There once was a plant scientist who studied biology at Cornell University, propagating plants and cloning what would become mesmerizing little miracles in the plant kingdom. Enthusiastic as she was about scientific methodology, she really was more of an adventurous entrepreneur at heart.
Traveling had been a family pastime since she was a young girl in Venezuela. Though she loved science and plants, her passion was globetrotting and someday, somehow, that would be her livelihood.
In her downtime, Sonia brushed up on her French and found the sound of verbs repeating over and over in the program monotonous. For Sonia, the basis of language CDs had nothing to do with real life encounters and were rarely useful for day-to-day witty conversation. It wasn’t helpful…or fun. “There has to be something better,” she mulled over. So she set out to do it herself.
Sonia Gil is the jovial girl next door…who just happens to speak half a dozen languages. She now trades her time in the lab for adventure around the world, sharing about travel and language on her popular vlog Sonia’s Travels and her language brand Fluenz. She may look footloose and fancy-free, but it’s not a far stretch to say she’s likely the hardest working gal in the travel industry today.
“A Three-Hour Tour”
As every good entrepreneurial story goes, “one good thing led to another…” and Sonia trekked to China for a two-week Mandarin immersion course. She spent six hours a day at a renowned language school, and at the end of the course, frustratingly, she had little real-life language ability.
She decided to stay in China, moving to Hangzhou and hiring two college girls to teach her the language lessons that she wrote for herself. Over the course of six months, Sonia wrote lessons in English and then learned them in Mandarin. She applied various methods, studied a lot, and tested the usefulness of the work to organize it in a way that makes sense to a pupil. She came back to the U.S. with a full documentation of her methods and proof of what worked and what didn’t. She wrote and produced the first two levels of Mandarin for a language program unlike anything on the market. She tested it with Chinese language professionals and validated it scientifically. That rigorous college training, methodological scientific lab work would eventually become the structure for her premier language-learning system and award-winning travel media platform, Fluenz.
Teaching, Selling, Persisting
She launched Fluenz Mandarin on the Amazon Seller’s Program. Then she waited. And waited. Surely Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was going to call her up immediately and laud this fantastic program. He didn’t. So she waited some more.
It took a lot of work to get sales going. Sonia learned the hard way that a product on its own doesn’t sell. She spent months writing to bloggers, hoping to create a platform. There were few replies and most of those were “no.”
But slowly her tenacity paid off. Followers gathered. Word got out. And eventually Amazon called. She chalks it up to a combination of luck and timing, but now it’s clear that her persistence prevailed.
Fluenz became a reoccurring product on Amazon, sales increased and eventually the plant scientist became a language expert. After Mandarin came Spanish, then French, Italian, and German. Portuguese is the newest member of the Fluenz language family.
Language training was only the beginning. Sonia wanted to share the world with her growing number of followers, longing for the language experiences of true travelers – speaking with natives and going on adventures. This meant expanding the sounds and emotions of becoming fluent in a foreign language to the other senses.
From people-watching in Parisian cafes, to tasting ethnic food all over New York City, to feeling the waves in Nicaragua: through her vlog Sonia’s Travels, Sonia takes you there. Sonia’s Travels, like Fluenz, didn’t grow overnight and the virtual knockings on doors were full of just as many “no’s” as before. Cross-blogging for other influences and bold promotion of her YouTube channel was what it took to finally get people to notice.
When she applied for a Webby award, it was a long shot – not even a stretch goal. But a nomination came in for “Best Personality of the Year,” and in a moment of her own sensory overload, she won. Doors opened that night. She now has an agent and Sonia’s Travels is well monetized. Fluenz sales soar.
Day to Day
Expanding Fluenz is Sonia’s goal. It’s currently being used by the Navy, police forces, health departments, and students. Nurses seek the program because they want real-life language skills for Spanish-speaking patients. She wants to expand further into digital education and continues to travel, releasing new vlog content posts every Thursday.
And there is a new surprise on the horizon…but she’s not spilling the beans just yet. Quel dommage!
This article was first published in Cake&Whiskey, August 23, 2015.