Dan Berges, Founder and Managing Director of Berges Institute, tells us how they offer both Spanish group classes and private lessons for adults in a relaxed atmosphere.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Berges Institute.
Dan Berges: Back in 2011, I moved to NYC for grad school. While working on my MAT, I started teaching private Spanish lessons on the side. My original plan was to become a music teacher, but that never happened. I switched to language teaching and started developing my own teaching materials, some of which eventually became part of the Graf Method for the Spanish Language, which is the framework we use at Berges Institute.
After finishing my degree, I founded Berges with my business partner Vanessa Montilla. We started small, with a single space on W36th Street, in Midtown Manhattan, with only two classrooms. We worked very long hours during the first two years, doing all the admin work and most of the teaching ourselves. We eventually started hiring and training more teachers and admin staff and leasing more space. Our growth was always steady and sustainable, which is uncommon in many startups. That allowed us to stay in control at all (or at least most) times.
Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?
Dan Berges: Not sure if I’d call it a habit, but I’ve become very good at prioritizing projects. I can spend some time assigning urgency and importance to the different tasks I need to do, and after I have a winner, I don’t even think about the other ones until I finish the first one, even if some of them are critical.
How does Berges Institute market its product/services online?
Dan Berges: The main tool is our website, on which we publish a lot of Spanish language resources regularly and has a fairly high amount of traffic. We also have a weekly newsletter with 18.000+ subscribers and a 40%+ average open rate. We’ve recently also started a YouTube channel in which we publish short lessons and some other videos related to learning Spanish. We also do Google Ads and Facebook/Instagram campaigns from time to time. Lastly, even though word-of-mouth has more weight in markets in which we have a physical presence (NYC and Chicago in our case), it still helps us acquire new students in other markets. People saying good things about your services, online or in real life, is still the best form of advertising.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Dan Berges: We use Google Analytics, sometimes HotJar, and a series of tools developed in-house. For example, we track how many people register for a class within 30 days of taking our online placement test.
Regarding skills, we try to make all marketing-related decisions using data and only use intuition when data is justifiably insufficient.
What is your hiring policy/process, and how do you retain your employees?
Dan Berges: We don’t expect prospective instructors to be able to explain every single grammar concept off the top of their heads before they start, as we do a lot of training. We look for curiosity, personableness, and the ability to learn new things thoroughly and explain them to others.
We have a very low employee churn rate, which we attribute to our laissez-faire culture. New teachers have a lot of observations, training sessions, and meetings for a fairly long time, but veteran teachers get very few instructions from management as long as they adhere to the curriculum and teaching standards, which they all do.
How are you funding your growth?
Dan Berges: It’s self-funded. Since most fixed costs are tied to demand, we can grow as needed. We focus on always maintaining an upward linear demand curve and follow with the necessary investments in logistics and resources.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dan Berges: We mainly have two categories of competitors: brick-and-mortar language schools and large online learning platforms. We are something in between. We have the advantage of being a school, with all our teachers going through our training program and teaching the same curriculum while using economy-of-scale, tech-platform-like techniques to deliver consistency at scale and keep our prices low.
Tell us a customer success story of yours.
Dan Berges: There are many. My favorite common story is having a student in one of the early levels, in which they are learning basic stuff, and then seeing them two or three years later speaking fluent Spanish after finishing our entire program and taking some conversation classes. Teaching is gratifying for this reason. You constantly get to witness your students’ progress as it happens.