Graduated in 2010 with a major in Performance. Principal instrument: guitar.
Position: Founder and Managing Director of the Berges Institute, a Spanish language school for adults who want to learn to speak Spanish, with branches in New York City and Chicago. Classes go for ten weeks, 90 minutes in class and a few hours of homework per week, and cost under $300. Students are taught to approach the language very logically and methodically. While Dan developed the materials and initially taught classes, he now focuses exclusively on the business end, where he does special projects and upgrades while his business partner focuses on the day-to-day operations.
Overview: From Madrid, Spain, Dan was allowed to work in the United States for one year after graduation. He taught music and gigged around Boston for a year, then moved to NYC where he did a 2-year Masters of Arts in Teaching Music from the Lehman School, part of the CUNY, finishing in the spring of 2013 While there, he made money as an independent Spanish tutor, and developed a lot of his own materials. Graduating, he senses that there was more demand for Spanish instruction than music instruction, and he would be able to stay in the United States on an investor visa if he started a Spanish language school that employed other people. He and his partner wrote up a business plan and, helped by a family loan, rented a space in midtown Manhattan. His visa was approved, and their first class started in August, 2013.
The first two years were stressful, and they were losing money. But they were constantly working to improve the business on all fronts. In 2015, everything turned around. Retention and referrals went up, and they were ranked higher by google. The business became profitable. Because so many of the practices were clearly laid out, in 2017 they opened a Chicago location. They currently have 24 employees, mostly instructors, but some administrative people.
You can see Dan’s LinkedIn profile here.
Choice Quotes: “I probably enjoyed teaching the most, and did a lot of it when we started. I liked all the interaction with people. Since it’s language learning you talk to people a lot and learn a lot about them. Right now, I enjoy the logical thinking and creativity that all this business optimization requires, as well as the variety.”
“From the beginning we tried to run the business in a franchise-like way: every process is super-documented and everything that can be automated is. This way, our classes resemble each other and people know what they’re getting. Once we had it all built, the NYC school didn’t need us to watch it all the time, so we figured we could ‘copy-paste’ the plan to open up in Chicago.”
“I work on different projects with some touch point with the customer, some training or recruiting process. A project might last for a few weeks or for months. At the beginning producing our textbooks were a big project. Now I’m designing one-day workshops. I’m also designing our whole database management system–that one i huge!”
“We give a lot of very personalized training to our instructors. The most important characteristic for an instructor is how personable you can be. It’s of course important that they can teach the grammar and can explain it well.”
“As a performance major I’d have to practice many hours, which requires self-discipline. That self-discipline helps with how I approach projects today.”
“Try to be realistic regarding what the markets are. For example, the performance market just isn’t a very lucrative industry. Be honest and don’t try to rationalize certain decisions by making up how the industry is when that’s not real. Really understand it in terms of numbers and plan your career accordingly.”
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