Between careers, serial entrepreneur Guy Cihi has skied to the North Pole, walked across the Taklamakan desert, climbed Mount Everest, driven a jet ski down the Amazon, and starred in a double platinum Konami RPG video game called Silent Hill II (one of the fan clubs on Facebook exceeds 4,000 members).
Nowadays, Guy spends his spare time at home with his family, focusing enterprising energies into his latest business venture, The Lexicca Word Engine.
How did the Word Engine come about?
The idea started with Dr. Brent Culligan’s thesis that words could be organized by difficulty and that by applying the correct algorithms we could scientifically arrange words in their rank order from easiest to most difficult. Over there I have stacks of special dictionaries on my bookshelf. I’ve got a finance dictionary, an insurance dictionary, a medical dictionary, a rock ‘n roll dictionary, I even have a sailing dictionary. All of them organize their words from A to Z. Brent figured out a scientific way to arrange all words in a precise order of how well-known they are to people. So instead of ‘A’ coming first, the most well-known word or the most well-known technical term comes first. Another good friend of mine and a brilliant linguist, Dr. Charlie Browne, explained to us how we could use the new science to create the ultimate lexical learning program. That’s how it started. Just three guys brainstorming.
Can you tell us more about how the Word Engine actually works?
Imagine a ‘magic’ dictionary where on the first page are words that any child knows. As you flip through the pages you pass through words that highschool kids know, then college, and so on up to words that only people who have Masters in that subject know. Keep flipping pages and eventually you’ll get up to words that only PhDs in that subject know. Putting that in print would kill it. It only comes to life in a database.So the Word Engine is basically a benchmarking tool. It assesses vocabulary knowledge by determining which specific words are known and which specific words are unknown to any one person. It prepares a personalized learning program for each learner. And it organizes test scores and learning progress reports for teachers and managers. Lexxica combines the two sciences of lexical difficulty and lexical frequency. We compare the words you already know to the words required to score well on a particular exam. With Word Engine, people only learn the words that they don’t already know. That’s what makes it fast and efficient.
The Word Engine teaches new words using a method called spaced-repetition. It’s an approach that effectively tricks your brain into thinking, “oh wow, this word occurs practically everywhere so I’d better remember it.” And it automatically organizes your words for specific subjects and uses the spaced-repetition to instill long-term memory.
Who is using Lexicca’s Word Engine?
We designed the Word Engine as an ideal supplementary program for use outside of a class or office, and that’s why it works on mobile phones in particular.
A number of top Japanese universities have introduced the program to their students and several textbook publishers including Cambridge University Press are using it to support their books. We call them hybrid textbooks—a mix of printed text with online support.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs here in Japan?
Choose your business wisely! Be clear about your dream; your life’s passion. If you dream of opening a low-risk retail type business like, for example, a ramen shop, I suggest that you think it through carefully before you start. Maybe running a successful ramen shop will become a nightly grind, not to mention leaving you smelling like, well, ramen! But hey, if that’s your dream, go for it. I like niche businesses I can start with friends. Businesses that employ statistics and software but aren’t so complicated that I can’t take long holidays with my family. I’ve done ten and sold six. The largest had close to 5,000 people when I sold out. The others are bubbling along nicely, but Lexxica is definitely my favorite.
Lexicca Word Engine