Paige: You're listening to Coffee with Gringos. I'm Paige Sutherland.
Mariah: And I'm Mariah Wika. Welcome back to the podcast. Today is a special episode of the podcast because we are joined by co-founder of Dynamic English, Ted Goetz. Ted, thanks so much for being with us today.
Ted: Thank you guys for having me.
Paige: To start off, as most of our students probably know, maybe have met Ted when they started classes at Dynamic English, or they receive the e-mails, Ted from Dynamic English. But for some people that might not know you, just tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you make your way here to Chile?
Ted: Cool. Well, I'm from New York. A little bit outside New York City. I studied history and English literature in college. I graduated and basically had no idea what I wanted to do with my life because studying history and English literature is awesome and interesting but doesn't really help you in the professional world unless you want to be a historian or something like that, so I spent a year working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a security guard.
Paige: As a security guard?!
Ted: As a security guard. Those were some rough days. So basically, when you go to the museum, there's always somebody in a gallery telling you not to touch the painting or not to use flash photography. That was me. So, I basically decided there that I wanted to leave the US and have a year where I could figure things out. And so I decided to study Spanish at the same time, and somehow I ended up in Chile. I guess not somehow, but I wanted to go to Spain, but Spain is 2007, I think it was, was in a horrible situation. I think 45, 50% unemployment, so it wasn't a good time together, so I said OK, I'm moving to South America. And between Argentina and Chile, I chose Chile.
Paige: And your plan... obviously, you wanted to go to South America. Did you think you would come for a year, maybe two? Now you've been here what...
Paige: Ten years.
Mariah: You took a year to figure things out. What did you figure out?
Ted: It took me more than a year to figure out.
Mariah: It often does.
Ted: Yeah, so after the first year, I was teaching, and I really enjoyed my time here. I think this might happen to a lot of foreigners, but when you're different from other people, you kind of have a different experience. So in New York, I'm just an average Joe, walking around, struggling like everyone else. And here, you know, people at a party would be super interested in getting to know me and asking where I was from, so it was really easy to make friends. And I enjoyed teaching. It was something that felt more important than what I was doing back home.
Mariah: More important than protecting the paintings?
Ted: Exactly, which is an important job. I don't want to say it's not. But I just felt for my path in life, teaching felt better. One year turned into three years because I basically was indecisive, and I was also enjoying my time here. And I also really wanted to master Spanish in a way, which ten years later, I still say that. But it took longer than a year, as you guys know. It's not so easy to become fluent in one year.
Paige: Absolutely. When along this journey did you think, okay, I'm a teacher, but I want to have my own company. I want to start my own thing.
Ted: I started doing private classes while I was working at a university here and at Norteamericano, which is another institute. Basically, doing the private classes, I realized that the personalized attention, the one on one sort of vibe that you get in that environment and that situation is better than teaching ten people. When I was in a university, I had 20 students, sometimes 25. And then at Norte, I had 10 or 15, and so you could teach the grammar, but I felt like... you know, you can learn grammar online. So what's the point of spending time in class teaching grammar? Whereas, one on one, I would just assign homework, and then we would have conversations about things. And you'd make friendship. And you would just, you know, feel a lot better. I felt better because I was getting to know people who worked in the government or people who were CEOs of companies. I had a great relationship with these people, and I think they got a lot more out of it because they were practicing. So, long-winded answer to your question, but I realized that was working, and Andrew, my partner at Dynamic, as you guys know. He came up with the idea, actually. He was the one who actually came up to me one day on a coffee break and was like, "You know, we could do this! We could do what the institute is doing here." So I decided, hey, let's give it a shot.
Mariah: Had you ever been a person who was interested in entrepreneurship before? Or was this sort of your first stab at it?
Ted: This was my first stab at it. I had no intentions. Thinking back on it, maybe I wanted to be Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and be a bar owner one day. I think every person or every guy at least has a dream of becoming a bar owner at some point. But no, I was ready to go home to the US, and I was just telling people I'd go get a master's degree in something. That was my stock answer. I didn't really think about that stock answer. I just said, "Yeah, I'm just going to go to graduate school and figure something out." Then Andrew proposed the idea, and I was like... well, this gives me another year to figure things out if it doesn't work, so let's give it a shot, and we'll try it out for a year. And basically until now, it's been a year by year thing. I don't have a long-term plan.
Paige: During this process, you said you never had your own business before, what was the process like? Was it easy to start your own business here? Was it very stressful? I'm not a business owner!
Ted: It's not easy. It's not easy. I think when people think about being an entrepreneur, you think about a lot of the good aspects of being an entrepreneur - being your own boss, rolling in dough, or something like that. But it's really not. And the first few years are really tough, and that's opening a business in your own language, right? But adding on speaking another language and having to deal with legal work in another language. That's really, really tough. But the first few years were super hard. And you know, I think the only reason I survived is because I was young, and I was working on it as a half-time thing. So, I was teaching classes, and then half of the time, I was trying to get the company off the ground. So it was long days, and the first three years, we didn't make any money. But then, things all of a sudden out of nowhere started to pick up. And so after about three or four years, things got easier.
