We talked to Hamid Darabi of Demiks about promoting cultural exchange, friendship, and peace through language learning, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Hamid Darabi: Probably this will be the toughest question of the interview. Luckily my family and I are fine, but we know so many people who lost their loved ones during the pandemic. I know we will come out of this stronger, but it’s a very sad period for many families.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Demiks.
Hamid Darabi: Demiks is a mission-driven company. We promote cultural exchange, friendship, and peace through language learning. I was born in Iran, in the middle of an 8-year war. The effects of this war still follow me to this day, and the memories are vivid. I don’t want any other child to go through this experience.
Part of the Kurdish minority, I was lucky to grow up bilingual. At school, I started learning English and Arabic too. Moving to Montréal in 2014 was the reason to learn French! You could say learning languages is an obsession of mine!
Learning languages is a priceless experience. It has allowed me to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Reading the same news in a different language is mind-blowing – two languages, two different stories. All of this motivated me to encourage my friends and family to learn new languages.
From there, I started a side project in 2018 to promote language learning and help students from Montreal study in Mexico through immersive fun trips to learn the Spanish language, make friends and gain perspective. This was how I started things off, and now as a team, we offer a number of services to students, teachers, and language schools. Feel free to read Demiks manifesto to learn more about our mission and values.
How does Demiks innovate?
Hamid Darabi: Innovation is part of our team’s DNA. We strive to provide innovative solutions for our clients’ needs and requirements. The language learning market is underserved. Schools and teachers have to adopt general-purpose products and pay too much for non-intuitive services. We didn’t start a company because we had a groundbreaking innovative technology, but we listen to the market and constantly deliver innovative products using existing modern technologies.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Hamid Darabi: Before the pandemic, our core business relied on international travel. Without blinking, right after we heard about the possibility of a pandemic, we made a major pivot. Iran was one of the first countries to deal with the pandemic, and the fact that I was following Iran’s news [in Farsi, of course] made me believe it was going to be a global issue. We started brainstorming internally and with some of our proactive clients to prepare for the pandemic.
It’s vital for language schools to keep the classes running. The pandemic would make this impossible for those schools relying on international students. We started building tools for our clients to keep running their classes online.
We provided schools with tools for online booking, class management, tools for communication between teachers and students, integration with other pandemic friendly tools like Zoom and Zapier. Looking back, I’m impressed with how much our small team delivered in such a short period of time. The power of having a strong mission and a dedicated dream team made it possible.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Hamid Darabi: The most difficult decision we had to make was to swim against the flow. Despite a bearish stock market, high unemployment rates, and businesses shutting down, we decided it was time to grow. I remember jumping back and forth between fear and hope on an hourly basis for the first couple of months. I had no idea if this growth would be our downfall or the right next step.
So far, it feels like the right step. The pandemic proved to be a great opportunity to build up the offerings of our software and expand our market reach. Growing up in the war, I watched my parents, school teachers, who worked so hard to keep the village schoolhouse open despite the challenges. I’ve thought a lot about their example as I push through this year.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Hamid Darabi: On a personal level, sharing a life with a strong and inspiring woman who is managing an art career is a gift. Conversations with her, asking for advice, and watching her overcome obstacles is reassuring. Also, physical activity and long walks help with day to day stressful situations.
Like most other startups, our core team is a group of friends and family who I can rely on. As a bootstrapped startup trying to grow during a pandemic, we’ve confronted many challenges along the way. I can’t imagine how we would have survived without the team’s efforts and sacrifices.
Here’s a photo of our team making Mexican food together. Even remote, we have a blast!.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Hamid Darabi: I prefer to think of them as friends. If you’re making language learning easier, we want to be your friend. We even promote our competitors on our blog! Our aim is to be a one-stop hub for language learners. That means we write about other platforms that teach languages or promote language learning.
Having said that, we work hard to make a high-quality product that is affordable to schools of all sizes and across the globe. There are some great management softwares out there, but very few cater to the language school market. We spend a lot of time talking to our clients to build custom software that fits the needs of this very specific market. We also work to keep costs down. We offer different plans for small, medium and large schools. We want our software to serve all the needs of a big established school but also be accessible to independent teachers who are just starting to grow their business. Finally, coming from Iran, I know the challenges businesses in middle and small economy countries face. We want to reach businesses outside of North America and Europe, and we work to make sure our pricing and compatibility will make this possible.
We write about other technologies schools, and teachers can adopt. We are always open to collaboration on projects with our competitors. The only time we are sad to lose clients to a competitor is when we know the other solution is not the best. Too many schools today use Excel sheets for managing the entire school!