My Desire To Learn Spanish Led Me To Build A $70K/Year Language Learning App

Eldon Mirjah
Founder, Gritty Spanish
$5K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
Gritty Spanish
from New York, NY, USA
started January 2014
$5,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
462K
alexa rank
2.95K
followers
2.89K
subs
market size
$12.5B
avg revenue (monthly)
$62.5K
starting costs
$11.7K
gross margin
90%
time to build
210 days
growth channels
SEO
business model
Consulting
best tools
Google Drive, Ahrefs, Libsyn
time investment
Side project
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
tips
4 Tips
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Eldon Mirjah and I am the founder and creator of Gritty Spanish. Gritty Spanish is a series of highly entertaining audio stories/lessons along with side-by-side Spanish/English transcripts. It’s designed to help improve a learner’s Spanish listening and reading comprehension.

Main customers are Spanish-language learners.

Gritty Spanish was mentioned in several publications and language learning blogs including the Bronx times, digital trends, fluent U, Tell me in Spanish, NYU, Language Magazine, Bilingue blogs, and many others.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I am from Grenada, a small Caribbean Island. I migrated with my family to New York at the age of 10 back in 1989.

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Ironically, I was never exposed to the Spanish language before traveling to the Big Apple. I had never even heard Spanish being spoken in real life until I traveled to New York.

Fast forward to 2008, living in the South Bronx and working for a Law Firm in New York City’s financial district as a software/network support professional. I decided to take a trip to the Dominican Republic for my 30th birthday. This was my first time visiting a Spanish-speaking country.

I’ve always avoided Spanish class in School, never taken it seriously. I felt that I would never need to learn the language and there was no point in learning. I never felt that I would be put in a situation where I would need to speak/understand the language. All this changed when I took that trip to the Dominican Republic and I wasn’t able to understand anything or speak a single word of Spanish.

After the trip to the Dominican Republic, I was determined to get to a point where I was able to converse in Spanish. I used various applications and as I improved, I started listening to Spanish-language music. It was fun, short, and sweet and I was able to pick up a lot of Spanish, but still used numerous products out on the market.

It wasn’t until sometime in 2013 that I got sick and tired of the typical Spanish-learning products. I knew I had to take my understanding to a different level. I was searching for a product like Gritty Spanish, but I wasn’t able to find it.

So, I said to myself, “Hey, Eldon, you can create this program yourself”.

I wasn’t thinking that it would turn into a business. My sole intention was to make recordings of Spanish-speaking people in ridiculous and stressful situations and listen to them myself to improve my Spanish listening and reading comprehension.

It was after the first few recordings, I considered making it an official business where Spanish-language learners would have access to it.

I used to design websites for people as a side hustle, but I never thought I’d end up with a Spanish-learning product as a business in my wildest dreams. If you told me that’s what I’d be doing when I was attending middle and high school, I’d think you were nuts!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and launching your first product.

Creating Gritty Spanish was a very unique experience for me. I didn’t have any sound-producing experience, but I had a very rough understanding of the process of working with a soca Artist from Grenada, my homeland, at the time. I was able to get a quick glimpse of how sound/music is produced and mixed.

I had zero interest in being a music producer but felt I would be able to apply what I had learned to create one heck of a Spanish-learning program. I purchased a $400 kit on amazon which included a mic. I then moved my desk and computer to my living room, ready to work.

Professional studio software was too complicated for me at the time but I came across a simpler, yet powerful digital audio editor and recording application software called “Audacity”. Real music producers would cringe at the thought of using this software, but it did the job very well.

I created the English/Spanish transcripts using Microsoft Word and converted them to PDF. This was easy for me since working in MS Word and PDF documents was a great part of my job at the law firm.

In 2012, the year before coming up with the Gritty Spanish idea, my sister had invited me to one of her shows at the City College of New York. She was in a dramatic acting class.

When I decided that I wanted to go along with the Gritty Spanish project, she was the first person I had reached out to. I figured it would be easy for a native speaker to read off the lines from the transcripts dramatically and exaggeratedly.

I said to my sister:

Me: “Sis, do you know any Spanish-speaking people in your school that can act?”

Her: “Hmmm Why?”

Me: “I am just trying to improve my Spanish, but I just need a couple of people to record some scripts for me dramatically. I want them to read the scripts out loud in a dramatic manner, so I can listen and read”.

She managed to introduce me to a Puerto Rican girl and I told her that I’d pay her $100 bucks to translate a couple of documents and $200 to come by my apartment in the South Bronx for a couple of hours to voice-record the Spanish side of the transcripts.

To make a long story short, that session didn’t go very well. She didn’t even appear on the first version of Gritty Spanish, called “Gritty Spanish Original”. According to my sister, she’s one of the best dramatic actresses in the school, but she was not used to doing voiceovers.

