Talk! was born out of a need. I attended La Hora Del Cafe, which is a one hour casual Spanish chatting session at Georgetown, and I loved it. I thought it was a great way to learn a language, so I looked online for a similar offering. I was willing to pay for it, but no one was letting me. My disappointment turned into hope when I realized: Hey, if I want this service, then I’m sure other people do too...why not create it myself?
Since then, I have found a great teacher in Mexico who now serves as a Director and moderator in the Spanish department. We have been running our sessions for free, with a similar format to our future paid sessions, and we have been getting great feedback from customers.
For me, Talk! works on two levels: Yes, it’s a business, but it’s also a social good. The feedback we’ve gotten has encouraged us to bring the product to market, but it also brought a smile to my face to hear that many participants improved their Spanish in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to. What’s more, the people who work at Talk! are from developing countries. Wages abroad are often low compared to what people in the United States are used to--even at the minimum wage level. As a result, I know that however well Talk! does as a business, we will have enriched people in several other ways.
I have definitely learned that seed stage companies are not easy. Getting from zero to one, starting up the engine, doing “the hard thing about hard things”--whichever way you want to put it--it is much more difficult to be a new company than an established, rich company. While creating the actual product of Talk! is enjoyable, other sides of the enterprise are challenging.
For example: How do we get people to know about Talk! in the first place? Of course, that’s where marketing comes into play. But what is the best way to market a new service? And how does one do it without throwing money at the problem? The answer is that seed stage marketing without major investment requires gritty work. You have to get down and dirty to get the word out about your service.
Another interesting hurdle we have had to surmount is paying our Latin American workers. It’s amazing that even in 2020 it is difficult to pay people in Latin America. (Well, I guess that does make sense given how the rest of 2020 has gone!) Ontop, which recently got into Y-combinator, is one great company tackling that problem. They handle the legal and payment factors with respect to hiring contractors in Latin America from various countries.
I’ve already touched on it a bit, but capital is another issue with which seed stage companies have to wrestle. We have not considered venture capital investment yet. And I am wary of a venture capital firm taking a large stake in our company. But given the number of capital intensive projects a seed stage company needs to take on, it’s easy to see why venture capital is so important to the startup environment!
That’s getting a little ahead. Right now we are focused on the month of December at Talk!, which offers one hour sessions moderated by native speakers in which participants play games, talk casually, and learn about culture in the target language. Free for the month of December--we’re having fun and learning languages here at Talk!