Peter Galante, originally from New York, started a podcast for Japanese learners in 2004 called JapanesePod101. In this exclusive interview, you will learn how Peter turned his podcast into a massive language learning empire called ‘Innovative Language’ that now employs 60 to 70 full-time workers and serves millions of people from all over the world. Innovative Language offers free content and paid courses for 34 languages and boasts over 10 million subscribers across its YouTube channels. They’ve built the largest library of digital language learning content
Some of the topics we discuss in this interview: – Peter’s story – How to overcome the fear of selling – The key to innovative language’s massive growth – How and when Innovative Language decides to add new languages – Should we build traffic organically or should we buy ads? – Should we go for high volume and low prices, or high prices with low volume? – The importance of having a mentor – Some of the most important lessons that Peter has learned building the company
How and why Peter got started
In the early 1990s, Peter’s family hosted a Japanese exchange student, which later inspired Peter to study Japanese at university. After he finished university he decided to go to Japan to study for a Ph.D. in economics. The plan was to get his degree, then return to New York to find a job, but things worked out differently.
While studying for his Ph.D. in Japan back in 2004, Peter stumbled across a new phenomenon called ‘podcasting’. The world of podcasting was a burgeoning one at the time, and Peter realized that the medium could be used as a great tool for language learning. He decided to start his own podcast to help people from all over the world learn Japanese, and he called it ‘’JapanesePod101’’.
‘’With my first podcast, I could bring people conversations that were going on in Tokyo, all over the world. This kind of content was not available when I started learning Japanese, so I had to share it with the world’’
The launch of JapanesePod101
When Peter launched the podcast in December 2004, he did everything by himself. He would show up at the office at 8 AM, write the script, find a native speaker to record the lesson with, record, edit, publish and then he had to leave to catch the last train home at 1AM. And he was doing it for a small audience of 300 people.
However, two weeks in, someone working at Apple highlighted the JapanesePod101 podcast on the top of the Apple Podcast page. Downloads of Peter’s podcasts suddenly rose from 300 downloads per day to 1 million downloads per month and rocketed his podcasts to the top of the Education section almost overnight.
When Peter started his podcast, there were very few Japanese podcasts out there. Those that did exist did not have a very high production level and did not publish new episodes very frequently. Conversely, even though he was doing everything by himself, Peter still managed to publish 30 new episodes per month. As his audience grew, Peter also started receiving positive feedback from his listeners in the form of emails and reviews.
‘’Receiving positive feedback at the beginning stages was really important for me to get this project off the ground’’
Overcoming the fear of selling
At the beginning of 2015, Peter asked an old school friend to join the project as a business partner. This friend would focus on the technology side of the podcasting operation, so that Peter could focus on content creation. As the number of downloads went up, costs increased as well. The pair realized that in order to cover costs, they needed to start charging listeners for some of their content, but they found it extremely difficult to ask for money. It took a month of discussion to finally flip the switch and start selling. Peter says that having a mentor who helps you to get the right mindset is crucial. He realized that;
‘’If people support me with their money, as long as I invest the money in making the product even better, that’s what really helps me feel better’’
All new content was for free for the first two weeks, then it would go behind a paywall. Peter and his business partner were very nervous about how their audience would react, but surprisingly, most people were very supportive!
‘’Your fans want you to succeed! Charge for your products because the money coming in will give you more tools to make what you’re doing even better’’
Peter Galante in his ”hometown”; Tokyo!
Finding top-notch talent
Peter says that having enough funds to hire top-notch talent has been key when it comes to Innovative Language’s massive growth. It’s difficult to find talent to hire if you’re small. If you work in a big company you can call HR, but Peter didn’t have an HR department to rely on back then. Peter and his business partner learned that there was another way to find super-talented people who want to contribute and help you grow – to look inside your own community.
‘’Your community could be one of the most important places to find someone who can help take you to that next step’’
Adding languages based on the talent they found
Peter and his team didn’t choose their next language to teach by focusing on which one would be the most profitable for the business. Instead, they decided to add new languages to their curriculum based on the talent that they found, and the language those people could teach. After a year in business, they interviewed a Korean teacher and gave him the task of duplicating everything they had so far produced for their Japanese learners. He did a great job, so they hired him and the company continued to grow.
