Mom Entrepreneur: Julia Pimsleur Levine
Business: Little Pim Co.
Little Pim Corporation produces and distributes multi-media products to introduce very young children to a foreign language. Our main product is a DVD series featuring Little Pim the panda, who is also the teacher. The series is available in ten languages – Spanish, Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, Hebrew, English/ESL, Russian, Arabic and German. We are the only company producing language teaching materials designed specifically for very young children. Research has shown zero to five is the best window for children to start learning a second language.
Little Pim has sold thousands of copies since its launch in 2007. Products are sold on the website, www.LittlePim.com, in Barnes & Noble stores nationwide, and more than 200 retail outlets across the country. In addition to the DVDs, Little Pim has expanded to other materials for language learning such as flash cards, CDs and iPhone applications. The company is currently working with PBS to create the first foreign language teaching game for its subscription website.
What inspired you to start your business?
When I had my first child, Emmett, I knew I wanted him to learn French, since I was raised bilingual and became fluent by the age of six. I had trouble finding high quality, age-appropriate materials to assist me in introducing him to French at an early age, so I decided to create my own line of products to help parents expose their children to a second language. Inspired in part from having grown up in the language learning business—my father Dr. Paul Pimsleur created one of the leading methods of teaching a foreign language —I created Little Pim by drawing on my filmmaking and teaching experience and current scientific research. I teamed up with a leading neuroscientist and language educators, plus talented animators and producers. We created Little Pim’s Entertainment Immersion MethodTM, a unique approach to learning languages which features real kids and the animated panda bear, Little Pim, who teaches simple words and phrases for everyday activities.
How long have you been in business?
What did you do in your past work life?
I was the co-founder of a documentary film production company (Big Mouth Productions), founder of a nonprofit for media activists (MediaRights.org) and produced independent films which were shown on HBO, CinemaxReellife, and PBS. Once my son was born, I wanted to do something that required less travel, fewer hours, and had more stability, so I worked as a nonprofit fundraiser for three years before lauching Little Pim.
Describe your ideal workday.
My ideal workday starts with an hour of early morning playtime at home with my two boys, Emmett and Adrian, before they go off to school and preschool classes, then a workout at the gym, and then to my office on West 14th Street in Manhattan. I am very fortunate to work with a small, creative staff of bright men and women in a very collaborative and open space. On an ideal workday I am able to work on the creative aspects of Little Pim (such as watching a rough cut of our new DVDs or meeting with PBS about the interactive game we are creating to teach foreign languages to young children via their subscription web site) in addition to more managerial tasks like paying bills and managing our productions. Some of the things I might do on a good work day is get an update from my distributor in France via Skype, check in with my (offsite) graphic designer about new products he is developing, or work with our manufacturer to design our next batch of plush pandas.
What have been some of your major successes?
This past year, Little Pim was picked up by Barnes & Noble for their stores nationwide; we won our 11th consumer award and were chosen as the best preschool product by the Association of Educational Publishers. We also were thrilled to learn that Angelina Jolie is using Little Pim in French to teach her daughter, Shiloh, and other stars have started to use Little Pim in their families, including Constance Zimmer (Entourage), Kelly Rutherford and Halle Berry. We started a section on our site to track success stories of families using Little Pim and I love to read their stories. Several one-year-olds have even had Little Pim themed birthday parties!
What have been some of your major challenges?
Our top challenge is distribution. We have rave reviews from the parents who have bought our series, but gaining access to the hundreds of book and toy stores across the country and the world, and some of the bigger national accounts like Barnes & Noble, Borders and Target, etc. has been difficult. It’s slow and much more relationship-based than I anticipated. We’ve continued to sell well directly to consumers, but retail is a challenge, in part because we are a hybrid of a book, a toy and a DVD. Happily, many parents have found us on the Internet and we have sold thousands of DVDs and other language teaching products from our web site.
On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?
I love that Little Pim is making language learning fun for kids. My dream is that I’ll be at a cocktail party ten years from now and meet a 14 year-old who loves speaking Spanish and is planning a semester abroad, who got started on his or her language learning adventure with Little Pim! I meet so many people who don’t speak another language and wish they did. Many Americans hated learning a second language, in part because they started learning when they were too old to learn easily (the best time is age zero to five) and it wasn’t necessarily taught in a fun and engaging way.
Do you have a motivational quote?
“No one says yes if you don’t ask.”
What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?
I don’t seek balance. I think of it more as work-life contrast. When you spend time at work it makes you appreciate your kids and vice versa. I love both aspects of my life. I also keep pretty strict boundaries around my work.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to other moms about running a successful business, what would it be?
Seek out the advisors, board and additional professional training you need to be the best you can be. No one can do it all, and if you build the right team, you’ll go ten times faster. Also, make sure your top employees know how much you value them. In a small company it really is like a family. We have a great team spirit and I feel confident that everyone is giving their best each day.
Do you have a favorite business tool and/or resource?
My Blackberry. I couldn’t run my business without it. I love that my Blackberry allows me to attend doctor’s appointments or field trips with my kids and still stay connected to my office.
What is next for your business?
Our plans are to continue to offer new languages (stay tuned for three new languages in 2010!) and to release three additional DVDs in Spanish, French and Chinese. The company is currently working with PBS to create the first foreign language teaching game for its subscription website and we have two iPhone apps that will be available shortly. We hope to team up with partners in the digital space who can help us reach parents seeking quality educational media for their kids, on their computers, iPhones, telephones and other devices that don’t even exist yet. Little Pim has been an incredible adventure so far, and this is just the beginning!
Your two cents sales pitch
Little Pim is an award-winning foreign language immersion DVD series for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. We offer three theme-based DVDs that use our unique Entertainment Immersion Method™, which combines animation and real kids, teaching simple words and phrases for everyday activities. Each program is available individually ($17.95), or in a discounted three-disc pak ($49.95), or in a gift tote with our plush panda ($59.95) in 10 languages: Spanish, French, Mandarin, Japanese, Hebrew, Italian, English/ESL, German, Russian, and Arabic. Music CDs and flash cards in Spanish and French are also available. Give the gift of a foreign language to the little ones in your life. www.LittlePim.com.
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