Why we started Learned By Me? (Hint: because we think we can improve language learning)

Statistically, failure is the most likely option for a startup and getting to that point can take long hours for years. This daunting fact in itself makes entrepreneurship seem like an irrational move to many. So why did we start Learned By Me, an online language learning social enterprise?

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Well, one of the most important reasons was that we saw a solution to a problem we felt was important to address.  Recognizing the inefficiency in foreign language learning in the U.S. does not take a rocket scientist. “Only 18% of Americans report speaking a language other than English, while 53% of Europeans…can converse in a second language.” It’s also fairly common knowledge and confirmed by academic studies that one-on-one tutoring is one of the best ways to improve students’ learning (though it is also extremely expensive at over $100/hour in some cities). Living in in Mali (West-Africa) after college, I saw excellent language teachers employed by international organizations like the U.S. Peace Corps and top local universities that were underemployed and were willing to give lessons at a fraction of the prices charged by tutors in the U.S..

Connecting underemployed teachers with students in search of quality, lower priced language tutors seemed like a no-brainer. We created a system that allows tutors to keep their day jobs and use our system to supplement their income during their off hours.  Because the cost of living differs incredibly from the U.S. to the developing world, we can price one-on-one video tutoring sessions at just $15 / hour, making them affordable to a part of the U.S. population that couldn’t afford professional private tutoring otherwise.

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So that all sounds great, right – we’re probably swimming on a bed of socially positive money, right? Well, not yet at least. We launched one-on-one Spanish lessons with top tutors from South America earlier this year and while we do have many happy students and a very high retention rate once students try a lesson, most American high school Spanish teachers still won’t return our calls and many parents and students are still highly skeptical. Amazingly, our low price actually elicits as much suspicion as it does excitement with many new customers, so we still have a long way to go in educating future customers about our service.

With a focus on the goal of improving the level of access and affordability of language acquisition and a small amount of affirmation every time a new student signs up and progresses, we continue to plug away and make progress. Our story is still very much to be determined…

Michael Frank

Michael is the Founder/CEO of Learned By Me, a global education technology startup. Previously, he worked in venture capital and consulting in the Bay Area and microfinance and social enterprise in West-Africa.

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