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The importance of reaching out: Cindy Cooper of Speak Shop

 

Dowser.org
By Tessa Farnsworth
April 13th, 2011 11:36 AM

In this series social entrepreneurs discuss the importance of sharing their big idea and reaching out to others. From  making business partners out of strangers to saving flooded headquarters, our contacts and future contacts routinely prove integral to every aspect of creating and running a social enterprise.

Speak Shop seeks to create inter-cultural dialog and understanding through language lessons. People use the service to take Spanish lessons with tutors in Guatemala one-on-one by webcam, and the founders hope to expand to other languages and countries.

Their business model makes tutors micro-business owners instead of seasonal teachers and gives the student a cultural and language experience without the overhead costs of travel.

Dowser: What’s something concrete and tangible you’ve learned in the last three months?
Cooper: You need to find at least one other person you can let your guard down with who really gets it. I’m lucky I have that with Clay who is not just a co-founder, but also my husband. But sometimes you need someone outside your organization or family. Most people do not want to hear about your problems, but other social entrepreneurs are usually pretty receptive, and that’s where I go first. I recently heard a venture capitalist say, ‘As an entrepreneur, you need to show your passion. When you ask people which Winnie-the-Pooh character they want to be, no one says Eeyore’ (the gloomy one). He has a point. But entrepreneurship is notoriously up and down, so it’s really important to know who will be there on your Eeyore days.

What is a mistake or mishap you’ve learned from?
One of the biggest mistakes we made early on was waiting to launch for fear of failing. When Speak Shop started out in 2004 we were very hesitant because no one had ever offered or heard of one-on-one Spanish tutoring by webcam, and we did not have the resources to prove that webcam-based tutoring would work. After unsuccessfully trying to get beta testers for several months, we just started marketing Speak Shop using Google Ads. People came. We were really excited, but still worried we might have launched too soon. I remember asking our first customer, Poppy: ‘Do you think you can learn Spanish this way?’ She was probably wondering: Why do you need to ask me, but she said, ‘Yes, absolutely!’ That was one of the best moments. We had a real customer who was excited and happy. I now notice that even huge companies like Twitter and Facebook fail some times. By temporarily suspending the drive for perfection, you can create something that really works and truly helps people. You aren’t an entrepreneur until you’ve made mistakes.