Pleco Software was founded in May of 2000 by Michael Love. Michael had spent most of the year living and studying in China, and having a rather poor memory he found it extremely difficult to expand his vocabulary in Chinese, particularly since every time he forgot a word it would take him several minutes to look it up in a traditional paper-based Chinese dictionary. Inspired by a device he saw in a market in Zhongguancun, he threw together a makeshift Chinese-English dictionary on his Palm IIIx, using an off-the-shelf Chinese OS and handwriting recognizer and the free CEDICT dictionary.
When some of his fellow students started buying their own Palms just to run this little hack of his, he realized there might be a good business move here, and thanks to some forward-thinking people at Oxford and Motorola he soon managed to secure the necessary licenses for Pleco’s first product, a Palm OS version of the very popular Oxford Concise English & Chinese Dictionary. Originally intended only as a part-time college business, by the time Michael was ready to graduate, Pleco was generating enough revenue to be a full-time job, so he turned Pleco into a full-fledged company and hired himself as its first employee.
We’ve been growing steadily since then, moving from platform to platform as the mobile market changed – Windows Mobile in 2004, iPhone in 2009 and Android in 2011. We’re one of only a handful of companies to successfully survive from the antediluvian era of mobile software to the present day, and one of an even smaller number who’ve managed to allow customers from our old platforms to keep using their purchases on our new ones – we take a tremendous amount of pride in the fact that we have customers from 2001 still using their purchases on their brand new smartphone 12 years later. This also effectively makes us one of the oldest e-book stores in the world, predating Kindle and iTunes by several years.
We’ve also been adding lots of features and new licensed dictionaries along the way – from that first Oxford dictionary our collection has now expanded to more than a dozen – and can even take credit for pioneering a few now-widely-used innovations; we led the way in developing the concept of an “all-in-one” dictionary that combined Chinese fonts / handwriting input / flashcards / audio / multiple dictionaries in a single app, and in 2010 we received a ton of press coverage as the first company to launch a live Chinese OCR system.
Every day, millions of people in (at least) 180 countries use our software to help them study and communicate in Chinese.
We pronounce it with a long E, like plee-co, which means we should probably type it with a macron (but that just looks silly). It’s the nickname of a type of aquarium catfish (scientific name Hypostomus plecostomus) that Michael had several of when he was a kid, a stylized example of which graces our company logo. We think it’s actually supposed to be pronounced pleck-o but he’s been saying it the other way since he was 10 and he’s not changing it now.