Choose Your Language

Archive for July, 2012

In Good Company

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Much like many of our previous posts, we start with a big thank you, this time going to Apple. (Are we are very biased towards Apple at Innovative Language? You betcha. Their tools and platform facilitated our growth as a language learning company. This post could easily spiral into an all-out Apple fanboy extravaganza, but I will try to stay on point.)

Last month our friends at Apple added our family of language learning podcasts to the featured list on the Podcast Home Page.


Uncanny Timing – A Marketer’s Dream Come True

The timing was unreal, as it happened at the same time our community surpassed a Bunch of Big Benchmarks. Read the blog post here. (link to benchmark post here title Out From the Depths of the Innovative Language Learning Lab - Part Two )

Properly positioned, benchmarks can motivate teams and excite supporters and communities. They are something to be proud of, reflected on and celebrated. However, the recognition and driving force for these commemorations originate internally. It’s usually up to the people, or marketing teams, passing the benchmarks to spread the word.

External recognition is very different. It says and means a lot that someone thinks highly enough of your work to share with others. When we heard the news that our friends at Apple would be adding us to the Podcast Home Page we were a more than bit blown away. We’ve had many amazing acknowledgements and endorsements of our products over the years, but it was pretty surreal to see not just one of our products, but rather, our language learning brand, getting the spotlight.

Take a look at our new neighbors. That is some lineup!

So how did we get up there?

Well, while I don’t know the exact formula, I do know the following things didn’t hurt our chances.

Our body of work in the Podcasting/Videocasting Arena:

- Over 7 years’ podcasting

- Over 50 Language Learning Podcasts

- 26 active (updated at least once weekly) “101″ language learning podcasts

- 4 million+ downloads a month

- Videos and HD videos, which look great on Apple TV, on each feed

While we’re not a media empire, in the podcasting arena, we do have a rather extensive Podcasting/Videocasting lineup.

Our network in the space

Over the years we’ve been fortunate to meet some pretty incredible people who have supported and helped promote our podcasts and videocasts. Their advice and support have been indispensable, and without it, it’s safe to say we would not occupy that prime piece of e-real estate.

Our community 

By learning with us and participating in the community, your support has allowed us to continually grow and bring better and better products to market. Thank you!

Team and Alumni

It’s reflection time, again! Again for the body of work you participated in, but this time for external recognition. Thank you! This achievement is not possible without you.

Out From the Depths of the Innovative Language Learning Lab - Part Two

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Peter here! Want to know how and why it all started? Read today’s blog post to find out more about our humble beginnings. Thanks for stopping by to read and leave a comment to say hello!

A Bunch of Big Benchmarks


200 Million Lessons Delivered, 150K YouTube Subscribers, and 50K Facebook Fans

Last month we hit all of these benchmarks.

These are 3 remarkable feats that everyone with a connection to our company and product should take a minute to reflect on and be extremely proud of.

But what does all of this mean?


  • For the PR people, a press release!
  • For the marketing team, a sale.
  • For the tech team, something about server load balance,
  • and for the financial guys, how is growth holding up?

For me, it is a chance to reflect.

The daily grind is grueling and our workload is no lighter because of these milestones, but these occasions give us a chance to climb out of the trenches and see how far we’ve come.

200 Million Now, but…it all started with one lesson

It’s kind of crazy. There were three things that fell into place to make the first lesson happen.

1. Aki Yoshikawa funding the show;

2. The first co-host, Natsuko, agreeing to do the show;

3. An acquaintance introducing me to a rehearsal studio, where we would record the shows.

1. I was a PhD student at a Japanese university working part-time at Aki’s translation company. Translation was her main business, but I noticed that she would sometimes entertain small pet projects. So I relentlessly pitched ideas to her every chance I had.  After about a year of this, one idea I had proposed appeared in a newspaper. That’s when she agreed to the next idea I pitched: Japanese language learning through podcasts.

2. Natsuko worked at the translation company. Her English is awesome, and she is very knowledgable. I knew she would be perfect! But…I had serious concerns about whether or not she would be worried about the exposure she would get by appearing in something so public. Some people really value their privacy! And if she said, “No,” the show was a no go! So, you could imagine I was very nervous before asking her. I had practiced my pitch, and came up with ways to rebut every concern she had. When the time came to ask her, she said, “Sure.” I was shocked! Reflecting back upon it, I think the fact that podcasting was still unknown helped my cause! In fact, I spoke to her recently and she had no idea her voice would go on to be heard by millions of people around the world!

3. Proper sound quality was achieved after an acquaintance at the company introduced us to a recording studio located near the office! We originally tried recording the lessons in an office room, but the quality was awful. He learned what were were trying to do, and he took us to the rehearsal studio where he would practice his shamisen (Japanese instrument) during his lunch hour. The place was close to the office, and the rooms were soundproof. The first lesson was recorded at the studio in the morning. Then it was edited back at a desk in a corner of Aki’s translation company in the afternoon, and sent out to the world by the end of the night!

You can listen to it below. Yes, that’s me and Natsuko!

