Ryan McMunn, Founder & CEO BRIC Language Systems
Ryan McMunn is the Founder and CEO of BRIC Language Learning , an interactive online language learning program that reduces the time it takes to learn Mandarin by 50%. Ryan began his career at Tricam Industries as President of China Operations, where he was instrumental in growing it into one of the largest manufacturers of ladders in the U.S. Ryan currently remains as the CEO of Tricam and is involved in expanding the company into new international markets. An advocate for bridging the cultural divide between China and the U.S., Ryan travels the world speaking to young business graduates preparing to enter today’s workforce. In 2012, he established the Ryan McMunn International Business Scholarship to give undergraduates an opportunity to learn about diverse cultures and business practices.
Ryan has provided commentary to Fox Business, CCTV-America and Entrepreneur as well as spoken at numerous conferences in Europe and across the U.S. on global entrepreneurship and international business.
Free Introductory Language Learning Class: https://briclanguage.com/intro-class/
AUTOMATED EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
[00:00:01] You're listening to scaling of services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.
[00:00:21] Welcome everyone this is scaling of services I’m Bruce Eckfeldt. I'm your host and today we're here with guest Ryan McMunn who is founder and CEO of brick language learning. And we're going to learn a little bit about the background of that business and rise got the kind of cereal entries that involved and symbolic of businesses some of them bigger some of which are a little bit about that and how it came about.
[00:00:45] Ryan welcome to the program.
[00:00:47] Thank you very much. And you know like I said earlier congratulations. I've listened to several of the different podcasts. Very interesting stuff very interesting guest that you had with some Evans this morning and the links as well and there were just just fantastic. So thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
[00:01:08] Well I appreciate is really you know it's about having the guests and about giving the guests a chance of going to talk about their stories and what they've learned and share some of their experiences and some of their sort of sage wisdom and starting businesses early in the service.
[00:01:22] It's actually let me just sort of start there.
[00:01:24] Give us a sense of your professional background and sort of how you got into a position of kind of discovering the opportunity or seeing the opportunity for Rick. We can talk about with Bergson.
[00:01:36] Yeah yeah sure hopefully I actually have something that is good for communities that are sage that comes out of my door.
[00:01:43] So I got my start in 2004 for a manufacturing company called tri cam industries that do gorilla ladders and gorilla carts and a shameless self plug are sold at Home Depot. The ladders the carts are sold on automobiles all those kind of places but it was manufacturing.
[00:01:59] And so I had moved to China in 2004 with them. I end up you know what I'll segue really quickly into what we currently do and that's Barik language learning.
[00:02:11] And we do online Mandarin Chinese training Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish with teachers in China Mexico and Brazil. And what we have tried to do is blend technology and the traditional classroom so that you get that personalized touch of having teacher they can actually ask questions of and kind of like the teacher become a mentor it's not just a Rosetta Stones type of product. And it's you're actually talking to a teacher but we're using technology to make it more interesting more interactive and connect people and bridge the gaps between China Mexico Brazil the United States. And the reason that I got into it was that I had gone to China in 2004 with tri cam industries and I knew no Mandarin why race was so difficult.
[00:03:08] And it's not only the language it's also the cultural divide.
[00:03:12] And I tried everything I tried all the big names that people have heard of I tried local Chinese schools and nothing worked.
[00:03:21] And part of the reason that it didn't work was the fact that they're all set in these systems and you have to learn each chapter before you're able to move on to the next. And I failed miserably for three years and I failed miserably in and learning Mandarin but I also failed career wise because I couldn't figure out China.
[00:03:44] And I met this brilliant young woman named K.C. Wong. And I had been introduced to her by a friend of mine. I walked into her classroom. She's a young lady from a small town in northern China of 8 million people in China.
[00:04:01] You can see that yes she moved to the big city to try out what she could do and then I went and she sat me down and the first thing she asked was What do you want to learn about. And what do you need to learn about. And I said I want to learn about hiking and skiing. I need to learn about business and manufacturing. And she said Don that is what you're going to be learning about.
[00:04:26] So this was a you were you were in there trying to figure out how to order food or how to tell the weather or trying to tell a stranger to lie.
