It is no secret that Spanish is the second language of The United States, neither is it any secret that English is the second language of Latin America. In many cases, fluent English is necessary for employment or advancement, and in almost every case is considered an advantage in a competitive workforce. Though there are many ways that workers become proficient in English—from living abroad and travel, formal academics, or commercial language schools to software, audio recordings or even auto-didactics; traditional methods have usually left something to be desired, leading to both high course dropout rates, or lack of proficiency even after completion.
Open English, a company founded in 2005 by Venezuelan entrepreneur Andres Moreno along with his friend Wilmer Sarmiento and now headquartered in Miami, Florida is reinventing the way English language is taught for over 100,000 students by combining the benefits of internet based distance-learning with live instructors interacting with students in real time. Moreno already ran a successful English language school but saw flaws in the existing, traditional teaching methodologies.
“We focused on re-inventing the English learning experience. Before, students would be handed some textbooks and photocopies and sit in a classroom with a non- native English speaker teaching the course. We are offering the convenience of anytime, anywhere English language education with a live, native English speaking teacher as long as you have in internet connection,” explains Moreno. “We offer access to native American teachers, class groups of three students, and instead of a stack of books and photocopies you have hundreds of hours of interactive courseware available to the student at anytime.”
When asked how he chose this career path, Moreno explains: “My father was in the Organization of American States (OAS), so we did lots of travel growing up.” Being in a diplomatic family, Moreno moved frequently, living in nine different countries as diverse as Slovenia to Scandinavia, Chile, Dominican Republic, and Peru. “I got a good appreciation for the power of language,” says Moreno of his upbringing.
Starting with $700
The potential of Open English was realized early on by the venture capital community. Moreno traveled from Venezuela—the first time with $700 in his pocket—during the early stages to raise money from investors who were looking to expand their international focus that had traditionally been on Asia, to The Americas. “We started with fifteen and twenty thousand dollar checks. We traveled to California to meet with angels,” says Moreno. In 2010, the company had 5,000 students. By the end of 2012, there were 65,000 students. “We have a very steep growth trajectory.” In April, 2013, Open English announced an additional $65 million in funding, bringing the total capital to $120 million and a company valuation of $350 million—A far cry from the initial checks written by the (now very happy) early stage investors.
Still, Open English is a very young company with a lot to offer both executives who want to polish or perfect English skills working with a native English speaker to a student or aspiring outsourcing employee working on job skills and basic competency. The pricing model brings one-on-one instruction within the reach of the average Latin American consumer. “We are B2C,” explains Moreno. “So we don’t focus on B2B marketing but there is an important portion of our student body that is motivated by employment or advancement…We have a lot of exciting projects and expansion plans.”
Those expansion plans are impressive. Not only has Open English already launched in Brazil, having perfected their delivery model, they are now actively targeting the domestic “ESL” or English as a Second Language market for immigrants who need to gain a business level proficiency in English. Moreno realizes that the key to success is not in selling to Wall Street as much as selling to customers. In an interview recently given to CNN, Moreno told the audience that their strategy is not to lose focus on operations or objectives. “It’s possible for you to reach a high level, but it’s important that you concentrate on business first, and grow [that base] in the early stages because that is proof of concept and it is what is going to help you to reach the second round.”
As nearshore economies continue to grow and mature, it is important that executives and employees at all levels are aware of the various methods and means available for learning English, just as it is important for native English speakers to learn the other languages of The Americas. Open English is an innovative new option that can be used not just by companies or executives, but by anyone with a computer and internet access to increase his or her quality of life and to add a skill that today is practically mandatory for success or advancement in The Americas, or elsewhere on the globe.