‘’Every time we hired someone new to create content for a new language, it’s because we tested them and they managed to complete an impossible task’’
Don’t try to be perfect
Peter says that if you want to become successful, it’s really important to not aim for perfection.
‘’Try to create something, make it good enough, share it; you’re going to receive feedback to make it better every step of the way’’
Be the first one in new markets
One strategy that has always worked really well for Innovative Language is to be the first one to enter new markets. Every time a new digital market opened up, it would be the first to jump in. Innovative Language was one of the first language companies to offer its work on Apple Books, on Google Play, and to create apps, and it has seen huge successes doing this. Also, YouTube has been tremendous for the company. Today, YouTube is its biggest lead generator.
‘’Every time a new market opens or a new platform takes off, try to be there first and go in really strong!’’
Should we build traffic organically or should we buy ads?
Peter says that it all depends on your expertise. If you are a content creator like Peter, focus on content first. Create a product and get it out there. Then test the sales funnels, optimize them, and eventually, you can also run paid ads. If you are a marketer, you can work backwards; meaning that you can run ads, collect leads, figure out what people want, and create a product.
Innovative Language dominates the language learning space on YouTube. Just go to YouTube, search for ”learn language x” and their videos will appear at the top. They have over 10 million subscribers amongst all their channels.
Running a podcast vs. running a large company
Peter sometimes misses the good old days of when he just got started. Today, the Tokyo office has about 35 full-time employees, and Innovative Language has 60 to 70 people working full-time all over the world. Peter spends his time with accounting, legal documents, HR issues, and other tasks that any CEO of a big company has to deal with.
‘’Everybody who is taking the Langpreneur journey should take a moment to enjoy it. Some of the moments in 2004-2005 when I started, were some of the most cherished moments’’
Also, the speed at which new ideas get approved and published has slowed down as the company has grown.
‘’It used to take a day to create a curriculum, now it takes six months for a proposal, a teacher to test it, the CFR expert to improve it. We’re more like a publishing company now’’
Should we go for high volume and low prices, or high prices with low volume?
According to Peter, it all depends on your strengths. Do you have a high-value product? How big is your team? The higher the costs of the product, the better a high level of customer service should be woven into your product. He also says;
‘’It’s more of a question of where you start. If you start your business with high-end products, you probably want to start moving more towards a mass-market once it starts taking off.’’ ‘’If you start off with a cheaper product and high volume you might offer more expensive products to a certain segment of your users’’
The importance of having a mentor
Peter had a mentor that first year in podcasting, who really helped him and his team to shape their thinking and make the right decisions.
‘’I cannot tell you the value of a good mentor! Having a mentor or someone to bounce ideas off is absolutely critical to helping you accelerate growth to your potential’’
The next question is then, but how can we find a mentor? Peter suggests that your own network is often a great place to start. A lot of the people that inspire you are much more approachable than you think. Over the last year, Peter has also been helping startups in education himself.
How to decide what to work on next?
As a company owner, nobody tells us what to do, so we need to make our own to-do list. But how do we know what we should focus on next?
Peter says that there is no clear answer. Try to make the most educated decision based on the information that you can get. First, look at your metrics and try to find the answers in books or on Google. Then go and ask other people. These people can be your colleagues or other company owners in your niche. It’s really important to focus on relationship building rather than seeing someone as a competitor.
‘’The more smart people you can talk to, the better decisions you can make’’
Peter’s most important advice for other Langpreneurs
‘’Never ever be afraid to ask. The ability to humble yourself and ask simple questions is the key to success. Even if you think you know the answer and listen really well. That’s an invaluable skill. Ask a question and listen, and act accordingly‘’
Innovative Language offers a highly attractive affiliate program. Many agree that their courses are some of the most comprehensible language courses on the market.
They have courses for 34 languages, so even if you have a following that’s interested in languages like Bulgarian, Hebrew, Danish, Norwegian and Greek, make sure to check out what they have to offer for you and your audience.
Click here for more info about their affiliate program.
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