[00:04:34] Yeah that's that's right. So one of the programs that I went into I got to which had recalled red autumn. And it was all about watching the leaves turn red and yellow which I can appreciate outdoors by Apple. But in business when am I ever going to be talking about watching the red. And I asked the teacher can I please just skip this I want to learn about talking to my manager and my colleagues and my business partners and she wouldn't let me skip it. And I eventually walked out of class and that's when I met Casey. And you know I mean I don't like to sound like I'm bragging about myself but it was 12 months after that initial meeting. I'm walking into factories and doing multimillion dollar deals on behalf of trash can. And my career just exploded in the best of ways because I learned the language which allowed me to understand the culture and the people that I was dealing with. And that was kind of what spawned the idea of Greek language learning. And I wanted to open up the doors to not only China but just international business in general. I want to as many people as I possibly could. And I can't take credit for the idea. Actually I give that credit to Casey when she actually came to me when she found out that I was moving back in the States. And this is 2012 I 30000 or and asked would I ever want to do business together. Yes. And I said that depends on what you're talking about.
[00:06:12] Let them leaves that she wanted to sell a lot of.
[00:06:16] So she laid out this idea for doing online Mandarin training using her teachers. Her method online for students in the United States. And I thought it was a brilliant idea. I jumped at the opportunity. I said I like to be more than just Mandarin Chinese. I want to look at you know what other languages are really critical for U.S. businesses U.S. international entrepreneurs and young professionals that want to get into that world. And Spanish that's an obvious one obviously.
[00:06:47] And then the other one that I saw was kind of a niche market was saying Portuguese. And so we started with those three. I went to Mexico and Brazil started making the connections in those countries and figuring out how to start everything out. And we got the business. It was actually founded in 2011 started marketing in 2012. In addition to the language component we do study abroad programs with universities in China. One that we're very proud of at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. And then we also do teaching English as a second language and we're just about to announce a very random au pair program rest us old and really anyone worldwide want to go to China and work in Paris we've got an additional language a bunch of different ways for people to actually get involved in that international business community and it's something that I'm really proud of because I blindly walked in via an opportunity in 2004 and it changed my life personally professionally. And every other way you can imagine.
[00:08:00] Yeah I studied Spanish for a long time and then ended up at McGill University in Montreal to make this revolution but it was but I get that feeling you know that you're attractive you know times a thousand is funny.
[00:08:14] Funny that it's it's a connection it's not just the communication it's a feeling of belonging and when you don't speak the language you you feel isolated and you don't understand what's going on and it's hard to just be just be only going to go to the grocery store and function or I'm at a restaurant and you're part of something and when you start to learn the language it just blossoms like and you start to feel connected to people to culture to activities to it that's so I can imagine how that process was for you.
[00:08:40] Yeah absolutely and that's that's just the thing is you have to know the the language and the culture. And it just opens up so many doors as you go. And you know you had asked me earlier today you know kind of what was something surprising that it happened that you tried to grow the business. And I grew up in doing business in China. I grew up doing business in a foreign culture. And as I started brick out. I knew more about Chinese culture than I did about you ask kultury like I came in hock to the United States. I was like I thought I was king of the world.
[00:09:20] You know I came out and I had I had way way it was so bad because I think it is important. So you know on the business when you were working with the Trigon and doing the latter is the equipment that you can find at home depot and Lazulis like that. Give us this is a kind of the business process we went through there were were you in terms of the business where did you take it. I think it is an important aspect of understanding your kind of journey in the trends as you've had.
[00:09:46] Yeah. So when I started out at tri cam I started out as a quality control inspector. I got into social environmental auditing going into factories and making sure that they were paying employees right.
