We talked to Marina Tognetti, Founder and CEO of mYngle, which offers customized language training programs through video conferencing in 45 different languages anytime, anywhere. Here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Marina Tognetti: I am fine, thanks, and so is my family. I must say that, compared to many other people, I have been facing these COVID times in a relatively calm manner.
Don’t get me wrong… I miss sports, holidays, and fun, but I can very well adapt, so very rarely do I feel down from external situations that are out of my control. I always try to find the positive in any situation. My motto is: “Can you do something about it? Then do it! If not, adapt or change the direction for yourself.” There are always good things that we can take with us: more me-time and time for introspection, more one-on-one relationships with friends, cocooning to prepare for an amazing post-COVID when we will enjoy more the things that before we took for granted.
And professionally, my company, mYngle, has not been much impacted. We offer online training, so we were lucky to be in the right place while the whole world had to move online.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded mYngle.
Marina Tognetti: I am a tech entrepreneur, founder of myngle.com, but the passion for entrepreneurship came later on in my career. When I graduated from University, it was an era when entrepreneurship was not very common for academics. I, therefore, built first a successful career by large multinationals, Procter & Gamble, Philips, Sara Lee, The Boston Consulting Group, and eBay; living and working in different countries, and got an MBA from INSEAD.
It was when working as a consultant on a project on internet strategy that I first saw the potential of the internet to disrupt entire industries and change forever the way we buy/sell/interact. I had to be part of that! That was the driver to start an innovative company as mYngle, as I knew I could make a real difference, putting in practice all I had learned in my career till then.
Starting an innovative company meant that there was no set path I could follow. I had to learn and adapt along the way. This was true when we started, but it is also true now, as we develop in an industry that is in transition.
How does mYngle innovate?
Marina Tognetti: Innovation needs to add real value; everything should start and end with the customer. In mYngle, we nurture an obsession for customer satisfaction and look to continuously improve our service. We do so by constantly listening to users’ feedback and adapting accordingly, as well as leveraging new technologies to our advantage. We never compromised on quality, not for teachers and content, nor in the early adoption of audio/video-teaching via a virtual classroom, way before it became widely spread.
I order to achieve innovation, being agile is paramount. Throughout the past years, a lot has changed in technology, needs of customers, economy and now COVID… We’ve been able to secure our position as one of the leaders in our segment by being diligent in building solid principles, work processes, and a team with the capability and will to change and adapt according to our always evolving surroundings.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Marina Tognetti: Even before COVID, the (language) training market was already in the transition from offline to online, the shift accelerating in the past years. This age of quarantines, social distancing, and remote working fast-tracked the trend, and online education has become, in many cases, the only possible way of learning.
In response to this increase in demand for online training, many traditional offline players have been rushing to find a quick-fix, moving their existing solutions online. Good remote training, however, is not just a matter of adding a tech solution for the virtual classroom and moving a teacher from a physical classroom to a computer, but it requires a whole new set of expertise and capabilities different from those of offline education. The way the training is delivered, the teaching, content, interaction, etc., all need to change in order to provide a good user experience.
mYngle was one of the pioneers in live online (language) training. Now that we are at the crossroad, we can benefit from many years of experience and proven capabilities to deliver successful online training.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Marina Tognetti: Definitely, many times. When we started, we were pioneering, amongst the first to provide one-to-one teaching of all languages over the internet. That meant that we had to bypass all sorts of resistances – those of a still immature market- especially the stereotypes consumers had in their minds about education.
The biggest challenge was when we had to drastically change, ‘pivoting’ from the initial business model to a completely different one, which is the mYngle we are now.
We had launched mYngle as a marketplace, something I knew very well from my previous eBay experience. We thought we got it all: funding, lots of Awards and PR, a very motivated team. But something in the business model was not functioning as we expected. We listened to our customers, and they gave us a new direction, from an open marketplace to a quality global online school, from B2C to B2B.
The key to success was accepting that change was needed and not being afraid to question assumptions, truly listening to our customers.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Marina Tognetti: Overall, for our staff, work did not change much while moving to remote working. Many of our key processes were already done at a distance, so, as a company, we are used to managing remote teams. CRM and programming have always been offshore, and our sales staff has always covered different geographical markets from one central location. We were used to videoconferencing with team members as well as clients and using sharing and project management tools.
I used to say when building our organization: “If our customers can learn a language at distance, we should be able to also run a company at distance.” So, in that respect, we were at an advantage compared to many other companies operating in a more traditional way.
What got amplified now with COVID’s lockdowns is that employee’s well-being is even more vital, and encouraging and supporting employees through this time is almost more important than productivity. It’s about support, empowerment, empathy to keep a sense of belonging, let our people know that we are in this together. That means having a steady stream of communication, from the managers and between team members, in order to keep people updated on what’s going on and drive more virtual connectivity and culture.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Marina Tognetti: COVID has now completely changed the world as we know it, causing major disruption to many businesses. While many of the traditional offline players have been challenged by this sudden shift, our solution was already remote. We built on many years of experience and know that migrating existing classroom training programs to digital is not just the mere application of existing technology solutions. Rather, it requires a more fundamental rethinking of the total learning experience, from trainers to content to the blended form.
I believe that the integration of information technology in education will be further accelerated, and online education will eventually become an integral component of education. mYngle can stay ahead in this digital transformation by constantly innovating and pursuing the best possible quality and results, educating the market on the difference between improvised solutions and years of expertise. Online learning will be an intrinsic part of the new normal and mYngle a part of it.
Your final thoughts?
Marina Tognetti: Change is all around us. Markets keep changing as a result of fast-paced advancements in technology, and COVID fast-tracked many changes in a way that was unthinkable just a few months before. This means that to be successful, companies must be able to adapt and focus on customer-oriented strategies. Some of the lessons that make start-ups successful can be used to inspire transformation also in established companies, stimulating entrepreneurial thinking and action and shifting the way organizations manage people and ideas. ‘CHANGE is GOOD,’ as it forces improvements and continuous developments. That is the lesson we should take with us looking at the future.
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