO.

While many growth companies continue to battle perennial losses, Duolingo became profitable in 2023. The rise in Duolingo stock has meant that von Ahn’s net worth has also risen – he holds a 9.2% stake in the company.

Von Ahn is now betting on artificial intelligence to drive Duolingo’s growth and last year launched a new subscription tier that incorporates the new AI model from OpenAI – GPT-4 – to improve students’ experience during their virtual learning process.

Luis von Ahn Net Worth: Other Assets and Investments

According to Pitchbook, Luis von Ahn has invested in three startup companies. These are:

  • Education software company Trala
  • Business software company OtterTune
  • Productivity software company Gridwise

We don’t have any publicly available information on his investments in stocks and bonds. However, he’s not a fan of cryptocurrencies and digital assets, confirming this in a pointed tweet in 2023:

However, while von Ahn might have his own opinion of cryptocurrencies, many celebrities and billionaires have embraced the asset class. Bitcoin prices incidentally hit record highs earlier in 2024 and continued their run from the previous year.

Von Ahn has however made some real estate deals. A trust managed by him bought a five-level, 7,000-square-foot mansion in Chelsea for a record $22.5 million. In 2023, he bought a four-bedroom house on Fairview Road in Pittsburgh for $6.3 million.

Luis von Ahn’s Awards and Accolades

Luis von Ahn has won several awards in recognition of his work. These include:

  • In 2006, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “genius” grant
  • In 2007, he was awarded a Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship
  • In 2008, he was named on of the 50 Best Brains in Science by Discover
  • In 2009, he was chosen as the person of the year by Siglo Veintiuno, one of the biggest newspapers in Guatemala
  • In 2010, he featured on the Fast Company’s 100 Most Innovative People in Business
  • In 2012, he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers
  • In 2017, the Inter-American Dialogue awarded him the Distinguished Leadership Award for Innovation and Social Impact
  • In 2018, he received the Lemelson-MIT Prize for his groundbreaking inventions in global computer technology

Along with other awards, he also has a total of 13 patents to his name.

Luis von Ahn’s Philanthropy

In 2021, von Ahn founded a private philanthropic foundation named the Luis von Ahn Foundation. According to the foundation’s website, “it is committed to a future where all Guatemalans are equally valued, can thrive and are able to fully exercise their human rights.”

It adds, “We believe that the status of our democracy, social and economic development, and inclusive growth of our individuals and communities depend heavily on the advancement of women and girls and the protection of the environment they live in.”

The foundation has three areas of focus: nature conservation, women’s equity and empowerment, and democracy and participation of citizens.

What Can We Learn from Luis von Ahn’s Life?

With an estimated net worth of $1 billion and multiple awards and patents to his name, von Ahn is among the most successful immigrants in the US. Luis von Ahn has gone on to help many others learn English and other languages despite struggling with English as a child, with Spanish as his mother tongue.

His mission as described on his LinkedIn page is equally inspiring. “I plan to dedicate my life to building a future in which, through technology, every person on this planet has access to the best quality of education. And not only that, but a future in which people want to spend their time learning,” writes von Ahn.

In the interview with CNBC, he also talked about a novel technique that he used for hiring executives at Duolingo. He said that he paid drivers for feedback whenever a potential executive-level hire took a car from the airport to the office for job interviews.

“Normally, most people are just perfectly fine, but we have not made offers to very, very qualified, competent people because they were nasty to our driver,” said von Ahn. This way he has been able to select candidates who fit with Duolingo’s culture.

Finally, von Ahn has not rested on his laurels – even though he became a millionaire at quite a young age, he has continued his journey going on to confound Duolingo, now a popular app across the world with 500+ million Play Store downloads plus more in App Store.