Photo: Gort Productions
Lesson plans: Miami entrepreneur finds success with online language school
A Miami entrepreneur finds success online in Latin America.
Born in Venezuela, Andres Moreno became fluent in English after moving to Maryland as a boy. His father worked for international organizations, and moving from country to country was part of the norm — by age 18, he had lived in nine countries and learned four languages.
Moreno returned to Venezuela for college and, with encouragement from his parents, studied to become an engineer. Less than a year before graduation, he dropped out. "I was doing well gradeswise, but I was frustrated," he says. "I didn't have a creative outlet, and entrepreneurship became my outlet."
Moreno started a business teaching corporate executives in Latin America to speak English. Within three years, he had signed Cargill, Procter & Gamble and Sun Microsystems as clients.
Then he discovered Skype and realized the limitations of providing in-person instruction. "It was a tough business model to scale," he says. In 2007, he decided he could build a bigger business teaching English via online video. And instead of multinational corporations, he decided to target consumer markets in Latin America.
He raised enough money from Silicon Valley investors to get the business, called Open English, off the ground. After an initial launch in Venezuela, he introduced Open English to the rest of Latin America in 2010.
The response, he says, was immediate. "People from all walks of life started buying the service — moms who wanted to help kids with their homework, jail inmates and independent workers who understood that English is a building block to a career."
These days, Moreno is a poster child for Miami's appeal to tech entrepreneurs trying to gain a foothold in Latin America. Since moving to Miami five years ago, he has raised $120 million in venture capital to expand Open English.
The company employs about 1,500 people, including 120 at its Coconut Grove headquarters, and has 70,000 students enrolled. The service costs $80 a month and offers live online classes with native English speakers as well as more than 2,000 hours of multimedia content.
Last spring, Open English began marketing to U.S. Hispanics in Miami. Moreno also has started another web-based company, Next University, which teaches technical skills to Latin American consumers.
Meanwhile, he has picked up a fifth language, Portuguese, after numerous business trips to Brazil. His parents, who initially were heartbroken over his decision not to become an engineer, have since come around.
"They've made their investment back 50 times over, so it's worked out well," he says.
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