2012 was the year I started something big

New Year 2012

I’ve been trying to write this post for the last several days – and failing miserably.

Everybody always writes these wonderful, detailed, reflective year-end summary posts. I wanted to do the same, but my inspiration seemed to be running dry. Truth be told, my 2012 did not have much variety… rather, it was dominated by a single-minded, nearly obsessive focus on one project.

But I have a hunch that a few years from now, I’ll be looking back on this year as a major turning point, because…

2012 was the year I started something big.

EspressoEnglish.net, launched on January 1, 2012, has now been visited by over 150,000 people from 200 countries.


This may seem like small potatoes in a world where funny cat videos get millions of views… but the e-mails I’ve received give me a glimpse of the impact the site is having. Students have written:

  • to tell me my material is being used in classrooms in Algeria and NGOs in Nepal
  • to let me know I have a friend in Vietnam / India / Libya / Morocco, if I’m ever in the area
  • to thank me for sending lessons to Afghanistan where there aren’t many ESL teachers
  • to express gratitude and send warm holiday wishes from Cambodia, Sweden, and Brazil
  • to say they love my teaching style and are learning so much

I love teaching English because I know that becoming fluent in another language is life-changing. Not only does it open doors for incredible career and travel opportunities, but it also gives you another mental framework, another way of seeing and experiencing the world, a different flavor of self-expression. There are certain things I can only say in Portuguese, and others that can only be expressed in English.

Espresso English represents an investment of hundreds of hours of work, and it has been a real emotional roller coaster.

I often get waves of inspiration and stay up far too late working.

Not infrequently, I get frustrated and pessimistic and think, “This will NEVER go ANYWHERE.”

I do a happy dance every time a new customer signs up.

I get annoyed when the lesson I produce does not turn out the way I’d envisioned it.

And extremely nervous before each new product launch.

And humbled and honored by the fan mail.

And incredibly thankful for the help and encouragement I’ve received from other entrepreneurs.

Although the site is still small, I have this gut feeling that I’ve already conquered the hardest part: building initial momentum and validating the business’ viability.

As a much more experienced entrepreneur than I has written, “A startup is like pushing a boulder uphill. There’s a huge amount of effort to get to the top, but the momentum you get coming down the other side is incredible.”

One year in, I’m starting – just starting – to feel the first hints of that momentum. Things still feel fragile, and it still takes a lot of effort… but I am LOVING the process, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

  • Good stuff Shayna. I’m expecting more exciting things from you in 2013. I also know exactly how you feel about the momentum thing, I had similar feelings at the year end of 2011 and can tell you that the year you’re about to experience is, if anything like mine, going to be huge! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

    • Shayna

      It’s super encouraging to hear that from someone who’s a bit ahead of me in the game! Thanks for your comment and e-mail, I’ll get back to you with some thoughts.

  • Wow Shayna! Really amazing work – you must be so proud. Those viewing figures made me swoon just a little! It’s incredible what you’ve achieved in such a short time – your drive and enthusiasm are seriously impressive 🙂 Parabéns!

    • Shayna

      Thanks Tom! In the first few months, getting visitors was like pulling teeth. I’m sure glad I didn’t give up, though 🙂

  • Dan

    AWESOME progress! This is how it starts…

    • Shayna

      Forecast for 2013: exponential growth 😀

  • Dave

    You’re going to integrate a funny cat into your English lessons? 🙂

    • Shayna

      Maybe I should!

  • jan moy

    Shayna, every ESL: teacher feels that way when a lesson doesn’t turn out as expected. Never fear; it’s part of the process. Some years from now, you may find yourself rewriting lessons that worked!!!

    I hope that you get notes from my friend in SF, Beth Weisberg. She has her own business (a bit hard for me to describe; I’ll see if I can link) and used to be an ESL teacher. In fact, she started out as my mentor!! A great teacher; a great business-woman; a wonderful person. I think she reads everything you post!

    • Shayna

      Thanks Jan – I would love to speak with Beth!

  • CONGRATULATIONS! You are indeed an Adventurous Soul! I’m really happy for you and wish you continued success. Having started an in-person school just about a year ago myself, I totally understand the ups and downs you have been feeling. Again, congrats!

    • Shayna

      True, you’ve been on a similar journey. Doesn’t it feel good though when you look at what you’ve accomplished and all the lives you’re touching? Makes all those hours of hard work and frustrations worth it!

  • Congrats! That is awesome!

  • wow… congrats shayna! those are some legit stats. I couldn’t agree more about actually making an impact in people’s lives… and just stepping back after a year of hard work to see results. to another great year to you!

  • Vivian

    Shayna this is awesome! I am living in Salvador too and would love to meet for a coffee in Barra if thats alright. I am working on a major project here as well, but I have some questions about your site and how you got into putting it together. A friend and I have similar plans for a site to teach a dying language. Would love to hear back from you, send me an email please!!

  • I haven’t been to your blog for awhile, but I am so glad I visited and got to see this post. CONGRATULATIONS! That is huge! Happy you found something you love that works for you where you are at.

  • Congratulations, Shayna. It sounds like you’re really making an impact!