With the vision to disrupt the traditional world of education by providing high quality, virtual language education at any time and any place Marina Tognetti in 2007 founded mYngle, an online language learning platform based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. mYngle offers customized language training programs through video conferencing in 45 different languages anytime and anywhere. They provide one-on-one lessons, with highly qualified native coaches related to the learner’s job position. Their virtual classrooms enable learners to take classes 24/7.
To learn more about her vision and inspiration that led her to start this company, we sat down with Marina Tognetti, Founder and CEO of mYngle. Here she shares about her entrepreneurial journey so far, workplace issues that affect women professionals, the challenges she faced as a woman in business, and any advice she has to offer to those wanting to follow her path.
Aspioneer (A): What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur? Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Marina Tognetti (M): “I am a tech entrepreneur 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. I don’t think that there is any single person that inspires me, but different people that have similar mind-attitude as mine: people who dare to push the limits, going beyond what others are willing to do; innovators who are able to think out of the box, adapting continuously to the changing environment and trends, but also people that idealistically look for ways to make their contribution for a better world.”
(A): How did you get your idea or concept for the business? What’s unique about the service that you provide?
(M): “The initial idea came from my own personal needs. Like many people back then I was looking at China for opportunities. The first step was learning Chinese. But finding a way to learn the language was not easy for me as a busy manager. I tried everything: an evening school, CDs/ DVDs, a Dutch teacher trying to teach Chinese, a Chinese student that could not teach… I got quite frustrated. If I were living in China- I thought- I could easily find a good teacher! That was when the idea hit me: there are thousands of teachers all over the world, I just need to use the power of the internet to connect teachers with students. This is how mYngle was born.
mYngle is the solution for busy professionals who need language training to be successful in their international business, and for companies that want great learning results and a transparent and controllable learning process to make their investment a success. We look to continuously improve our service. We do so by constantly listening to users’ feedback and improving accordingly, as well as leveraging new technologies to our advantage. This is also reflected in our internal evaluation systems and how we assess our job. We constantly monitor our users’ reactions and try to adjust accordingly, using adapted versions of NPS (Net Promoter Score), which defines that only excellence counts. Our average lessons’ scores are 4.9/5.0. And our first corporate customer is still with us, 10 years later… Results speak for themselves!”
mYngle is the solution for busy professionals who need language training to be successful in their international business, and for companies that want great learning results and a transparent and controllable learning process to make their investment a success.
(A): As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career? How did you overcome it?
(M): “It was not one single barrier, but the overall “glass wall” that separates women from tech entrepreneurship. The tech world is in fact still particularly male-dominated: only 5% of tech start-ups are owned by women, despite women are as innovative as men, and companies run by women are as successful.
One of the main reasons is that women are more insecure, the “fear of failure’’ for the high risks of tech entrepreneurship (because, yes, 90% of tech start-ups fail).
The way I overcome this barrier is in my mind. I ask myself “What’s the worst that can happen?” And realize that in most cases it is not that bad. If you step out of your comfort zone, you can fall. You need to trust your capability to be able to stand up again. When you have that trust, you can do anything.”
(A): When you face challenges as a leader, what encourages you?
(M): “I like challenges, in everything I do. Building a business from scratch is always challenging, building a tech start-up disrupting an industry as traditional as that of education, is exponentially more challenging (especially more than 10 years ago, when we started). Now online language education is setting the standards in terms of quality and flexibility. And we have been part of that. This is what motivates me in face of challenges.”
(A): How do you unwind? What’s the best book you’ve read this year? What did you like about it?
(M): “I like sports a lot, especially adventure sports, like off-piste snowboarding, rock-climbing, diving. In some ways, these sports share similar principles to entrepreneurship: taking (calculated) risks, going beyond what others are willing to do, having the drive to be the best one can be.
It is an old book that I had long on my bookshelf and re-read: Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Not so special if only taken at face value, but, as with many things, it has more if you read between the lines. It is about seeking a higher purpose in life, even if our flock (everyone around us) finds it threatening. Follow our own path in life and so fulfill our true potential. It is about finding freedom. It feels a lot like the way I have been conducting my life.”
(A): What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What can aspiring women leaders do to overcome it?
(M): “Firstly, the gender gap is particularly large in STEM disciplines, where men vastly outnumber women. There is no gap inability, but women face unique obstacles because of their gender when it comes to school and works in STEM fields. The gap begins in childhood and continues through education and into the workplace. Secondly, fewer role models in these fields – with limited examples of female scientists and engineers- reinforce the perception of a “male discipline”. Overall, we need more role models. Seeing women who work in STEM and technology helps remind girls and women they also can have a place in these fields.
Probably the most important advice I can give to an aspiring entrepreneur is to stop comparing. The stories you read about the few that “got it all” are rare exceptions and often not the full truth. Let that go of that. Let go of trying to imitate types of leadership you see around but which are not you and be really true to yourself. Don’t look around for answers, look inside.”