We haven’t had any ELT Entrepreneurs on the blog for a while, but people setting up on their own from an ELT background is something we’re always interested in.
Over the summer, we spoke to Arthur Rubin, half of the husband and wife team behind AUTHORS & EDITORS, about their socially conscious publishing company.
What does your venture do?
We design, develop and deliver English Language Acquisition ‘tools’ that help adults who have limited English proficiency to become able to make decisions for themselves, to learn, to earn, and to be successful as full participants in society and the economic system. We also publish under the brands: 2Learn-English, M.A.G.I.C (Motivating Activities And Games In Context), and Life Skills ESL.
How did you get started on your publishing path?
Teaching people how to fish has been my life’s commitment since my teen years. My wife has been an unflagging creator of learning materials. This latest Eureka moment happened in 2014, when I realized that the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) would provide a large new funding to Adult Basic Education for the benefit of the most needy in our society.
Do you think of yourself as an entrepreneur?
Not so much. At heart I am a social worker and my wife, Elaine, is a language teacher. Entrepreneurship is a vehicle that helps provide the fiscal support for our purposes.
During the process where there times when you completely changed the original idea, i.e. ‘pivoted’?
Absolutely. About 20 times in the last 10 years. It can be hard not to lose heart because everything moves so fast that ideas go outdated in a blink. It helps to keep in mind something like the Lean Start-up Model with its notion of pivots which provides a solid foundation to return to each time. You can think you’re on track but then realise things are very far from it, but, we’re old and know to expect such things!
What have you learned along the way?
An encyclopaedia full of what is possible, what to do, and what to avoid! The Lean Start-up method and tools, like the lean canvas, creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), pivoting (trying something different based on failures), the sales funnel (how it works and how to use it), clarifying our target market by creating personas, etc. As I said, it would fill an encyclopaedia.
Perhaps an example would help. We own the Intellectual Property Rights to a six-level, 17-book Adult Education ESL program. Last spring we became aware that increased funding for Adult Education was expected in the next Federal budget. This led to our belief that the Adult Education market would expand, and that the market for our Adult Education program would significantly improve. We were already aware that e-learning was growing dramatically. As a result we are re-inventing the print program: We are converting it to a highly adaptive on-line e-learning system. To do this, we created a start-up company called Life Skills ESL. Now we’re marketing both the print product and the forthcoming digital program.
Did you have to raise money for the venture?
Not yet. But we are very close to having to get some financing. We’re exploring the ways and means right now. Our major concern is to protect the social good aspect of our effort but finding socially conscious investors is not simple. Two months ago we entered an Adult Literacy competition, funded by the Barbara Bush Foundation and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation with the sum of $7 million. The publicity alone makes this worthwhile. And if we win, we will be positioned to help a tremendous number of individuals. We could really use some help in this effort. Anyone who shares our interest is invited to join us or invite us to join her/him. We’re open to whatever will produce results. Reach us at Arthur@LifeSkillsESL.com Subject: XPRIZE.
Definitely. We still need a couple of co-founders. One to help transfer our print materials onto the digital platform we select. And one to do the marketing and sales sides.
What three pieces of advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?
- Work with/for another e-learning company before trying it on my own!
- While working to learn, build a brain trust – a team of expert advisors in various aspects of business – and make a plan that lays out enough detail to be a good guide.
- Build your start-up team next.
What are your hopes for the project now?
Currently we’re focused on two directions:
1. Sell our print products through numerous web-stores.
2. Translate our Life Skills program from print to great online, individualized, multi-media, affordable downloadable lessons.
Our target market continues to be Adult Education so we’re aiming at decision makers including teachers, administrators, and program leads. Our newest target market is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) local service delivery agencies. They serve older youth (ages 16–24) and adults who need improved English language proficiency to become employable. We are identifying the decision makers that we will target for sales.
Arthur Rubin has experience in jobs ranging from manual labor to executive managment. He has been in the fields of aerospace, social work, organization development, life coaching, child protective services/adoptions, and education—helping native and non-native English speakers of all ages and cultures. Elaine Kirn-Rubin has 45 years of ESL and EFLteaching, materials development, and professional development of English-language teachers and instructors. Over 23 of those years was at West Los Angeles College as English Division Chair, ESL Chair, Classroom Educator, and Materials Developer.