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  • Who am I to Co-Found a Language School?

    Who am I to co-found an online language school? I sometimes wonder this myself, and I think that a lot of language educators would be skeptical of my background. I have a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, with a focus on creative writing, and a bachelor’s degree in Communications, with a focus on journalism.

    Before co-founding LOI, I worked as a reporter for 5 years at small newspapers in Montana, managed a group of websites related to tourism in the U.S. and Canadian Rockies, waited tables, worked front desk at a hotel, spent 6 years in the Army National Guard. You get the idea, none of it was related to language learning.

    So how did I get here? It’s a good story.

    In 2008, my wife, Teauna, and I quit our jobs in Montana, put our house up for rent, and moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We didn’t have a definite reason for doing this, but we knew we wanted to experience living outside the United States, to improve our Spanish, and to try living in a big city. We figured we’d go for a few months.

    It didn’t take us long to realize that we wanted to stay in Buenos Aires for more than just a few months, and that to stay, we needed jobs. I found a job writing for a group of tourism websites, and Teauna got work teaching at an English school in our neighborhood. She didn’t have a background in English teaching either – she has a BFA in Theatre with a focus on directing, and worked previously as a sales manager at a ski resort. But the school really needed a native speaker, and we needed work, so Teauna learned on the job.

    Over the next year, Teauna developed a love for English teaching, and I advanced at my job, eventually learning how to build websites in WordPress and managing a group of about a dozen tourism sites. In the meantime, both of us began 1-to-1 Spanish classes in person with Gisela Carreras. She’s a great teacher, and really got us to fall in love with Spanish and language learning (she’s now our director at LOI Spanish).

    In the meantime, Teauna and I were on Skype, talking to our family in the United States. We spent a lot of time talking to my brother Luke about ideas for businesses. I had the ability to build websites now, and at the time it seemed like that and an idea were all you needed to start a business.

    Over the course of 2009 we experimented with several business ideas, none of which produced anything interesting. Then, in December of that year Teauna and I were up late talking one night, and everything came together. We had started to get a glimpse of the global demand for English language learning, I knew how to build websites, Teauna could teach English, and we could connect with any student in the world via Skype.

    Our initial plans were small. We mostly thought Skype classes could fill Teauna’s scheduled during the holidays. But over the course of 2010, we saw more and more interest in the classes, to the point that we had to hire 2 teachers to help. After a month these teachers quit and tried to take all their students with them (thankfully they failed). We hired our next teacher, Muireann, who is still teaching with LOI today.

    During the fall of 2010, Teauna was stuck in another part of Buenos Aires because of traffic, and on the verge of missing a first class with a new student. I had taken many hours of Spanish classes by then, and had overheard a lot of Teauna’s English classes. So, I picked up the headset, contacted the student, and told him I’d be his teacher that day.

    From then on, I was fully committed to LOI. I started teaching classes on a regular basis, and found that I loved meeting students from around the world and teaching them what I knew about English. I saw the enthusiasm our students had for our classes, and realized that this was what I wanted to do.

    I eventually quit my other job, and devoted myself to LOI full time. This was not without consequences. Over the course of 2009 we lost our renter for our home in Montana, where the rental market had crashed due to the recession. It wasn’t long before we had to make a decision. Go back to the U.S. and get “real jobs” to keep our house, or stay in Buenos Aires and keep pursing LOI. We couldn’t afford our rent in both places. We decided to stay in Buenos Aires, right up until November of 2010, and stayed committed to LOI. In November 2010 we returned to Montana to sell our house.

    Shortly after arriving in Montana we discovered we were pregnant with our first child. Around the same time we sold classes  to 50 new students through Spanish daily deal site Groupalia (it’s similar to Groupon). So, by January Teauna and I were each giving 10-12 hours of classes per day – we’d sold our classes so cheap through Groupalia that we had to teach them all. By April our home sold and we moved into a small apartment – but LOI kept growing.

    The company grew quickly in 2011, and by 2012 I had mostly stopped teaching so that I could focus on managing, marketing, and building our own scheduling and curriculum management system. Also, we have an amazing group of teachers these days who are much more experienced and qualified than I am.

    These days I continue to teach a few hours per week, mostly because I enjoy it, but also because I like to stay close to the students and know what our classes are like for them. I also have been taking Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin classes via Skype for the last five years.

    Ultimately, I think the biggest reason why I am a co-founder of an online English school is that I enjoy teaching and learning this way, and my ultimate goal is to build the online language learning system that I dream of using myself. This isn’t a goal that we’ll really reach – it’s going to be a constant process of refinement and improvement.