Be realistic

OptiLingo is a revolutionary language-learning program

Please introduce yourself and your startup OptiLingo to our readers!

Hi! I’m Jonty Yamisha, the founder of OptiLingo. I’ve been exactly where you are now. Uncertain. Frustrated. Tired spending hours trying to learn a new language only to struggle with speaking a handful of words. And I’ve felt betrayed by programs and courses that were supposed to help me only to fall short of their promises. That’s why I created OptiLingo.

How did you get the idea of OptiLingo?

I spent 10 years learning the ethnic language of my parents, Circassian. After trying all the language learning methods out there, I created a system to teach myself the endangered language of my people so I could better connect to my family and the history and culture of my people. I developed a system to help fellow Circassians easily learn the language, and I began teaching them how to speak it. One day, I received an email from someone thanking me for teaching them how to learn Turkish. Which was funny because I didn’t speak Turkish. So, I messaged him to find out that he had used the systems I created to help others learn Circassian to teach himself Turkish. From that moment, I decided to create a language learning program that would help get people speaking, not typing, in a new language. 

Why did you decide to start with OptiLingo?

I wanted to help more people learn languages, and also generate a revenue stream to subsidize my non-profit foundation. For nearly a decade now, I’ve been running the Nassip Foundation (www.nassip.org) and developing language learning resources for Circassian.  One of our most ambitious projects was Little Aslan: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR-LZvjiobBiL2qKjCk08xg
Projects like these are absolutely critical to the Circassian language, but they are not cheap. With OptiLingo, I found a way to commercialize a decade of experience in a way that could help more people learn more languages while also helping to subsidize my personal investments into my nonprofit efforts.

What is the vision behind OptiLingo?

We want to make it easier for more people to learn more languages. Growing up as a kid, I was exposed to languages as diverse as: Arabic, English, Circassian, Hebrew, Russian, and Turkish. This means that I was exposed to all these cultures as well. We live in an increasingly polarized world. Helping people to learn more languages means helping people to understand more cultures. And if we can understand more people and speak to them in words they understand, maybe we can help to depolarize the world and promote dialogue, rather than division.  It may sound a bit cheesy, but as an ethnic and religious minority who is also the son of two immigrants, I believe it to my depths. 

How difficult was the start and which challenges did you have to overcome?

There is a huge divide between a good idea and a good business. I discovered that we actually run several mini businesses: We’re a back-end technology business that works with databases and machine learning to create scalable infrastructure. We’re a front-end, consumer technology business that also needs to work on UX and UI to create a product experience that we can be proud of. We’re also a content provider: We have over 1M words of content on our platform, and this spans across 21 languages! Finally, we’re our own marketing agency. Did I mention we also do our own customer support?! 

Who is your target group?

Anyone dreaming of learning a new language. 

What is the USP of your startup?

We get people SPEAKING (not typing) in a new language from the very first lesson. 

Can you describe your typical workday?

This is where I mention that there’s no “typical workday” right? Wrong. Yes, every day is different, but I often like to tell our team that we’re “not a startup”, but “a small business”. Don’t get me wrong, but I feel like the term “startup” gives founders the latitude to push people too hard, avoid profitability and generally try to defy the rules of business. While it’s technically true that we’re a startup, we’re also self-funded. We’re not “changing the world”, though I do believe we’re making an impact in our users’ lives.  

At any rate, as a small business, we have a measure of discipline that I think sets us apart from a lot of startups. We’re disciplined about the opportunities we prioritize, we’re disciplined about working on a sustainable basis, and we’re disciplined about how we communicate with one another. Our team is small, but we’re distributed across the US, Europe, and Asia. So, we use Basecamp as our primary communication and project management platform.

So while every day is a little different in terms of the challenges we face, each day starts the same: I check out where things stand with our team members across the world in Basecamp, and then I go on to respond to customer support issues and check our daily stats. (As the founder and CEO, I personally respond to every customer inquiry.) 

Where do you see yourself and your startup OptiLingo in five years?

Five years? How about five months? Joking aside, five years from now, I’d like to be doing exactly what I am doing today, but with more users and more languages. There’s not a single thing I’d change about where we are, other than increasing the scale of what we’re doing. We get requests every day to add more languages to our platform.  So five years from now, I’d like to be bigger and better, and just as close to our users as we are today. 

What 3 tips would you give other founders?

1. Be realistic: It’s unlikely you’re going to “change the world”, but you can affect the lives of your team members in very dramatic ways. Try to make that change for the positive, and avoid burnout.
2. Be disciplined: Focus, focus, and focus again. It’ll be easier to manage and more profitable to execute against. It’ll also help you to avoid burnout and increase sustainability, which is a great complement to #1 above.  
3. Remember that startups can’t break the rules of business: In the beginning, all businesses are cashflow negative. They need investment to grow. But avoid the temptation to measure your progress with vanity metrics. At the end of the day, you’re burning dollars today in the hopes of generating more dollars tomorrow. Do everything you can to shorten the duration of time necessary to get there. 

More information you will find here

Thank you Jonty Yamisha for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

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