My Spanish wasn’t as good back then, but her voice acting sounded forced and it just didn’t sound right when she repeated the lines. I could tell that she was an excellent actress, because she put a lot of passion into it, stomping on the floor, etc., you name it! Looking back, I think I just needed to coach her more and have her practice more, but I didn’t know what I was doing at the time. I was going to reach her again, but that didn’t happen.

I said to myself, “Darn it, this is going to be much more difficult than I originally thought!”. I put this whole idea aside for about a month and a half and went back to improving my Spanish using my two favorite methods, music and watching short Spanish-language movie clips as I wrote more stories to have them translated.

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When I finally decided that I was going to give it another go, I had most of the lessons/stories you hear in the first version of Gritty Spanish written. I had decided to hire a professional translator online, this cost around $2000 to have all 31 of the first lessons translated.

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I paid a couple of everyday Spanish-speaking native speakers around the neighborhood in the south Bronx to come by to read the scripts and surprisingly they did a much better job reading the script than my sister’s friend. It’s because I was more patient, and I made it a more fun environment, they were having fun with the lines.

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This is when I was off to the races and making major progress. I was able to locate Spanish-speaking voice talent online as well since I wanted more variety with the accents and such.

Describe the process of launching the business.

By October 2014, I had all my stories/lessons voiced and everything was mixed and ready to go. Since I was very familiar with creating websites, during Gritty Spanish’s creation, I was putting together the website. I purchased the domain, Grittyspanish.com, and hosting it was pretty much ready to go.

The website was officially live on November 1st, 2014 and I received my very first sale a couple of weeks after the launch. That first month, I made around15 sales, with a couple being from a cousin and a friend.

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This is when I learned very quickly that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake getting tons and tons of customers. I knew that I had something very unique and special with Gritty Spanish that would appeal to Spanish-language learners, but convincing people to buy would be a whole other challenge. Back then I didn’t have the Blog, no one knew anything about the product or if the website is trustworthy, etc.

I didn’t have to concern myself with paying a web designer to put the site together. Up to this day, I don’t have to worry about paying someone to edit things on the site. For the website’s blog content, I am not a writer at all so I have paid between $30 - $200 to have a single Spanish-learning post written. I’ll post it myself to the blog and I’ll add little things to the blog posts to spice it up. So that alone has saved me a great deal of money.

Once I decided that I was going to create this product, I knew it was something I’d have to stick with forever, especially after the first year when I realized that it wasn’t going to be such an easy task.

Luckily, I was making enough money at the Law firm working as a software/network person to help finance the initial startup cost.

By far, I’ve spent the most money experimenting with digital marketing platforms such as google ads and Facebook. I spent around 20k that December and sold a few copies as a result. It was exciting seeing about 130 people buying from that ad campaign.

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It wasn’t profitable at all, but I was able to get eyeballs on the website and get the Gritty Spanish brand out there, but truthfully, I was all over the place. This was a big wake-up call. I realized that just because people clicked an ad on your site, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will purchase the vast majority won’t buy, this was deflating. Lost a lot of money over the years experimenting with ads, but I was able to get the brand out there, stay above water and get lots of organic visits in the end.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

By far, starting the blog and posting high-quality content to it has helped grow the website. This took a lot of time and patience. I’ve probably spent 20k on written posts. I think it helps build trust along with the brand’s profile.

I typically share them with people who have signed up via the website and also with existing customers. I’ve also strategically placed links to relevant blog posts in the lesson transcripts, so that’s another way to get people back to the extremely important website.

This has helped with higher rankings on Google, which means even more traffic.

The chart below shows the amount of traffic I received for the entire year in 2015 (unique page views).

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And the chart below is the amount of traffic Gritty Spanish received in 2021(unique page views)…

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This was a direct result of adding high-quality blog posts to the site. As a result, you’ll notice more time was spent on the website, which of course is a plus when it comes to getting organic sales.

Maybe one day, I'll earn over 1 million in sales for the year, but I still have more work to do.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Although the business has been officially live since November 2014, I feel like it was officially live since 2018-19, because I started to invest in making everything more complete. From the website, the blog, creating the mobile app, etc.

The business has come a long way and it’s now profitable and has continued to slowly but surely grow. I am very aware that I should be doing so much better. On average, on pure sales of the actual products, I earn around 4,000 a month. I have ads running on the blog posts, so that earns around $1200 a month on average.

In 2021, I had around 1,560 new customers and earned more than 70k in sales for the year. So, things are coming along nicely. I am excited to see how this year goes.

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Back in 2018, I had decided to invest in an iOS/Android app, and a web app and that cost me around 20k to develop in total. I don’t have any experience with creating apps and a web version of the application, so I had to pay developers to create based on the idea I had for it.

Before that, a customer would get a link to download the files to their computer to use. The app/web app is super user-friendly because it allows them to access the purchased content with everything in one place using an easy-to-use interface.

