Q – 1) Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.

Ans –  • Still based in Austin, TX, now 100% online, available to the world,
• Freestyle Languages offers a proven language learning model for adults through:
– the flipped classroom,
– newest Edte h dynamic online tools,
– a proprietary curriculum developed through authentic materials and
– continual professional development of top notch instructors (if we may say 🙂

• Our learners reach their speaking goals, with a progress guarantee, in Spanish, French, English (for Spanish speakers) and Italian.

• In 2017 we started developing our first 100% online (flipped model) classes, as we knew that would be critical to reach a more broad audience / community;
• 2022, Freestyle received certification as a HUB (Historically Underutilized Business) & M/WBE (Woman Minority-owned Business Enterprise) in Texas;

• We offer an accredited online Teacher Training Program Any language instructor anywhere can benefit from our synchronous (and part asynchronous) cohorts offering pedagogy strategies for truly successful speaking outcomes; (We expect to offer these outside Freestyle (to Tx school regions and well beyond) again in mid 2023. )

• In addition to a variety of learning options for individuals, from private lessons to group classes, Freestyle offers a ‘Language at Work’ corporate / organizational language program, which includes customized language solutions across a variety of industries, languages and time zones; As the construction industry experiences the largest language gap (and as data shows us that), currently our biggest clients with classes across 4 times zones are DPR Construction and Turner Construction whose goals are, respectively, to build empathy and equity.

Q – 2) Kindly give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).

Ans –  • An incurable Francophile, Elizabeth is uncommonly passionate about language learning, especially the ability of languages to connect people, build empathy and create equity.

• As a graduate of the University of Texas (’89, BBA Marketing / International Business; French minor), Elizabeth initially worked in Marketing for L’Oreal, Paris. During several subsequent years in France and Amsterdam, she earned a Diplôme Supérieur in French business while learning Dutch. These years offered unforgettable experiences, but she longed to return to Austin, Texas where she proudly raised her two daughters.

• Following an MA in 18c. French Literature from UT Austin, Elizabeth served for 5 years as a Professor of French at Texas State University. Increasingly disenchanted with the standard academic model, she formed what is now known as Freestyle Languages in 2012 to create a language learning community through fun, stress-free learning & and an effective methodology.

• When not busy with Freestyle, family or friends, Elizabeth is finding new ways to lean into the power of language. Most recently, she has been enjoying a leadership role in the Texas Anti-Poverty Project in the hopes of helping central Texas communities leverage the many advantages of language, including its ability to provide a life skill and a path to wage equity.

• Labeled an ‘Edu-preneur’ by SXSWEdu where she’s a frequent participant / speaker,
Elizabeth loves to attend language learning conferences to meet like-minded educators, keeping up to date with the most recent learning science and methods.
The power of language learning – c’est magnifique!

Q – 3) What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?

Ans – * Decades ago (late ‘80’s), I knew I had been set up for failure by our traditional foreign language classes in the US. After 6.5 years of learning (and getting ‘good grades’ in) French, when I got to France, I could barely understand or say anything. There’s was a flash where I wondered if we had accidentally landed in Italy, it sounded like nothing I had ever heard!!
▪ I had honestly thought, prior to arriving in France for a study abroad semester, that I ‘spoke French’ because of those grades and years of effort.
* Flash forward a few decades, during my position of French Prof / Instructor at Texas State University, I found myself in the same system that had NOT set me up for success – and it all started coming together:
* I started envisioning what I KNEW for a fact worked (and sneaking these elements into my classes, for which I often got reprimanded…) :
▪ Taking hours of grading and stress out of the equation (nobody CARES about all those marks on a paper when it comes to speaking a language!)
▪ Using music and film and authentic culture to drive real conversations as the language is truly spoken,
▪ Making learning FUN
▪ Turns out I later learned that the language learning science backs up all these things; nobody is (or rather few are) using that learning science

* Then, one day, the ah ha moment: I walked into a packed class at TX State, with a bunch of eager learners excited for me to teach their class, and I thought to myself (due to my marketing and sales background) – “this could sell”. I put my notice in several weeks later and started Freestyle – with no teachers, no curriculum, no place to teach and no start-up $: bootstrapped from the ground up.

Q – 4) What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Ans – 

  • That thing you’re uncommonly passionate about is the best driver of your success;
  • Keep going – be stubbornly optimistic; success is not immediate, stuff won’t always work out
  • Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing!

Q – 5 ) What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

Ans –

  • Relentless work ethic (is that a skill?!) ;
  • An appetite for risk (also not a skill )
  • Optimism (also not a skill but 100% necessary)

Q – 6 ) How many hours do you work a day on average?

Ans – 

  • Depends on the year; for the first few years it was over 12-18 hrs day
  • There was awhile where it ‘stabilized’ to about 9-12
  • During covid and our flip online, it was almost 12-18 again
  •  Currently, as I’m still in operational mode, it’s 10-12 hrs day.

Q – 7) To what do you most attribute your success?

Ans –

  • I’m freakishly passionate about the power of language, and I want others to experience the boosts I’ve had in life connecting to people of other cultures / languages like I’ve had.
  •  I also believe in the adage ‘the things that made you weird as a kid, make you great today’: while I had never realized it growing up – I used to like to play school as a kid. Ha, that’s why I had a hard time making friends with all my moving around! Learning – and a happy learning environment – was my happy place. With some rough family events growing up, I learned I could be successful and shine pretty easily at school. It made me happy to be at school; its even why I went back for an MA French Literature when my daughters were little: I missed learning and being around like-minded people, and I want others to feel happy learning.

