Entrepreneurs Interviews, Jan 2018

Overcome the Barrier

“Most people already know grammar rules – they just need to develop an ability to express themselves correctly”

Vladimir Kovin, founder and CEO of Overcome the Barrier, accidentally landed on this idea when he started teaching English to supplement his income. An accountant by profession, Vladimir admittedly used the one tool that he knows best, Microsoft Excel, to help teach English grammar and language semantics online. He soon realized that his system was indeed working and generating expected results – and sure enough, in 2008, Overcome the Barrier (OCTB) was born.

With OCTB, Vladimir and his 3-member team have attempted to create a unique platform which brings together language teachers and students, while remaining uncompromising on teachers’ immense freedom to impart language lessons on their own terms. The platform has over 40 part-time teachers and has currently served over 200 clients, including some big names such as GE, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and CAT. Despite such impressive growth, Vladimir faced a constant challenge – they were yet to figure out ways to grow existing clients. Most of OCTB’s clients are corporates – and while that’s a lucrative business to be in, it’s also one that’s fraught with risks. Payment terms and risk of the corporates going out of business are just two of the many challenges with a B2B customer.

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Overcome the Barrier at a customer’s site

Vladimir and his team arrived at the October 2017 meetup to explore the possibility of shifting to a B2C path from a B2B path. As always, Vladimir came armed with his facts! After all, moving from a $600M market to a $50B consumer market helps expand various hidden opportunities. The biggest fear he faced however, was the likelihood of cannibalizing his own B2B business because of the B2C offering. When he expressed this fear to the Meetup group, one of the members from the audience, Nikolay Vyahhi (CEO of an online courses platform, Stepik) replied “if you don’t cannibalize your own product, then someone else will”. This statement not only gave Vladimir the confidence to believe in his intended strategy, but also got himself a formal collaborator and a partner in Nikolay’s Stepik. Vladimir felt that the October meetup was particularly helpful to him, especially since the event opened a possibility of expanding his business, thanks to the collaboration with Stepik.

Fast forward to today, Vladimir strongly feels the need to build a solution which can effectively coordinate and match teachers with students; while ensuring that teachers remain committed to the platform. He has also observed that the students are exhibiting this need for an instant gratification i.e. they want to connect to a teacher immediately, and preferably to their desired teacher. These are a few things among others which keep Vladimir awake at night, however, he believes that every cloud has a silver lining – especially when he reads encouraging and positive responses from students who are learning languages using the platform. He fondly recalled of one of OCTB’s customers, Ms. Monica Brady-Myerov. Besides being the CEO of Listenwise, Monica is also a very hands-on mother. She wrote to Vladimir mentioning that her daughter thought that the OCTB approach was very “cool”. She also added that she had never heard her daughter speak as much Spanish in one setting before, and was now encouraged to get her other daughter to try Japanese!

While many of the challenges need to be worked through, Vladimir remains very positive. He signs off emphatically - “Although there are bigger players, we are very optimistic. We have a unique offering and we are nimble enough to try new things – essentially, we have every ingredient which makes learning more effective”!

For more information, please visit www.octbglobal.com


Pooja Prasanna

Written by Pooja Prasanna