It’s now six years since I started Bilingual Birdies. As I sit in my office on the 18th floor of 120 Wall Street, I am profoundly humbled by all the steps it’s taken to arrive here. The last six years in New York, in the United States, and really in the entire world have been challenging for so many, especially anyone trying to start a business. It is with immense pride in my heart that I can say we’ve been triumphant so far and I see mountains full of success in our future. Just a few words on the trek up…
Sho is one of those original hipsters. She’s my Armenian friend from UCLA and transplanted to NYC around the same time I did. Sho is the first person I told my business idea to when I was only twenty-four. We were at dinner, which she paid for because I was a broke high school teacher/cocktail waitress. I jotted down my financial projections on the paper tablecloth and explained how it could be possible to use my knowledge of foreign languages, love for music, and admiration for kids to produce something that people might actually pay for. Sho was the first person to tell me, “I believe in you. I think you should go for it.” Sho, from everything that I am, thank you for your kindness when I needed it most.
The weekend after my discovery with Sho, I went home to visit my parents in LA. I was tired. The big apple was wearing me down. I presented my mom the ripped out paper tablecloth and pitched her my idea. She boldly announced, “You’re going to do this. I don’t know how, but we’ll find a way. We moved to this country and always wanted to start something successful but couldn’t. This is your chance and I just know it will work.” Mama was my official second vote of confidence. My entire heart beams with gratitude. Mom, thank you for your support.
Tamara, the artist who brought life to the concept. Tam is my old next-door neighbor from LA and one of my dearest friends. Thank you for creating my logo and designing the most beautiful children’s brand I have ever seen. You’re a genius. And you were right, “If you build it right, it will last.” To anyone starting a business, it is critical you have a savvy graphic designer and my greatest desire for you is that you are blessed with someone who has one eighteenth of what Tamara’s got goin’ on!
My twin neices, Gabi and Bianca. They have personalities of gold, long brown hair and sort of look like me. I live for these girls. We’d always sit around singing and counting to ten in Spanish and Farsi in their toddlerhood. After passing out fliers for three months in the park and inviting moms to a free demo class for our launch, only one kid showed up. But I sang my heart out in Spanish that day because my nieces were there shining the light. They were only two years old at the time but I knew they had my back. Gabs and Biancies, thank you both for being the inspiration behind why I started this company and have driven it to such a happy place.
Margaret Whitehair, the first Spanish and French teacher at Bilingual Birdies. We met on Craigslist like many of the current family. But, Marge was the first one to whole-heartedly jump on the bandwagon (a little rickety at it’s best). She was the perfect wing-woman in the adventure. Her vast level of patience with me as a clueless young entrepreneur is something few people will have the luck to experience. Her compassion as a loving teacher was what people were signing up for each semester. Her positive outlook was that of the most expensive life coach servicing the country’s top zip codes. If it wasn’t for Margaret I would have given up and quit a long time ago. Margarita, thank you for dancing in the parade with me. You made it so much fun! If you are reading this and looking to start a business, know that you must hire mission-based people who are down for your cause. Even if you can’t afford them, find a way to compensate with something soulful and they will be there for you in return.
Johanna Rodriguez, an entertainer unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. We met waiting tables at a Brasilian restaurant where they had live music nightly. Instead of delivering caipirinas to the tables she would sing with the band! I finally coaxed her to come work for me during the day. Margaret helped train her (in my living room) to play all the songs on the guitar and teach the kids Spanish through her beautiful raspy voice and contagious energy. Johanna was the face of Bilingual Birdies for a long stretch of it. Jo, mil gracias for always making us feel like it was going to be ok regardless of how many kids showed up or didn’t, if things went according to plan or didn’t, and if people understood what we were trying to do, or didn’t. Somehow when I would see you up there enchanting the families, I just knew we were on the right path.
To Annie, Christian, and Noah… you all did your best on the back end to sort out a loosey goosey California color coated office system that was not sustainable nor comprehensible, but was my best effort. These individuals each helped me in “the office” at some point, be it in a 2×2 apartment, 3×3 shared space, or the business library (because it’s free there). Thank you for introducing me to: Excel spreadsheets, Dreamweaver, Quick Books, Getting Things Done and several other time savers and efficiency builders. You each put your intention on teaching a blind girl to read, and it all worked more than you know. Thank you for showing me your ways. As a small business-owner I will say this: Implementing systems, documenting/measuring results and re-evaluating progress are all a matter of life and death and must be something you spend ample time doing, even if you don’t see an immediate and direct financial payback.
My cousin Debbie, my bro, and my Dad! If it wasn’t for each of you encouraging me to continuously focus and talking me threw every time “what’s inside of diapers” hit the fan, who knows where I would be? Merci for listening, feedbacking, and cheerleading. I love you all very much. Everyone needs a support group with at least one Iranian in it. They are very passionate people and make you feel like you can move mountains if you think you can move mountains, like you can get into a VIP club even if your name isn’t on the list, like you can follow your dreams and get paid for it.