The First Website

The lesson went out through an RSS feed on our first website, I still remember launching the first website. Flipping through the how-to-build-a-website book, I somehow managed to get it operational. However, was a static website, so there was no way to leave a comment. Which means, there was no way for me to know if people were even listening to the lessons. I had to log into the website as an admin and look at “bandwidth used” statistics to see if lessons were actually being downloaded! The first day, there was one. Or at least I thought I had one, until I figured out it was actually me that downloaded it. But from there, a few lessons in the first week in December 2005 to 200 million this month!

I was quickly, and thankfully, relieved of CTO duties when long-time friend, and fellow Innovative Language Learning Co-Founder, Eran Dekel joined our team 2 weeks later.

Appreciation for Those Who Got Us There

First to our community, we thank you! You’ve supported us in our journey from a Japanese language learning company to a leading digital language learning company. We can only say thank you for your support, patience, and understanding. It wasn’t always a smooth ride, but we have done and will continue to do our best to continue to provide innovative language learning products.

To our current team and all of our alumni, thank you! Please take a moment to reflect on the body of work we have created together. From the breakthroughs to the blowups, we value everything you have and continue to contribute to the community products and company. It has been a remarkable ride and we can only hope you are as proud as we are. We congratulate you, and please take a moment to congratulate one another.

Still A Lot of Work to Do

In early July, we launched 6 new language websites: Bulgarian, Finnish, Filipino, Norwegian, Turkish and Vietnamese. That’s a total of 27 language websites and products in 36 languages. (We also just quietly launched Korean, Cantonese and English Premium Plus products).

Is there more to do?

Of course, but thanks to your hard work and hunger to learn and apply, we’ve grown into a global language company. We started as a Japanese language learning company, and have evolved into a leading digital language learning company.There is a story behind every benchmark. I plan to continue sharing ours with you.

Listen to the very first lesson here.

The Recipe Behind Our Growth and Why We Continue to Add New Languages

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Peter here again. Today I want to share with you something I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time. It’s an honest look into why we do what we do here at Thanks for stopping by to read!

Financial Freedom through Teaching Bulgarian

On July 2nd 2012, our team launched a Bulgarian language learning website:! We worked just as hard, just as long and put in just as much passion on this language site as we did all of our previous websites!

Do we expect a financial windfall now that Bulgarian is live?

The Harsh Business Reality

No. In fact, early indications are that this language will not return our investment for a long, long time. If ever. Growth projections are currently angled at about 1 degree.

The plot thickens. We didn’t just launch 1 niche language on July 2. Our team actually launched 6 new language learning websites. And much like Bulgarian, we worked very hard to bring a good product to market.

But will we turn a profit on these languages?

Good question! We’re not sure quite yet. Each language is unique and the market is always changing, but some are definitely more profitable than others.

 The Danger for Some Languages is that the Economics Don’t Make Sense

I remember speaking with a business mentor. He is beyond successful and one of the savviest business people I have personal contact with.

We went over our bottom-line numbers language by language. He looked at them, and then drew a line through all of the unprofitable languages and circled the profitable languages.

“Abandon these,” he said, pointing to the crossed-out languages.

“Focus on these,” he said, pointing to the circled languages.

Needless to say, there weren’t many circled languages. And the sad part about the situation for many niche languages, is that he was right. It’s not profitable or practical to take on these languages. It’s a better business decision to invest in the bigger, more profitable languages.

Without investment, innovation in language learning material slows. Other, more profitable, languages get more investment. More competition leads to better and more widespread tools, and the number of students increases.

In the end, we didn’t take my friend’s sound business advice, but instead produced content for several unprofitable languages and continue to do so.

So Why On Earth Invest in Small Niche Languages that May Never Be Profitable?

That was a question to which I had to give a lot of consideration. I think the best way to explain it is to explain our thought process, which is kind of like a recipe.

Thought Process Recipe:

1 part passion

1 part competitiveness

1 part emotion

1 part familiarity

1 part business sense

and a dash of arrogance…er…I mean hope.

Add lots of sleep deprivation and do not expose to investors!

A Closer Look At the Parts

1 Part Passion

It’s cliche, but we really do like languages. Almost everyone here at the company speaks two languages, with the average being 2.5. We work with people around the world, and have made many connections and friendships.

1 Part Competitiveness

We’re pretty competitive at our core. If someone is doing it, we often challenge ourselves to put forth a competitive product. Said another way, if someone’s doing it, we’re trying it too. And we want to be the best of breed in the language learning field.

1 Part Emotion

Several of our languages were chosen because of personal connections or relationships. We have created language learning content because team members or fans have made compelling cases for it. We have juggled the order in which a language was created because of a team member.

1 Part Familiarity

Creating awesome content is what we do well. And sometimes it just easier if your team is structured in a way that sticks to what you’re good at.

1 Part Business Sense

In order to be a legitimate language learning company, you need to cover a lot of languages. The big ones will be profitable, but you’ll need some smaller, less profitable and unprofitable languages in your portfolio.

A dash of arrogance…er…I mean hope!

When my business friend told us to abandon some languages, a part of me definitely felt like we could prove him wrong. We didn’t. But…my competitive nature is one of the driving forces behind why we move so fast and cover so much ground.

There has been a lot of good that has come from this, but also a fair share of hiccups. With every new product and website we release, we learn more about ourselves and what’s important to us. On the dark days where we feel like we’re wasting our time, we refer back to the numerous emails from fans thanking us for paying attention to their often neglected language. That helps to rekindle our motivation to drive forward.