Moving to a new country — from learning the language to getting in tune with the culture and resources — can be a daunting task when you don’t know anyone on the ground. Global corporations send employees on long-term contracts to other countries, but many don’t have a strong support system in place to help them and their families assimilate. Language tools like DuoLingo are helpful, but don’t encompass the entire cultural transition.
Apto takes basic language learning to another level to become the survival kit for those moving to the U.S. It includes language resources, non-staged, authentic video footage, and real-world scenarios. Their web-based platform offers regionalized content for over 200 cities with a variety of scenarios — from business (work ethics, business presentations, and business culture), education (enrolling your child at school), to social (making friends at a party, restaurant drive-thru’s, and grocery store visits).
“Apto will be there for you before you leave, after you arrive, and for as long as you need it, through any scenario you can imagine,” says CEO and founder Traci Snowden. Snowden experienced the difficulty of adjusting to life abroad and built her platform to help foreign employees gain confidence, enjoy higher quality of life, and enhance their productivity.
Here, Snowden shares more about her branding Aha! moment, how she found her target audience, and what the company has in store for the next year.
Funding or bootstrapped?
Bootstrapped to date. Recently opened a $1.5M Seed round for an 18-24 month runway to scale to $9,000,000 in revenue and 7,000 users and will do a Series A Round of $6.5M for a B2C pivot projected in 2019-2020.
What’s your pitch?
Every year an average of 130M people relocate to America for work, study or to start a new chapter in life creating a $40B English language learning (ELL) market. Most have some formal education, but are not prepared for the informal cultural and language scenarios they’ll face daily. This is tough on families and tough on bottom lines. Apto is an on-demand survival kit to prepare relocating internationals for every day life with content specific to their new city and state, by interacting with video-based simulations of real-life and a human touch you won’t get in any status quo language lesson.
How did you come up with this idea?
After studying abroad, I came home determined to put my foreign language skills and experiences to use, but what I found was an overwhelming demand for ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers — not foreign language teachers. I worked as a private ESL tutor for a company that paired me with ex-pat families who would come to America weeks in advance of their actual re-location date in order to experience American English and culture firsthand. Of course, these families were the privileged, fortunate few. The majority of relocating expats never have that opportunity.
Imagine how exciting but scary it would be if you found out tomorrow that you were moving to Thailand in 2 months. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to explore Thailand, but you don’t speak the language and you’re not really familiar with the culture. Now, imagine that same scenario if you knew that there would be a friend who spoke both English and Thai who could help you prepare. This is the heart of Apto.
Who are your competitors and why do you stand out?
Babbel, Rosetta Stone, Cambly, DuoLingo, Berlitz. Apto is the only online cultural-linguistic simulator or ex-pat “survival kit” with non-staged authentic video footage and locale-tagging technology. In other words, learners choose their origin country, destination state and city — the content and learning experience populate accordingly. Dominated by interactivity and featuring a variety of regional dialects, with international accents for listening comprehension, users learn to speak with confidence.
What has been your biggest “aha!” moment?
The “aha” moment came when a gentleman from Mitsui, who had at first been reluctant to take the meeting said, “Seeing is believing. Apto is a survival-kit for the ex-pat family. It trains you for real talk.” I scribbled his comments down furiously in my notebook. Listen to the customer. We abandoned common Ed Tech jargon and haven’t looked back since.
We have a highly-differentiated product. We started seeing early success with multi-national companies who relocated ex-pats to multiple locations around the U.S., particularly rural sites. People need to know that we do culture and language training, but more than that, we are the only blended learning solution that will help an ex-pat or international traveler get adapted at the LOCAL level. No other technology in this space is taking this holistic approach.
How has being located in the South affected you, as an internationally-focused company?
Headquartered in Nashville, Apto is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and an attendee of its International Business Council and the Japan America Society. We are part of the annual Southeast U.S. delegation to SEUSJapan and have support from the State of Tennessee and the Mayor’s office.
We look forward to growing our employee base here and with support of organizations like Launch TN, Pathway Lending, the local media, state and local government and regional investors.
What is next for Apto?
Closing our current seed round will enable us to make keys hires in order to scale our user base and revenue, but we also have plans to expand our product offering to include a community forum that will connect our users with other users, thought leaders, resources and community partners in their area.
Think of it as the GitHub for culture and language learning where complimentary services are concerned and Match.com for internationals seeking to connect.