It’s a tale as old as time. Entrepreneur meets VC. VC shells out a bunch of dough. Entrepreneur operates under threat of failure to turn that cash into a profit. And the cycle repeats.
But James Rohrbach, a serial founder who sold his previous company to Noodle in 2010, wanted to try something different.
Rohrbach has been interested in ed tech throughout his entire career, with a particular interest in re-inventing language learning. So instead of building his own platform and taking VC cash to lure in a community of users, he built his own platform on top of an existing community.
That’s how Fluent City came to be.
Before Rohrbach came around, there was a language learning business in NYC called Sam Teaches French. Sam Maher was wildly popular, as were the classes, but the business was overwhelmed, according to Rohrbach.
So Rohrbach, the self-described business yin to Maher’s yang, bought the business and spent all of 2015 streamlining management and optimizing the operations of the business. That took the business from 40 percent gross margins to 60 percent gross margins.
From 2016 to now, Fluent City has been building out its online platform, offering users the flexibility of paying for a single session to buying a subscription to picking up a few offline courses.
Rohrbach says that there is a huge opportunity in the market for something like Fluent City.
The market is currently saturated with gamified apps like Duolingo and others that focus on making language learning lightweight. On the other side, there are outdated platforms like Rosetta Stone or offline classes/sessions from Berlitz.
Fluent City wants to live in the middle.
The company offers online live video sessions with a teacher, as well as private offline sessions, group classes, and corporate training. Subscription prices for offline private lessons start at $960 for 12 hours, with cost-per-class going down for the 25 hour, 45 hour and 60 hour packages. Online lessons are cheaper, costing $99/month for two lessons, $189/month for four lessons, and $350/month for eight lessons.
Fluent City teaches Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Portuguese, German, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew and English, with offline classes in NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia, DC and Boston.
Rohrbach explains that Fluent City takes a different approach to both what and how languages are taught, focusing less on true fluency and more on communicative proficiency, letting students confidently communicate with their peers. To do so, the company has roughly 20 proprietary text books for its languages.
And now that the company is operating soundly, Rohrbach is ready to start taking money from investors to finance the company’s growth. Lerner Enterprises has invested a fresh $3 million into Fluent City, with participation from New Ground Ventures, ZG Ventures, WorldQuant Ventures, John Katzman, Runway Growth Credit partner Matthew Hanson, Jack Larson, and Nick Hammerschlag, President of Entangled Ventures.
This bring’s Fluent City’s total funding to $5.5 million, as the company received $2.5 million in funding back in 2016.
“While we have fantastic ed-tech VCs on board, none of them led our rounds, which was intentional,” said Rohrbach. “These family offices, such as Lerner Enterprises, have the ability to flex with us as we build this business. They also offer us the capability to continue to think about doing additional M&A.”