[00:10:00] And that's actually I'm glad that you asked this because it's actually one of the reasons why I said to myself I'm not leaving China until I speak Mandarin. I as an auditor I had to walk into factories and determine if they were paying the right wages do a safety audit make sure that everything at the factory was happening they had safety all machines all this kind of stuff. And. There were never any any real like blacklist type violations. You didn't walk into a Chinese factory and see child labor. But what you did have was factories not paying their employees according to Chinese labor law. And there was almost like an unspoken agreement between the workers and the factory owners that the factory workers weren't demanding higher wages because they were already being paid 10 12 15 20 times what they would be getting paid back in their home province. So Chinese labor law was up here. They're getting paid down here the owners and the workers to. And I had to go in and as a U.S. manufacturer you cannot have anything like that happening and if you just look at the set of books right in front of you that they've just given you you look at it and everything adds up perfectly right. They're paying all of their employees according to the Chinese labor laws and all that. You start crosschecking those books with live reports with quality control records with all the other different recourse they're doing in factories and all of a sudden you notice something doesn't add up yet.
[00:11:37] No this guy checked in for you checked in for work on Tuesday but he supposed to go on Lete. And so you do all this crosschecking you find out and almost every single factory had two sets of books. And it was eye opening and a lot of ways because I mean I had never seen blatant fraud like this but it was also what do you do to solve this you know and if we would have said all right that's a black list item we wouldn't have been able to do business with any of the factories that we were looking at doing business with. And so what we did instead was said all right we're going to work with you guys as long as there's not like a true blacklist item. We're in a group with you guys. Of course the next year get your accounting straight. And but what we need is truth and honesty show us the sets of books. Show us Bult you've got real and you got fake. And because of the clout that we had they would show us both sets of books. And we were able to work with most of the factories. I'd love to say all of the factories but there was one just give me an example where any modern at this point I sit down.
[00:12:50] I've got one of my colleagues from martialing and we're going through the books. We took a tour of the factory the factory set up is where you got like a group ownership and then there's 25 factories underneath that.
[00:13:05] And we're looking at the books and they agreed and shows both sets of books. Real and fake. Right. So we're looking at both sets of books.
[00:13:13] All of a sudden the big boss of the factory the factory owner manager jumps up and starts screaming the sky chases right out of the room in front of you it's like a cartoon. It was like wow good luck runs out and chases this guy out of it out of the room and I looked at my colleague and I said what just happened.
[00:13:33] Wta yeah seriously. And he was like right.
[00:13:38] Just shut up. I'll tell you when you get to the hotel tonight. We get back though towel and he looks at me like Ryan I don't think we can possibly do business with these guys. What happened was that they not only have two sets of books they've got three they've got one to trick an auditor like myself. They've got a second one that's real.
[00:13:58] And what this guy said that made him get chased out of the room was whoops I'm not showing him the real set of books and a fake set of books I'm showing him the other fake sort of books of youth or cheat the ownership and all that.
[00:14:13] Are you kidding me.
[00:14:13] They have three sets of books and I was like well years trying to work with these guys and get their accounting right and all this stuff.
[00:14:23] And it would never happen because there's there's too many such books here. And so I I looked at him that day and I was like you know this is why I need to learn man. It's I have. First off I'm wasting your time and my time by having both of us here. If I spoke Mandarin I could be just sitting here by myself and doing the stuff. And you could be at a different factory and the same thing.
[00:14:46] And so that's where I decided I am not even here until I speak Mandarin. And I gotta say you know back then this is 2004 5. That was the norm and I can say this unequivocally if you have the Chinese factory that's doing business with U.S. retailers. Ninety nine percent of them are doing things absolutely right because it's too much business to risk on trying to save a dollar here or there. It's a different different world now but man I mean that's that's why I wound up learning Mandarin first place.
[00:15:20] Yeah that's a great start. It and it just proves the point. Why. It's more than just an annoying language but being capable in the language from a business point of view. You can really sort of see what's going on and really get to the social aspects of the communications so just see the meaning of the words but yeah. So you embarked on this learning mission. You got into these you Mendus this wonderful person you had a program that can actually learn rather than helping you understand what it leaves you first storage the brick as a as a company what was the first kind of set of news that you made to actually put this into planning put this in the market.
