Educators are defined by their ability to take something they love and share it with the masses. Whether in music, business, medicine, or any other specialized field, educators take their passions and make them easily accessible to all.
Such is the case for Devon Saliga, the founder and CEO of Beepboop.
Devon (he/him) is a lover of language and has spent his entire life finding new meaning through different cultures and their languages. His company, a recent StartOut Growth Lab graduate, isn’t your typical language-learning platform. Instead, Beepboop is on a mission to empower teachers and learners alike through a specially crafted curriculum and method as unique as the languages themselves.
Devon recently spoke with StartOut about his professional and personal journeys and his lifelong affection for education.
Devon, when did you first become interested in learning foreign languages?
Growing up as a closeted gay kid, I was looking for an escape from my reality. Learning different languages and cultures gave me that and filled me with the hope that there was something more to the world than my conservative surroundings. When I was older, I had the privilege of studying Japanese at Dartmouth College. At Dartmouth, I was exposed to this highly effective teaching method referred to on campus as “drill,” where a single instructor could engage a whole classroom in these interactive rapid-paced speaking exercises. I witnessed my peers going from being super embarrassed uttering a single word in a new language to confidently forming sentences on the fly after just a few weeks of drill.
What did you do after you graduated?
My Japanese abilities were critical for landing my job at Goldman Sachs. Working on global teams made it clear that I was fortunate to be born with English as my first language. If you didn’t speak English well, you were left behind. Languages are the pathway to a more enriching life.
Throughout my eight years in investment banking, I kept studying languages as a hobby, but I couldn’t find any programs, apps, or classes that came close to the effectiveness of the education I received at Dartmouth. I was so frustrated knowing that great teaching methods existed, but almost no one had access to learn from them.
Is that what sparked the decision to launch a company?
Correct. Knowing you have a unique insight into a global learning problem is quite motivating, and I didn’t see why these exceptional teaching methods weren’t more widespread. This led me back to Dartmouth after my finance career to study language teaching methods.
I learned that excellent pedagogy is hard to understand and implement, lesson planning is tons of work, and being a compassionate and charismatic teacher is draining. It’s not surprising that only the most well-funded institutions have the resources to implement the most effective teaching methods.
At Beepboop, we’re taking these proven teaching methods, extracting the difficult parts to implement with our tech, to free up the teachers’ minds so they can focus more on what humans do best, like delivering compassionate feedback.
How can we make teaching so easy and fun that almost anybody can become a superstar educator? Our value is provided to the teachers. We want to help them create these engaging classroom settings in-person and online with our technology and inspire their students to actually speak the language they’re learning.
It’s our vision to be in all schools and a critical tool depended on by all language teachers. Still, for now, we focus on selling to US-based companies facing labor shortages that want to recruit and retain a non-English speaking workforce. Our live instructors guide these students through speaking exercises proven to help them rapidly learn the English needed to succeed in their jobs.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
My dad and his siblings run a machine shop together, so I grew up in an entrepreneurial house. I think it’s always been in my blood. I knew being an entrepreneur would be a complicated life, but I also saw how fulfilling it could be.
When you have an entrepreneurial itch, you can’t stop thinking about or working towards it. While I loved what I was learning in banking, I felt if I didn’t start building my own company, I would live to regret it. Even the founders I spoke with who failed once or twice said they stood by their decisions to leap into entrepreneurship.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
The hardest thing for me was improving my storytelling abilities related to fundraising. Nobody’s in entrepreneurship because they want to build a product that will change the world. Your ability to tell a compelling story is what unlocks the capital to develop your product. Spending time practicing your account comes at the cost of not extinguishing fires.
How’d you first discover StartOut?
I learned about the organization through an in-person event in New York City, and I applied twice before we got into the Growth Lab. The accelerator was a game-changer for us, and I’m so grateful for the program. If I had StartOut when I first started Beepboop, our trajectory would have been very different. I didn’t realize the power of community early on, and it led me to try to do too much by myself. It takes a whole village to build a successful company and StartOut is that village for me.