Paige: So how long has it been now?
Ted: It's been seven years.
Mariah: You said it took a while to get the company off the ground. How has the company grown or changed since it's beginning?
Ted: Yeah, well, the good thing about starting from zero is you can double your growth the first few years because it means that after three years you have eight clients or something. But yeah, since we started from zero... it was me and Andrew literally running the thing. Which, there was no thing at the time, we were just giving ourselves private classes, and that's how we started. So, we were the two teachers. And I still remember the first teacher we hired... her name was Bridget, and she's still a good friend. I didn't want to tell her she was the first teacher because I feel like that's a lot of pressure, and the first course we did, I remember I went to the first class just because it was a special moment and I had to be there. And then months later, I remember telling Bridget, "Hey, I just want you to know, you were the first teacher!" She had no idea, she thought we had like a whole system in place. She found it funny. So, we're growing a lot. I think it's hard to measure in terms of students, but in terms of revenue, we've been growing about 40% every single year. So at the beginning, that's not a lot. But now, to maintain that, that's still a lot.
Mariah: And in terms of teachers, you started with you and Andrew and Bridget. How many teachers are there now?
Ted: Now... I think there's to be exact, 63.
Paige: That's a lot of growth from you and Andrew.
Mariah: From the two to a team of 63.
Paige: I guess, looking back, it's been seven years. You've had dozens and dozens of students, experiences. Is there any student or moment that you've had in these seven years where you think, "Wow, this is why we do this. This is why I wanted to start my own business."
Ted: I don't know if it's a particular student or company, I mean, there's been a few instances like that. We've helped, I'm not going to name names, but we've helped people that everybody would recognize in Chile on instagram or a politician or someone like that. But I think it's been super rewarding for me because as my own boss, it's super challenging sometimes to motivate myself. There's nobody there to wake you up in the morning and motivate you, you have to do that yourself. But, it's really, really awesome to choose my own projects, which even Coffee with Gringos, this was something that us three and Anna too, 12 months ago came up with the idea. So, super rewarding to be able to choose what to focus on instead of a boss telling you what to do.
Mariah: To piggyback off of what Ted said there for a second. I think one really neat thing for me as a teacher at Dynamic is that I have worked with students that anybody in Chile could recognize, but I've also sat in people's living rooms while their kids are playing upstairs and taught them English on Monday and Friday nights. And so I think that's one really neat thing is that the strategy that you all had of having these conversation-based, personal, oftentimes one on one classes is something that really anybody can connect to and relate to. And that's something that I've definitely enjoyed as a teacher is being able to experience all of those different parts of this culture through teaching.
Ted: The relationships that I think all of our teachers have with their students is something else. It's something you don't get when you're teaching in front of twenty people. Maybe you have an impact on twenty people, but you don't get that intimacy or that level of trust that you would have with a one on one class.
Mariah: We know our students' kids' names and if they have their birthday, and I've been invited to barbecues. There's this level of trust and connection... a classroom situation is fantastic, but no, you can never achieve something like that.
Ted: Yeah. I think most of my best friends in Chile to this day have been students. That's how we've met.
Mariah: That's fantastic.
Paige: You know, you and Andrew's idea, seven years, eight years ago has really paid off because I think it's the best thing to learn... you become friends with your students, they let their guard down, and they can start talking and making mistakes and learning and improving. And it doesn't feel like you're going through a grammar book and getting weighed down in the minutia.
Ted: Even if you have a group that has conversation, it's also intimidating if you're trying to learn a language because it's intimidating to try to speak in front of a group in your own language, but having to learn another language and speak in front of four or five people who are strangers that you don't know is also intimidating. It's probably good practice, but I'm not sure it's the best way to ease somebody into the language or to get them initiated into the language.
Paige: There are a lot of competitors, right? There are so many institutes, there's so many people offering this product, right? Teaching English. What do you think Dynamic English has that other institutes don't.
Ted: That's a good question. I think there're a few things. I think we've decided to really focus on the experience of the student. Being the fact that I'm not a businessman, I studied liberal arts. I didn't learn to use a spreadsheet until I started Dynamic. I didn't even know how to use Excel. I mean, I've never been the type of person to really calculate or project numbers in the future. It's just been learning as I'm going and knowing that if you make people happy and you create a service that's really valuable to the student, they're going to tell their friends. And they're going to tell their family members, so Dynamic English... you don't see any billboards, you don't see any newspaper advertisements or magazine advertisements. We don't even do so much on social media. It's really been a lot of word of mouth until now. And I think that's something that makes us different. We have somebody who is always in touch with the student on a month to month basis in administration, not just the teacher.
Paige: And Dynamic is so good, there are always happy hours. There are always social events that get you outside of the classroom. So it's kind more of a social network that you're building, let alone these tutoring classroom type of settings.
