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Archive for the ‘Founder's Blog’ Category

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.

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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 InnovativeLanguage.com, 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

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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?

Well,

  • 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, JapanesePod101.com. I still remember launching the first website. Flipping through the how-to-build-a-website book, I somehow managed to get it operational. However, JapanesePod101.com 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 InnovativeLanguage.com. Thanks for stopping by to read!

Financial Freedom through Teaching Bulgarian

On July 2nd 2012, our team launched a Bulgarian language learning website: BulgarianPod101.com! 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.

Small Business Corporate Culture - All Hail the Fun Czarina!

Monday, June 25th, 2012

All Work and No Play

In the beginning, there were a lot of long hours, last trains and the occasional office sleep over! We worked hard, but played…not so much. I definitely deserve much of the blame for that. Seeing the world through sleep-deprived eyes tends to give one tunnel vision. And if you spend too much time focusing on external matters, the internal ones can be easily overlooked.

Don’t mistake these for excuses. My short-coming on the all-work-no-play front was due to inexperience.

More Work and Some Play

I knew the fun quota had to be raised. We had a team of amazing people at the company, and I felt guilty for not providing more opportunities to blow off some steam. We started with the basics: dinner, drinks and karaoke. Compared to late night dashes for the last train, this was a big step in the right direction. However, as time went on the purpose of these events strayed from the intended goal. Getting away from work was critical, but there had to be other ways to do it. I didn’t have the time to dedicate toward this, but I had ideas. I just needed someone who could take on the important, yet time-consuming role.

Rise of the Fun Czarina

A talented Human Resources person is worth their weight in gold, as catering to the diverse needs of the team is critical to overall happiness. However, most people at small businesses have to wear many hats. This was, and continues to be, the case for us. So, it was time to find the right person for the job. We put together a small challenge for the potential candidates, and the winner was hired as the Fun Czarina. (Czar is for males I was told.) You can follow her blog here.

More Meaningful Fun 

We calculated the amount spent on wining and dining, and allotted the Fun Czarina that same amount to plan monthly and bi-monthly events. The focus shifted from just spending time together to incorporating culture and learning experiences into the activities. The budget is spent much better now, and overall, I think that we’re giving our team new opportunities to experience life in Japan! Let’s be honest, it’s why most of us moved here in the first place! Japanese food is amazing, but there’s more to life here than just that.

For example, here is a comparison of events from 2011 vs. 2012

2011 - restaurant, restaurant, restaurant, restaurant

2012 - bowling/ping-pong-karoke, day trip to make soba and pick peaches, hot-spring trip

In addition, there are small monthly events that the Fun Czarina puts together in and outside of the office that focus on team members and Japanese culture.

Balancing Work and Play

I’m hardwired to work. If I put myself in charge of planning fun events for the staff, it would consume me. I know from experience. That’s when I realized it was better to have someone dedicated to planning for fun and let me focus on work. Instead of finding internal balance, it’s more like a see-saw: on one side work and on the other the other fun. Through this solution we have found a much better Work-Play balance.

And now I’m free to continue to pushing!

Be sure to tune into the Motoko’s Blog series to see what the Fun Czarina has in store for us!

Out From The Depths of the Innovative Language Learning Lab – Part One

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Peter here.

For many JapanesePod101.com learners, it’s been a long time.

For many others, please allow my to introduce myself.

My name is Peter Galante, founder of JapanesePod101.com: the engine that allowed Innovative Language Learning to grow from one website into a full-fledged language learning company.

For several years, I’ve been locked in the language-learning lab working on a colossal content project. We’ve made some serious strides since our inception, and several product prototypes have begun to reach market. Our creation will power innovative language learning products for many years to come.

We’re seriously excited about sharing these with you, because frankly, we owe you. Actually, we owe you everything. Your support has powered our growth from a podcast to a language learning company.

Thanks to all of the support from all of our incredible learners, we’re counting down to two major milestones:

  • 200 million lessons delivered
  • 27 language learning websites

So, I thought it was a good time to get my head out of my lab, and…

First, say “Thank You!”

Second, share our story of how we got here.

Rewind to the Start of the Revolution – December 2005

In the beginning, there was one person. Writing, recording, recruiting, improvising, persuading, coding… whatever it took to release a language lesson a day, I would do. Growth was exciting and motivating. The community grew. The team grew. Passion for our product and its reception fueled the expansion from one language to two, and we didn’t stop there.

Fast Forward to the Present Progress – May 2012

A team of 20 incredibly gifted full-timers, network of hundreds more around the world, and an alumni of extremely talented people have taken the company from a Japanese language company to a language learning company. From 1 site in 2005 to 23 (going on 27 in July) in 2012, plus several hundred iPhone and Android applications, e-books, and iBooks. In short, if there is a digital language learning market, we’re probably in it.

You can view the time line here.

The Journey is the Best Part

Along our journey, there have been some remarkable stories that were never shared. There were successes and failures that we never took the time to talk about. Not sharing the story of how we’ve bootstrapped our way to this point without outside funding or investment is one of the biggest regrets I have.

It’s a story of passionate and clever people who have been pushing themselves to the limit to provide high quality language learning material.

Share Our Journey  

Things are moving full-speed ahead. The goal of this series of blog posts is to introduce you to our team. Share our successes and failures as we strive to create a better product.

So, Part One: Say Thank You.

I would like to thank all the people who have supported us.

I would like to also thank all of the people that have helped build this.

We’ve met some incredible people in our journey, and we’re excited about the many others we’re destined to meet!