[00:16:01] So we were fortunate first set of moves was the conversation that I had with Casey and trying to figure that whole portion of it out was interesting and more difficult than you'd expect to mean doing business in China and setting up a business is not easy. We are fortunate in the fact that KC already had a business set up so I didn't have to go through that whole legal process of getting a wholly owned foreign enterprise set out like that. We just did a business through the U.S. company that we had set up in her company. Now we've got the work set up and all that stuff but that was the first move.
[00:16:40] When you do Whuffie wholly owned foreign enterprise will a wholly owned enterprise are that good.
[00:16:48] So now we've got the set up but the other moves we're figuring out Mexico and Brazil. And that was hard in other cultures and also care out Eros and their cultures that I hadn't. I went to Mexico in high school and I had never been to Brazil so I didn't know anything about doing business in those locations. And one thing that I always tell people about China or doing business anywhere internationally as you got to find people you can trust. And I was fortunate right off the bat to find people in Mexico City that I could trust and were good people. But it's always a risk you know because the people that you can't trust you're trying to make trust.
[00:17:34] It's like sales team. We saw you on there on the role at the release.
[00:17:40] Exactly so. So I was fortunate in Mexico to find somebody right off the bat that was really really good person. And they have been a great business partner and I had my biggest problems actually and Brazil and here in the U.S. and that's what I was starting to get at earlier. I grew up doing business in China. I came back to the United States to set this business up. We started trying to go to market and I didn't know anything about digital marketing. I knew nothing about Google like Facebook Twitter LinkedIn was always over in China but all these other things have been banned and their versions of them like I do over in China is like their version of Google. It's all pay to play you know whoever has the most money winds up at the top of the list or the best government connections so I came in thinking you know I'm an American I know American culture. I know how it got to market and I quickly realized I knew nothing about going to market in the United States. And in this day and age and watching the dollars flow out and nothing coming in was absolutely shocking I was like How do I not know my own culture and I'm running a company that all we do is preach learning about other cultures and saying really the secrets. And same thing in Brazil. You know we're not we weren't trying to sell down there trying to get set up you know.
[00:19:18] You know the sexy name is Rio de Janeiro. You know like that you sit there and you talk about doing business in New York Shanghai Rio de Janeiro Mexico City. Yeah that sounds great. The reality of Rio and I'm paying a little bit with a broad brush. It's like a beach culture it's a resort town a very laid back and and. So we had you had a CEO of one of the oil and gas companies that were working with signs up for lessons. His first three lessons his teacher decided well it's 80 and sunny I'm going to the beach shop class. So I eventually I hired someone here in New York a Brazilian brilliant young woman that he Albuquerque who steered me in the right direction. Like look we need Sao Paolo. That's business. That's like a new type of area. Let's start hiring teachers there and make partnerships down there. And it was the best that we ever did for President Portuguese because it is the same like fast paced we show up for meetings on time type of culture. I mean it's like going from New York to a beach town the U.S. is just in Brazil. Yeah I learned a couple lessons about American culture and Brazilian culture right off the bat they are very eye opening.
[00:20:40] So in terms of the business. So how are you going to structure. What's the what was the actual model work so you've got teachers in these locations. How are you generating leaves are you generating customers. How are you finding teachers. What's the matchmaking and the logistical process.
[00:20:57] Yeah. So all of our lessons are online teachers up on your screen live. All of our content goes on screen next to the teacher. The teachers in control of all of that content. The teachers are in China Mexico and Brazil and Turkey lead generation. You know the thing that that I just talked about in getting set up and figuring out marketing and all that we made a hard pivot and I hate that word because everybody does not have they have to stuff. All these catchphrases and the entrepreneurial entrepreneurial world. We made a hard habit. And you said all right we're not getting any traction online. Nissen's back in 2012. Now are online marketing is taking off but instead of trying to market it to the general public and just go out and do Google Ad Words and watch money fly out Facebook and Twitter we turn to kind of a traditional source and that is networking and going out and calling up contacts we previously had. So I was a member of the American Chamber of Commerce for a long time when I was living in China. I started reaching out to companies that I met through the American Chamber of Commerce. I got a new membership there. All of a sudden you go straight to those people in Shanghai and say hey we've got this online language course you guys are operating all over China.