A huge thank you to all of my mentors:
- Kat Zacharia, my first entrepreneurship teacher and soul sister for helping to get the vision on award-winning paper. If you don’t have a female mentor and you are a female entrepreneur, get one. There is a skill in following your woman’s intuition in business and it’s something that can be fine-tuned and must be honored.
- Tim Parsa, for coaching me on how to build my business with the 360 approach – mind, heart and soul. Tim’s no-fear-all-love strategy showed me that if you do what you love, the money will come anyway. We pursue important things because they are the right thing to do.
- Steve Marriotti, for establishing the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, which trained me to get it together and has given me the chance to win two significant business grants, which have meant the world to Bilingual Birdies. He also taught me something I will always remember, “There will come two moments in your business that if you can overcome them then you will go all the way. One is complacency. You will inevitably get bored with the same work over time. Always be looking for ways to re-engage and change it up. And second, is when things go horribly wrong. If you can find the strength to transcend these two moments and find the positivity in the lessons, you’ll go really far with this.” Translation: Find a way to stay overly motivated no matter what. Answer: Headstands. Plus, beach vacations that include headstands. If you are thinking of starting something or already have and are likely struggling, find an entrepreneurship course and enroll in it today. Being a good businessperson is an artform and it has be perfected over time. Learn about best practices.
- Jay Brunson from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses for saying things like, “Kid, if you do what you are telling me you are going to do, you’ll be kicking butt and taking names in no time.”
To some extraordinary clients along the way:
- Helwa Sanchez and her mom for bringing her daughter to class even when she was literally the only one there. They were like surrogate moms who pretty much loved everything we did in the class.
- Veronique Pittman for being our very first private client. We also met on the internet after she read about Bilingual Birdies in an article. Thank you for welcoming me in your home to teach your brilliant kids and introducing me to other influential moms who helped my business grow.
- Rhondell, the former Early Childhood Director at Children’s Aid Society. She showed me the classiest way to manage a staff and gave us our initial big school partnership. Her interest in us was our first significant business turning point. I pivoted the business model thanks the partnership with her school. She taught me how important it is to be flexible in business and remain open to all opportunities.
- Julia from the New York Public Library is the reason why many of us can pay our rents. She shed light on my goal of being a socially responsible company by making it possible to offer free classes to all deserving families in New York City. Thank you for taking a chance on us.
Julia Birdie and SB -> These are the girls I work with in the office daily. Sometimes they bring in cupcakes and ice cream and other days souvenirs from their travels to share. There is one thing that I can count on and that is that they both consistently come through with the willingness to always do their best. Both with steel-like work ethics and creativity that I take notes from, they make my job awesome. SB is like a ray of light shining on all of us and Julia Birdie is our true voice of reason. Xie-Xie (thanks in Mandarin) to you both for helping me drive the ship. What we’ve managed to maintain is really something to be proud of! I have learned so incredibly much from both of you.
A special thank you to all of the teachers at Bilingual Birdies, past and present: KC, Ayana, Melissa, Nadina, Asia, Steve, Sol, Lautaro “LT”, Erik, Shae, Flor, Diana, Javier, George, Hugo, Octavia, Georgina, Travis, Darius, Dahlia, Sunny, Grace, Shuli, Colin, Longmei, Debs, Stav, Shirel, and Sinuhe. You all are the ones who are making this important work happen. As early childhood educators you are card-holding members of one of the most important jobs in life. Each day that you show up to spread joy into the lives of these kids is an action that makes a huge impact on society. Yes, everything you do matters – even when no one sees, and nobody posted a status update about it. Know that we’ve selected you to do this work because we are certain that you will make a lasting impression on the lives of so many. In fact, 2,000 lives a week are better because you share your talents and create a space where kids can be filled with positivity. Thank you for showing up and spreading the cross-cultural love. I appreciate each of you.
To any parent who ever took a flier from me, all of my friends who continue to like our stuff on Facebook, all passerbys who helped me carry massive bags filled with instruments up subway stairs, any dude who has asked me “What do you do?” and then thought what I started is a pretty cool idea, and of course to you who is reading this right now. Thank you for caring about our mission.
And finally, to the kids: From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your listening ears, impressionable minds, bright hearts and sweet voices. It is my gift to wake up each morning and know that we work to celebrate your curiosity, teach you about other exciting cultures, and embrace diversity. My wish is that we can continue in this party of life for years to come!
With love and gratitude,
P.S. Come celebrate with us at our 6th Birthday Party in Washington Square Park on Sat June 8th from 10:30-12pm at the entrance of the big kids playground. This will be in collaboration with Hip & Stylish Kids Photography.