PSBJ: Former U.S. Ambassador Says Seattle English Learning Startup is 'a Form of Diplomacy'

By Paxtyn Merten – Staff writer, Puget Sound Business Journal

Oct 2, 2019, 10:07pm EDT

A U.S. ambassador, Starbucks executive and regional tech leader kicked off Seattle-based startup Lana Learn’s launch in Vietnam, Thailand and China this week.

Co-founders of the online English learning company Tina Tran Neville and Paul Neville — U.S. diplomats and startup leaders — created Lana Learn after seeing an “enormous, growing, insatiable demand for English learning” in China, Neville said. Their classes pair native English-speaking teachers with students who range broadly, from elementary school kids to working professionals learning English. The lessons include video chatting so students get conversational practice.

Tran Neville said the pair returned to Seattle from China with paying customers despite their then-lack of tech and curriculum, showing broad demand for their services. Two China-based online English learning companies have surpassed $1 billion valuation, and the global market for English learning is nearly 2 billion people and the global market is $325 billion, according to Lana Learn.

“It is a massive market. We think we can do better,” Neville said. “People there said we want a premium English company based in the United States with the trustworthiness of an American company.”

Lana Learn is also launching in Vietnam and Thailand because the cofounders care deeply about the two countries and speak the primary languages. Tran Neville’s family came to the United States as Vietnamese refugees when she was 3 weeks old, and Neville’s first tour in the foreign service was in the Kingdom of Lana in Northern Thailand.

Former U.S. Ambassador Ryan CrockerTran Neville’s mentor when she was in the U.S. Foreign Service — said Lana Learn combines a market awareness, technology and the right people to create something that will impact outside perspectives of the country.

“That’s not just about American entrepreneurship — it’s something larger,” Crocker said. “It’s a form of diplomacy in and of itself. The direct contact students are going to have with native speakers of American English are going to affect perceptions around the world, and it’s going to make a difference.”

Starbucks Senior Vice President Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a former Washington Post editor and foreign correspondent, said there’s a great need for English speakers across the globe and a widespread desire to learn English among those seeking to immigrate, looking for professional advancement within their home countries or simply to broaden their horizons.

“In an era where it’s becoming vogue to hate on the government and to question why we spend the money we do on diplomacy and foreign aid … Lana Learn represents the human capital that comes out of our government,” Chandrasekaran said.

Washington Technology Industry Association CEO Michael Schutzler, Seattle-based Create 33 Executive Director Rebecca Lovell, Executive Assistant to the CEO at Seattle-based The Riveter Sonia Montejano and Newchip Online Accelerator spokesman Armando Vera Carvajal also spoke at the launch ceremony. The co-founders plan to expand Lana Learn into the rest of Asia and Latin America in 2020.

“I would not want to do anything else other than try to build a company from Seattle that goes global that both does social impact work while making people a lot of money and investors a lot of money,” Tran Neville said.

Originally posted by the Puget Sound Business Journal:


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