A couple of years ago, I added some elements to the app. The quiz was a huge one. To implement that cost me $800, but the majority of the work was done by myself. Such as putting together the multiple-choice questions. If I didn’t have the skill to do the front-end and back-end stuff, I think it would have cost 15-20 thousand easily.

I used a WordPress plugin to create the quiz in the WordPress environment. So, all my mobile app & web developers had to do was create links to what I had already set up – this worked to perfection, but took half the year.

Over the years, I’ve added to the original version of Gritty Spanish – this was my first set. Two yrs. After that, I released a follow-up and it was well-received. The few people who purchased the original were waiting for it and it sold 10k in the first week, which was crazy to me and made me realize that Gritty Spanish has a very small cult following.

The first two programs were meant for low-advanced learners – similar to my level, I honestly wasn’t thinking about beginners at the time. 2 years after that, I released Gritty Spanish Beginnings which is for more intermediate to low advanced learners, and finally, most recently, added a “Basics” program to the library, called, “Gritty Spanish Basics”. So, it’s like I went backward with my releases, right?

Being hesitant and having a fear of failure is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make and they end up not even attempting the idea.

In the future, I’ll be adding more Spanish-learning products to the Gritty Spanish library. Maybe, I’ll focus more on more country-specific versions, for example, Mexico. In the original version and the follow-up, parte2, a Spanish learner will be introduced to how a Mexican speaks and the country-specific phases they’ll hear there, but it’s kept at a minimum since the primary focus is improving one's overall Spanish listening and reading comprehension.

The original idea was to create an all-Dominican Spanish-learning program, but this would have been a big error at the time. In 2015, I created a “learn English” version of the original Gritty Spanish. But focusing on two different sites and products proved to be overwhelming, so I put the learn English version on the backburner. This year, I plan to use the same strategy with this program, get more blogs written and also add more volumes to it, fix the app, add a web version of it, etc.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Remember the initial idea was to create something like this just for my personal use. I wanted to dig a little deeper into the Spanish-speaking world and I wanted to listen to more Spanish like how people speak it in the streets. I learned to appreciate the different dialects used by Spanish-speaking people throughout the world and some of the slang, phrases, curse words, etc. they use.

A great decision that I made was to start the blog, creating great free content. This has added more value to the brand as a whole.

As I’ve mentioned, when I first started, a paying customer received downloadable MP3s and PDF documents. Another good decision was that I invested in the mobile app and later on the web version of the app. This has made everything much easier and convenient for the customer to access their purchased content, making the overall experience smoother.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

My entire website is on the WordPress platform. I’ve started with and still use the popular “Easy Digital Downloads” plugin. This is what a customer sees when they add to a cart, checkout, and completes a purchase. It handles the automatic sending of emails to the customers, etc.

I’ve connected the Easy Digital Download plugin to work with payment processors such as PayPaland Amazon.

I use a premium theme for WordPress called Thrivethemes.

I used a WordPress plugin called, “Learndash” to create and manage the quizzes customers see on the web app and mobile app.

I use Mailchimp to collect emails and automation using a series of emails after they sign up.

I’ve mentioned Audacity before, this is another important tool. Aside from using it to mix the Spanish-language audios, background music, and effects you’ll hear in the Gritty Spanish products, I also utilize it to create sounds to be used in blog posts.

I also use an app for PC, called “ice-cream screen recorder” to make screen recordings of the Gritty Spanish interface and show samples of different lessons/episodes in Gritty Spanish.

Another big one is Photoshop. I use this to edit images for the website/blog. I used photoshop to create the Gritty Spanish logo and even the boxes of different Gritty Spanish versions. Anything image-related.

I use adobe premier to edit/modify videos on the main pages and blog.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Two of the very first programs I had used to learn Spanish were a big influence on me in creating Gritty Spanish. One of them was Michael Thomas’ tapes and the other was a program called, Rocket Spanish. I was using a lot of Spanish-language music to help improve my overall comprehension, so that also played a very big part in influencing me.

When customers listen to lessons/episodes from Gritty Spanish and they hear background music such as salsa, merengue, and batcha playing depending on the situation, that was greatly influenced by the music I was listening to while learning Spanish.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Once I came up with the idea to create Gritty Spanish, I didn’t hesitate. Being hesitant and having a fear of failure is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen people make and they end up not even attempting the idea. Learning Spanish is and was something I am extremely passionate about. I knew Spanish-learning students would truly appreciate the final product once they understood the method to the madness so to speak.

Once I decided that I was going to create this product, I knew it was something I’d have to stick with forever, especially after the first year when I realized that it wasn’t going to be such an easy task.

Music is entertaining, it’s short, and it’s not as overwhelming as watching a full half-hour TV show in Spanish. I was able to learn a lot from it. Back then, I used to always bother my Panamanian co-worker to translate songs for me. I gave her a word template that I had created, it was pretty much designed the same way as the transcripts you’ll see in the Gritty Spanish program.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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Eldon Mirjah, Founder of Gritty Spanish
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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