After watching the “Forks” episode of The Bear, our CEO and co-founder, Luis von Ahn emailed the whole company asking everyone to watch it. In the episode, Richie, played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach, is sent to work at a prestigious fine dining restaurant, where he spends the majority of his time begrudgingly polishing forks. 

Though it’s not as intense here at Duolingo (even if Duo wishes it was), we do strive to deliver an excellent experience to our learners all over the globe. If apps could have a Michelin star, we’d want to have three!

Below, Luis answers questions about what forks and fine dining have to do with Duolingo. 

So Luis, other than a commitment to excellence, what resonated with you about the episode, and why did you want Duos to watch? 

I wanted everybody in the company to watch that episode because it goes through how this world-class restaurant operates. And unless you've worked at one of these Michelin three-star restaurants, you don't realize what goes into giving that experience to people. 

It's similar to Duolingo. I think a lot of times people use our app and don’t realize the attention to detail that we have to put in to make it look and work the way it does. And it's not like Duolingo’s perfect, but it took thousands of hours of attention to detail to get to where we are. As Duos, we can also forget this—we end up working on our little piece of the puzzle, and we lose sight of all the excellent work that is essential to running the company. Everyone has a role, and everyone has to strive for excellence in that role.

There were a couple of themes in the episode that were interesting to me besides excellence, like leadership and owning up to mistakes. 

I did not love the part where the manager comes in and yells at everybody. But I do love owning up to your mistakes. I believe that we mostly have a culture where, when you mess up, you just say, “Hey, my bad.” I know there are work environments where, when you mess up, you basically try to figure out who to blame. I don't see that at Duolingo.

How do you think owning up to mistakes enables excellence?

Well, for one, it enables a non-toxic culture, which is important. But in addition to that, the reality is that you will make mistakes! I don't know anybody who doesn’t. What’s important is owning that you made a mistake and then doing better next time, which is why I like these “after-action reviews” we do.

Learning is important, and we try to not make the same mistake twice. Sometimes it’s inevitable, but if you strive for excellence, you’re learning from your errors and making adjustments for the future. We have a more experimental culture than a fancy restaurant—we encourage Duos to try things and take big swings. Those inevitably will come with failures. But if we can learn from those failures for our next big swing, then we’re more likely to succeed.

What do you think about the plaque on the wall that said, “Every second counts”? 

I love that. Urgency! Deadlines are important. When you're running a product and you're shipping things, if you start missing deadlines, the delays pile up and the product never gets better. So l'm big on doing things on time. 

What do you think of any similarities between running a restaurant and running a tech company?

They're pretty different in most ways. But what I like here—particularly of this restaurant—is just how much they look at detail. 

And by the way, this is a bit of a contrarian view. A lot of times in technology, product managers and startup people will tell you, “Perfect is the enemy of good.” They tell you, “Whatever, just throw something out there to users, the minimum viable product.” I don't believe that. I think that's what causes mediocre products.

If you actually look at what products are extremely successful, overwhelmingly they are excellent products. Spotify is an excellent product. Instagram is an excellent product. You look at them, and you’re like, “Wow, this is a well made, excellent product.” And I think that's what's required to succeed.

I wanted to know what is your favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh, and what is your favorite restaurant in New York?

In Pittsburgh, Duo’s Taqueria, no questions asked. In New York, I like The Grill. 

And which character in The Bear do you relate to the most?

Probably Sydney. You know, because I'm the boss, you could think that I'm the main chef. But he's a little too chaotic for me. I relate more to Sydney, because I think she wants order in life, while also striving for excellence.

If you want to work for a company that believes in excellence and attention to detail, we’re hiring! (No fork-polishing necessary.)