The following story is by Julia Pimsleur, the CEO and founder of Little Pim, which uses DVDs, books, flash cards, apps and digital downloads to teach young children a second language. She lives in New York City with her husband and two young boys.
Even before my son Emmett was born, I knew I’d want him to learn to speak French. Having been raised bilingual in French and English was one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. I wanted Emmett to have the same advantages. Though I didn’t grow up to be Jessica Paré doing Bizou Bizou, I did live and work in Paris for seven years, and had access to countless professional and personal opportunities because I spoke fluent French.
To my surprise, I couldn’t find any French teaching DVDs for Emmett to watch that were high quality, engaging and educationally sound. I had a full time job and a six-month old at home, but something told me that I had just found my next business. While I didn’t think of myself as a serial entrepreneur, I had founded and run a documentary film company for five years, and had also launched and led a nonprofit online community for human rights activists and media makers. Being the boss was not new to me, but the idea of creating a for profit company that would need as much nurturing, attention and love as my little baby did, was still daunting. I had gone to grad school for film when my college classmates were going to business school. And my husband didn’t work on Wall Street, he worked on nonprofit street. More reason for pause.
But language teaching was in my blood. I was the daughter of language teaching icon, Dr Paul Pimsleur, creator of the Pimsleur Method® . I had grown up with German, French and Greek around the dinner table and I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could bring this extraordinary advantage I had to children all over the world?
This was my chance to create a new method that would complement my father’s pioneering work and help kids start learning at the time all the research shows they learn best: before the age of six.
I found two Columbia Business School grad students to help me craft a business plan and raised $30,000 from family and friends. With this seed money I filmed a pilot, using as “talent” the babies of the mothers in my new mom’s group. This became the basis for the Little Pim language teaching series for kids. I never looked back. From the first day of production I was ecstatic to be back on set making media, and couldn’t imagine anything more fun than involving my own son, working with other moms and their kids and coming up with an entirely new way to make language learning fun and easy for young children. I had found a way to integrate my three greatest passions: filmmaking, language teaching and parenting. Figuring out the business would be the next hurdle, but in those early days I was focused on creating the most original and high quality production possible.
We shot in high definition so the video would be top quality and lasting, and worked with neuroscientists and educational advisors to craft our teaching method. Little Pim the Panda was my mother’s idea – babies see black and white better than color and pandas evoke China. My son loved Little Pim from the first minute he saw him, and watched the pilot over and over again. I then raised $500,000 from Angels to create our first three DVDs in Spanish, French and Chinese and started selling singles and three packs off our makeshift website. I ran the business from my Blackberry, making furtive calls before and after work to our warehouse and part time employee. I was exhausted and exhilarated. And I knew I was onto something that could be very big… Très grand. If only I could figure out how to take it there.
Watch for next week's post: How I achieved growth.