Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Dan Berges, Founder of Berges Institute, located in New York, NY, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Berges Institute is a Spanish language school for adults headquartered in NYC. We offer both in-person and online Spanish classes and private lessons. As opposed to most vocabulary-based modern language programs, our method is more traditional and has a strong focus on grammar and syntax. Our students are adults (from young professionals to retired folks) who have an interest in language learning and appreciate an intensive, logical, building-blocks approach.
According to a survey we did back in 2018, 61.4% of our students cited personal growth as the main reason why they were learning Spanish. The rest of our students cited professional development (21.2%), family/relationships (13.5%), and other (3.9%) as the main reason, respectively.
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in Madrid, Spain, and moved to the US in 2008. While working on my MAT at Lehman College in NYC, I started a small Spanish language studio on the Upper East Side with my business partner Vanessa. After finishing my degree in 2013, we decided to open an actual school offering group classes in Midtown Manhattan. We grew steadily during the following five years, to a point where we had 1,200+ monthly students. My background is in arts and education, but I have always enjoyed computer programming since I learned Turbo Pascal in high school. I've always been interested in the intersection of education and technology. I spend most of my time these days trying to improve the school IT systems and educational resources to keep making the students' experiences as good as they can be.
Managing Berges Institute all these years has taught me resilience, stoicism, and prioritization skills, which helped me in many other aspects of my life, and would be very useful if I were to start another company in the future.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
We've had thousands of students who came to us knowing very little Spanish and spoke fluently a couple of years later. Witnessing this process over and over is very rewarding. Additionally, I'm very proud of the reviews our employees have posted on Glassdoor, in which they talk very nicely about the company's culture and management style.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Learning to delegate and delegating properly. I remember listening to an interview with Jake Burton in which he said (I'm paraphrasing here) that to grow a company; you have to let other people make mistakes. He stated this in the context of how it is very common for small business owners to adopt a "megalomaniac," it-only-gets-done-if-I-do-it approach, and that's a terrible management style. But delegating everything to others without any guidance won't work either. Creating a long-term growth strategy in which processes are properly documented and people who are responsible for those processes have a good degree of autonomy is crucial for sustainability but very difficult to achieve.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Don't make the business completely reliant on yourself. You cannot work 14 hours a day ad infinitum. Work hard during the first few years on building a business that will eventually operate well without you.
- Learn some tech skills, especially web-related. I'd start with HTML and CSS. Even if you never code your own website, these technologies are present everywhere: marketing, administration, analytics, and data visualization. And you'll often have to discuss projects with developers, whether they are employees or freelancers.
- Consistently analyze and enhance the customer touchpoints, especially those you cannot see. For example, if you run a restaurant, you'll want to create systems that ensure that the recipes are always prepared in the exact same way and that every server undergoes training on how to explain the daily specials and ask about food allergies. If you are not working in the dining room or the kitchen, you will not experience these processes first-hand, but you are still responsible for ensuring consistency without micromanaging everyone.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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