Q – 8) How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Ans – 

  • Events for people to experience Freestyle and meet the team; it’s a little trickier online with all the noise, hence a new digital ads team!
  •  It’s also been difficult to have an LMS (Learning Management System) separate from our website, so once going 100% online we

Q – 9) Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?

Ans –

  • In the very early stages, once I had already jumped and committed myself, my father gave me $60k in seed money; he didn’t question a business plan or ask me for anything, other than how much did I think I needed 
  • In 2013, Eric Sonnier, while working on his startup business he started while at Harvard Business School, called ‘Local Lift’ (crowdfunding platform), found Freestyle and thought that we had a great brand presence and that we’d be a great fit for this platform. The goal was to raise 10K$ for curriculum development, and we did that (and we’re still paying for curriculum development! Turns out, it’s not a one time expense 🙂

Q – 10) What is the best way to achieve long-term success?

Ans –

  • Have a vision, stick to it while evolving with the times and keeping an eye out for the long game. Had we not started working on our online platform in 2017, we would not be where we are today with learners, clients and instructors all over the country and world.
  • Keep an open mind and lean on those who understand and share your vision; e.g., a language expert, Gonzalo Peralta, Exec. Director of Languages Canada, found Freestyle as the answer to DPR Construction’s problem (they had gone to him, an international renown expert, to consult about their language program) ; at first I resisted his initial suggestions (!) but we have him to thank for having a positive effect on the construction industry!

Q – 11) Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?

Ans –

  • Within 5 years, I see Freestyle getting an Executive Director position who is NOT me, and continuing to expand in industries and with languages.
  • By year 20 (we’re now 11), I could see selling Freestyle.

Q – 12) Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?

Ans –  WellAware, an NGO, started by my friend and badass single mom, Sarah Evans, which brings fresh water via new (and 100% functioning, successful) wells in Kenya. And WellBeyond, their new App.

Q – 13) How important have good employees been to your success?

Ans – Critical. Especially good instructors. They’re the ones who keep learners successful and coming back .

Q – 14) How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?

Ans – I typically don’t give up, but if it’s clear an idea is wearing down the team, I’ll reassess and let the group decide.

Q – 15) What motivates you?

Ans – The drive to continually learn, taking on new challenges, the drive to succeed (especially in an area that’s typically not that successful) ;

Q – 16) What are your ideals?

Ans – Honesty, life-long learning, cultivating empathy, seeing the best in people

Q – 17) How do you generate new ideas?

Ans – Often, I don’t, they come to me. But in continually reading and learning, some things germinate that way.

Q – 18) How do you define success?

Ans – It’s extremely relative: learning new things, having a language model that works and a work environment that makes people happy.

Q – 19) How do you build a successful customer base?

Ans – Make it personal; from writing customer service postcards while in retail in the ‘80’s to learning each person’s name in a community of 100+ each semester (it’s easier online with zoom -!) , people desire to be seen and understood.

Q – 20) What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Ans – Not answering to anybody 🙂 But that can be a double edged sword, when there are no lack of moments, it would be nice to share the struggles!

Q – 21) What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Ans – Being named one of the most innovative businesses in Austin when we were still relatively young and new by Business Insider.

Q – 22) What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

Ans – The level of risk and commitment; there’s not a time you’re not ‘on’ and responsible for dozens of other people.

Q – 23) What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?

Ans –  A culture of continual learning and improvement, in a community which fosters passion for what we all love: language & culture; I don’t hire somebody who doesn’t, in the first few sentences, say what it is they love about language and culture; pedagogy (knowing how to teach) can be taught: passion for what we do can’t.

Q – 24) In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.

Ans – Fulfilling

Q – 25) How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

Ans – As a single mom, my two daughters have had to give time and certain moments to Freestyle along the way, as they were in middle school when I started it; while sometimes I feel I’ve worked too hard, including endless weekends and holidays, I always prioritized their activities and needs. They know they’re #1 and that’s non-negotiable to this day, even though they’re out of college now. But I’m glad they’ve experienced a mother who’s independent, can make things happen, and, most importantly, work on her own terms.

Q – 26) What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?

Ans – Stay in the present; it’s a constant effort, but has served me well.

Q – 27) If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?

Ans – Nelson Mandela. His learning Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor, while imprisoned, is largely credited with his ability to end apartheid, thanks to his negotiating IN their language.

Q – 28) Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Ans – See above 😉

Q – 29) What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

Ans –

  • I love the outdoors, all things nature, green space and being in it.
    ▪ I’ve learned I need a certain amount of outside time every day
  • I was an endurance athlete for over 30 years, running (the only thing I’m coordinated enough to do) and then triathlons. By the time I discovered 40k trail races in the greenbelt in Austin, I was in my mid 30’s to early 40’s and developing that love and expertise over decades made winning 1, 2nd or 3rd place come pretty easy to me. I was lucky in my build – and because I loved it. When I was trail running, nothing could stop me!
  • I LOVE two-step dancing, western swing and a TX dance hall. It’s impossible to have a bad time or find an unhappy person at a TX dance hall! (and I still insist I’m not coordinated, I’ve only learned how to spot the dancers good enough to make me look good 😉 It’s a thing!)

Q – 30) What makes you happy?

Ans – My daughters’ happiness, nature, my dogs, travel and experiencing new places (or something that I know and love already- again)