[00:22:22] Your executives are flying back and forth from Beijing Shanghai to New York and L.A.. Give us your shot and do a free trial. And that was how we got foothold and we so we pivoted from trying to just mass market tune. Let's look at corporate clients that have a direct understanding of that need. And that really made the difference in the first couple of years for us was making that pivot to corporate clients. And they're great because for us and this is a different culture than a lot of the people that you're talking to but they're sending x Pat x Pat people over to China or down to Brazil or and they go through two years. And they want to learn some of the language so that they can talk to their colleagues and their business partners and then they move on to a different role and then a new person comes in and you've already established your relationship with that company. So they plug that person right into our system. And another. I mean great networking lead story that I have is it with LinkedIn this kind of. I mean that's how I met you. You know it's like you sent me a message on LinkedIn and it won. One thing that I've always done in business and personally as I say let's have the conversation and just do it.
[00:23:46] So we had a conversation and now we're on this podcast together right. Night at the Norwood club in Soho. This guy contacts me from Eastern Europe and on LinkedIn and he says you know I've got a client that you work for a relocation program about a client that could really use some language courses. Is there any chance that I was like Who is this guy. And I thought myself you know what just have that conversation and a lot of times having conversation turns out to be a waste of time but sometimes it winds up to be the best thing that can possibly done. Yeah. And in this case it was I had the conversation with them and it seemed like a real lead. And unfortunately my uncle passed away in the middle of this. Totally unexpected. So I was at his funeral. I passed the conversation on to Casey Aldridge Hi. And next thing you know we've got a corporate client called Corning who is building a factory in a province here in Hefei and they've got 150 engineers and their spouses going over and they want to offerer as an employee benefit language classes and bam actually you know her biggest corporate hire from some random person from Eastern Europe contacting me and next thing you know get up let's go out you know.
[00:25:18] Yes you know it seems for two it is random but I think the one thing that does really make sense and that is the fact that you've taken this whole kind of learning language market and you've identified a very particular type of person in a very particular type of situation that used to learn to learn the language and a bit Kingkiller way for particular purpose and you create a solution really geared towards that. So I mean the fact that this person reached out you know certainly they saw that out of the all the different language options language programs that they could investigate yours really bubbled to the surface that way because of the way you approached it. And the solution that you were providing and I think that you know it's kind of one of the rules that we have in scaling businesses in general but certainly services that the faster you grow the more you want to scale the more focus you need to be. You need to really zero in on the product or service the offer to the channel. Like how you get to sell it is as key as key.
[00:26:12] Absolutely and I think a lot of it too is that the personalized touch you know it's that question that Casey asked me what do you want to learn about your and what do you need to learn about. And that's what we're providing to these companies so when we're working with a manufacturing company or a tech company or financial firm rebel a kind of gear it toward plan within the framework of our system and that really pays off in the long run and then next thing is you've got your like Bank of China is recommending another financial firm or that guy leads anchor China and go. Yeah. ICBC and all of a sudden there you go. And so it's kind of it's weird we're in the tech industry but a lot of our marketing and a lot of our sales is that traditional way relationship.
[00:27:03] So it was silly. So we're going to of time here in a little bit. But this has been great conversation. I've learned a lot. I think we've covered some really good stuff. If people want to find out more about you about BRIC what's the best way to get more information.
[00:27:16] Can you tell us. I would give my personal e-mail but I travel so much probably. So informal. Info at Brek Langrish dot com. Bjarne icy language dot com is probably the best way. We've also got a contact us on the Web site so they can go there as well.
[00:27:34] So that knowledge. Those are the Shinoda and I'm assuming you anticipated spam. Can you say say a little like party like thank you for listening.
[00:27:43] Scaling up services engendered to change any anyone.
[00:27:50] Yeah right.
[00:27:52] Great. Thank you so much. Ryan. We'll talk to you again soon. But thank you for being on the program and appreciate the time.
[00:27:59] Yeah. Thanks for having me. He's been listening to scaling up services with Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt. To find a full is a podcast episodes. Download the tools and worksheets and access other great content. This is a Web site that scaling up services dot com and toll free to sign up for the free newsletter scalingupservices/newsletter.