Case Study: Building a Web Business from Scratch
Radio Lingua is an e-learning languages resource which has seen more than 30 million downloads of its podcasts since its launch in late 2006. New Media Knowledge spoke to the founder to find out how language learning online helped him give up the day job.
When Mark Pentleton founded e-learning site Coffee Break Spanish as a side-project to his work with a local authority in Scotland in late 2006 he always hoped to monetise it. In summer 2008, with 39 million downloads of his language class podcasts behind him, he finally gave up the day job to focus on his umbrella company Radio Lingua, which provides classes for all levels in Spanish, French, Italian and twelve other languages.
NMK tracked Mark down to find out how he managed to turn a hobby into a highly successful Web business.
What was the inspiration for Coffee Break Spanish?
I started as a language teacher in Glasgow teaching French and Spanish, and I always involved technology as much as possible as I found it motivated students. I built a very basic languages website in the mid-nineties but it was when I moved on to work with an initiative in Scotland called Partners in Excellence that I really got involved in creative technology and developing materials useful for young people wherever they were.
I found that there wasn’t a huge amount of language material out there in podcasting, beginners’ materials especially were very thin on the ground. So I thought it would make a fun project. I used some very basic recording equipment to start with and built the website myself and always planned to monetise it through the provision of downloadable materials additional to the free podcasts – pdf lesson guides, vocab, membership offers and so forth.
How did you market Coffee Break Spanish?
We didn’t have the budget to advertise on Google early on so we let iTunes do the work for us. When it achieved significant downloads it was noted on iTunes’ “New and Notable” section, which helped it gather even more listeners. It stayed there long enough to enter the iTunes charts and have users read reviews, which gave us even more visibility to get on the “Featured” page. We’ve got four or five of our podcasts on iTunes’ education featured section at the moment in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.
iTunes is the main vehicle for Radio Lingua’s podcasts. The blog is used to update members of new podcasts and materials but we don’t get as much traffic from it. We also now have a healthy membership area where premium subscribers to the podcast can access their materials and interact with the community.
How many ‘listeners’ do you have now and where do they come from?
We achieved our first million downloads within three months and there have now been 27 million downloads of Coffee Break Spanish. In 2007 average monthly downloads were 939,000 and in 2008 average monthly downloads were 1.3 million of Coffee Break Spanish. We run 22 courses in 15 different languages and have developed rapidly. In total there have been nearly 39 million downloads of our classes.
Around 70 per cent of our listeners come from the US, the UK is second and most of the rest are made from Australia, Germany, Canada, Norway and The Netherlands.
What’s the secret of your success?
I think what’s made us different is that all Radio Lingua’s presenters are professional language teachers. There are a lot of podcasts out there but we focus on providing content in a progressive way which learners can consume within their daily lives, for example, in their coffee break.
Are you doing anything on the social networking front to engage with your audience?
We’ve got a Facebook page for Coffee Break Spanish, Coffee Break French and Show Time Spanish, our advanced Spanish course. We don’t do anything on MySpace but we do run videos on YouTube. We use Tubemogul, which distributes our videocasts to a number of video sites and also gives us user metrics.
What’s next for Radio Lingua?
Having introduced our first video podcast, "Walk, Talk and Learn French" in January 2009, we're keen to develop further video content in Spanish and other languages. We're also currently developing new language-learning resources for children. We'll be introducing ten new One Minute Languages series and we're keen to see which of these may develop into full courses.