Spotlight: Live Lingua’s Founder Turned a Quarter-Life Crisis into a Successful Business

Some business owners see a clear path to entrepreneurship from the start. But this was not the case for the founder of Live Lingua. Instead, he started out with a steady job in the corporate world. So it wasn’t until a quarter-life crisis hit that he knew he was destined for something bigger. Read the twists and turns of his journey in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Offers an immersive language learning solution.

CEO Ray Blakney told Small Business Trends, “My company, Live Lingua, offers an engaging and novel approach to learning a new language. Live Lingua’s online language learning platform connects users who want to become fluent in Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and more with their own hand-selected, native-speaking, certified tutor for teaching sessions via online video chat.”

Business Niche

Offering a full-service experience with quality teachers.

Blakney says, “In contrast to the many language teacher directories that make users search through countless tutors (many of whom don’t have credentials) to find the best one, Live Lingua does all of the work. As a full-service online language school, Live Lingua provides the same level of support to students that a physical school would, at just a fraction of the price. Every single teacher at Live Lingua must have a college degree and pass an extensive screening process that contains interviews, trial sessions, and application exams.”

How the Business Got Started

After a series of major life changes.

Blakney explains, “I had a quarter-life crisis where I saw myself sitting in a cubicle and writing code for the next 40 years. It was not the life I wanted to live. Within a few days of this epiphany, I had applied to join the US Peace Corps as a volunteer. Within three months, I had quit my almost-6-figure job, sold my condo and all my worldly possessions, and was on a plane to Mexico where I would help indigenous communities in the south of the country.

“While in Mexico, I met my wife and after I completed my two years in the Peace Corps. We decided to try our hand at a business together. In 2008, we launched a brick-and-mortar Spanish language immersion school with only $2000 to our name. Thankfully, our school was successful from day one and was fully booked after just a few weeks.

“Then we faced a major challenge in March 2009: the Mexican swine flu crisis. This pandemic caused the borders of Mexico to close. And most of our school’s students were from outside of the country and had to cancel their teaching sessions. My wife and I did not have enough funds to keep our school operating much longer. So it was absolutely essential to pivot our business model.

“At this point, my wife suggested reaching out to our previous pupils to see if they would be interested in doing teaching sessions via Skype. This ended up working very well. So I decided to create a website offering classes, just to test out the idea and see if anyone would want to sign up. Our startup costs were just $59.99 US to create a website.”

Biggest Win

Receiving major recognition.

Blakney says, “In 2015, Entrepreneur Magazine chose Live Lingua as one of the best small businesses in the US (E360 award). This was very exciting for me, as it was a testament to how much our business is making an impact in the language learning realm.”

Biggest Risk

Leaving a secure job.

Blakney adds, “When I graduated from college, I was working as a software engineer making a good salary. I quit that job because I wanted more from life. The next step I took was joining the Peace Corps for a salary of just a few hundred dollars a month. This could have been a disaster for somebody in the fast moving technology field. But it led to me seeing the world in a different way, which in turn led me to starting Live Lingua.”

Lesson Learned

Let your team lead.

Blakney says, “One thing I wish I knew at the beginning of my business journey was to look for leaders within my team earlier on and nurture them. When we are in a leadership position, we sometimes forget that we may not always be there, at least not in the same role we are now in. If we are in a larger company, we may be promoted or move to another department. If we are the owner of our own business, we may get to the point that we no longer want to run the day-to-day operations, or at least want help so we can pursue other projects.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Trying new marketing strategies.

Blakney adds, “I would use it to test other marketing channels to see which ones would work for us and help us grow our business.”

Favorite Quote

‘If they were to write a book about your life, would anybody want to read it?’ — Unknown

Blakney originally heard this quote in a commercial for the U.S. Navy before starting Live Lingua. He explains, “This was the quote that caused me to quit my almost-6-figure salary job as a software engineer and set off on that path that made me a location-independent entrepreneur. I pictured myself sitting in a cubicle writing code for the next 30 years. And realized I did not want my life’s book to be about that.”

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Image: Live Lingua, Ray and Laura Blakney

This article, “Spotlight: Live Lingua’s Founder Turned a Quarter-Life Crisis into a Successful Business” was first published on Small Business Trends