For many Americans, the concept of continued education has long been a luxury too costly to afford. It’s not just the classes, it’s the transportation, the scheduling conflicts, the childcare…
Over the past decade, the online learning space has helped bridge the gap between people hoping for an affordable education and those hoping to provide one. The flexibility and lower cost have allowed millions of people to take classes while working full time. A 2013 report by the Babson Survey Research Group revealed that there were over six million students enrolled in at least one online college course. Meanwhile, there are over 400 million people in the United States who are currently learning English as a second language.
These two facts, when taken together, helped Miami-based entrepreneur Andres Moreno come up with his first big idea. After plenty of hard work in the brick and mortar language education field, and without much of a financial foundation, Moreno managed to raise the 200k he needed to get his idea of an online language school off the ground. He did it after moving to Silicon Valley with only $700 in his pocket and sleeping on friends’ couches while he tried to win over the support of investors.
“It was difficult,” Moreno says. “But we were committed to seeing it through. We were relentless. And really, we weren’t the most prepared, or smartest, or the best-resourced team, but we had the local insight that made us successful.”
The idea was Open English — a concept that would grow into the leader in internet-based English language instruction.
Moreno had a transient childhood — growing up in nine different countries — but he was still able to learn English as a kid thanks to time spent in the US. It was only when he moved back to Latin America as a young adult that he realized how hard it was for people who don’t already speak English to excel professionally.
“You hit a glass ceiling if you aren’t fluent in English,” he explains. “That was the genesis for Open English.”
Moreno saw an opening in the marketplace and found his social calling at the same time. Before he brought language education to the online space, the only option for people in Latin America learning English was to attend a night class after a full day of work. Often they’d be learning with a non-native teacher and focusing mostly on grammar. There weren’t enough opportunities for one-on-one interaction due to class size and time constraints or conversational opportunities to help students thrive. Most of the other companies who were experimenting with the online space were trying to remove the human element entirely.
Moreno wanted to do the opposite. He knew that for a nominal fee, he could create an online educational platform that felt even more personal than a physical platform.
“Having access to a live teacher 24/7 was a revolutionary idea,” he says. “We made online language education a human interaction-based experience.”
Because students could talk to their teachers as frequently as they wanted, they were able to apply their skills between lessons, rapidly increasing success rates.
After Moreno proved his entrepreneurial power with Open English, he founded Next University — an online continuing education program that trains its students for achievable professional opportunities. From web development to online marketing, Next offers certifications that create immediate job placement possibilities for graduates. With over 500,000 students currently enrolled, it’s clear the community is receptive and Moreno is making an impact.
“Online education has a sturdy model,” Moreno says of his successes. “And because of the low cost of the programs, it’s accessible for everyone.”
Moreno is currently the CEO of Open English, Next Education, a founding board member of Endeavor Miami and a motivational speaker, encouraging budding entrepreneurs around the world. But how does one teach others how to dream big and risk everything?
Moreno says it’s all about learning the methodology. “Methodology is battled-tested. My methods are divided into seven stages. First, the aspiring entrepreneur needs to understand what a good idea is and how to have one. Next, it’s understanding how to have a good idea for you. We all have our own combinations of skill sets and desires and insight. So, I help people explore those things first. Then, you have to figure out how to take that personal and unique idea and explore it without losing your home or job. And then, at the end of the list, you need to figure out how to raise money for your business. But really, it’s about perseverance. Things don’t usually work out the 5th or 6th time, it’s the 10th time. And, most importantly, it’s not the same thing over and over again. It’s having a goal and knowing how to pivot to get over the walls that come up.”
For Moreno, being in a position to transform people’s lives has irreparably transformed his own. “Going through many years of struggle, having to be in a position of risk, having things not turning out how they’re expected, makes you evolve at a personal, emotional and spiritual level. Being an entrepreneur is not a 9-5, your life is your job. It changes you deeply.”