Mariah: Ted, by now you've been in Chile for ten years. You've lived in this country for a really long time. What is your favorite part about living in Chile?
Ted: I really appreciate the friendships I've made here, the relationships I've made here. When you get to know and you get really close with a Chilean, they're the most trustworthy, supportive people I've met. And so that's been really cool. The other thing I really love about Santiago is the surroundings. I mean, sometimes it's hard to leave the city, and sometimes you get caught up. But as soon as you just go 15-20 minutes outside. You go to the mountains, to the Pacific Ocean, the coast. You go south. You go to wine country, the Lakes Region... you really realize, this is a special geographical place.
Mariah: We've chatted a lot about Dynamic and your role with Dynamic, and plenty of our students have either met you or met Andrew, but tell us a little bit more about you about yourself. For example, what do you do when you're not co-running Dynamic English?
Ted: It's funny because whenever I meet students and I interview them, that's always a question, right... what do you do you in your free time? So, now the tables have turned, and I'm on the other end. What do I like to do? I love music, so I used to be in a band back in the States. So, I'm trying to take up guitar again because I didn't practice for a while, so I'm trying to take that up again. Now I have more free time than I've had in the past, so I like that. I'm really into photography now. On the weekends, I'm trying to take my camera with me and get some photos and then edit them later. I like reading, so I try to read a little bit everyday. I love wine, and that's also something else that is awesome about Chile. Some of the best wine in the world comes from here, and it's been really cool to see the evolution of wine over the last ten years because if you're really into wine, there's some really new and exciting wines coming out from Chile now. I go to the gym, I lift weights, I try to do some cardio when I can, and of course, I think it's hard to meet a person that doesn't like travelling, but that's certainly a passion of mine. I love to go somewhere new and feel like you don't understand anything about the place, and you don't know where you are, that feeling for me is super exciting.
Mariah: Absolutely. I think that's a great reason. It's a huge reason that a lot of people learn a language, right? Probably part of the reason you tried to learn Spanish, part of the reason a lot of our students try to learn English is for that purpose exactly.
Paige: So, for those who weren't sure, Ted is real.
Ted: Yes, I'm real.
Mariah: Thank you so much for joining us, for telling us a little bit more about the story of Dynamic English and about yourself too. We really appreciate it.
Ted: Thank you guys for having me, and kudos to both. You guys have been awesome the past year. I think the episodes have been really engaging, students are loving them, I'm loving them. And it's been really great. And also, Mariah, we know you're leaving, so I don't know if you've formally made the announcement, but I just want to let you know that I appreciate all the hard work and effort you've put in to not just the podcast but your classes and blog posts and everything. So thank you.
Mariah: Thank you. Tune in next time to hear more about that... Thanks so much for listening, and we'll talk to you soon.
KEY VOCABULARY, PHRASES, AND SLANG
Rough (adjective) - challenging and difficult
Example: Ted had some rough days working as a security guard at the art museum.
Figure out (phrasal verb) - to find an answer or clarity
Example: I decided that I wanted to leave the US and have a year where I could figure things out.
Average Joe (slang) - a very regular, normal guy
Example: In New York, I'm just an average Joe, walking around, struggling like everyone else.
Indecisive (adjective) - when it’s very difficult for a person to make a decision
Example: One year in Chile turned into three years because I basically was indecisive, and I was also enjoying my time here.
Long-winded (adjective) - when you describe something in a very long or detailed way
Example: Sorry, that was a long-winded answer to your question!
Give (something) a shot (phrase, idiom) - to try something, to take a big risk
Example: Andrew proposed the idea for Dynamic English, and we decided to give it a shot.
Entrepreneurship (noun) - the act of turning an idea into a business venture, often includes risk
Example: Entrepreneurship was totally new for Ted! So it was an exciting adventure, and he continues to learn a lot.
Stock answer (noun) - an automatic or typical answer that you give to a question
Example: I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, so my stock answer was that I was going to start graduate school.
Roll in dough (idiom, slang) - make lots of money
Example: I think when people think about being an entrepreneur, they think about a lot of the good aspects of being an entrepreneur - being your own boss, rolling in dough, or something like that. But it's really not.
Get (something) off the ground (phrase, idiom) - to really start a project, idea, or company
Example: It definitely wasn’t easy to get the company off the ground. We had to work very, very hard!
Rewarding (adjective) - valuable, satisfying
Example: It’s super rewarding to be able to choose what projects to focus on instead of a boss telling you what to do.
To piggyback off of (something) (phrase, slang) - to add to a previously talked about idea or concept
Example: To piggyback off of what Ted said about personal connections with students, I love that working as a teacher at Dynamic allows me to work with so many different people in Chile.
Word of mouth (phrase) - when people naturally publicize a company by verbally sharing their experiences
Example: Almost all of Dynamic English’s publicity so far has come from word of mouth! Our students tell their friends and their family about their good experiences, and that’s how we find more students.
Kudos (noun) - compliments or congratulations
Example: Kudos to you two on a successful project!