Exeleon Magazine

Interview with Founder of mYngle – Marina Tognetti

mYngle Founder Marina Tognetti_Interview_ExeleonMagazine

Language has always been one of the most empowering as well as the most limiting factor for businesses. On one hand, it stems a sense of understanding and enables you to reach out to customers and, subsequently, convert them. However, on the other hand, the diversity of it can be a barrier for communication.

In order to tackle this limitation, business professionals have always been on the lookout for a solution that enables them to get past this barrier. While looking for a solution herself, Marina Tognetti stumbled upon this idea of creating a platform that brings language lessons to you. And mYngle was thus born.

Exeleon Magazine caught up with this inspiring leader in an exclusive interview to discuss about her journey, beliefs, and vision with mYngle.

What according to you makes for an inspiring leader? How do you integrate the same in your leadership?

Probably the sentence that best describes my vision and approach to leadership is “A strong leader is not one without faults, as we all have faults, but one who is so self-confident to be able to show his (or hers) vulnerabilities without fearing that them might impact the strength.”

This summarizes what I believe makes an inspiring leader: someone that is genuine and honest, self-confident but not arrogant, not afraid to take risks. If you step out of your comfort zone, you can fall. You need to trust your capability to be able to stand up again. When you have that trust, you can be an innovative leader. That is how I hope to be remembered as leader.

What has been your role as a leader since founding mYngle?

When we started, back in 2008, the concept was considered quite disruptive, challenging the traditional world of education. That means that, as a leader (and founder), I had to set the vision for a completely new business and drive the company towards it. I also need to keep a clear vision now, as CEO of a growing company, to steer the company through the challenges we meet along the way. At the same time, I guide and align the team towards the common goal, which in an innovative business means building an organization that is able to quickly change and adapt.

What was the thought that led to the inception of the company? What is the history behind the name of the company?

The initial idea came from my own personal needs. Like many people back then, I was looking at China for opportunities. The first step was learning Chinese. But finding a way to learn the language (and while living in The Netherlands) was not easy for me as a busy manager. That was when the idea hit me: there are thousands of teachers all over the world, I just need to use the power of the internet to connect teachers with students. This is how mYngle was born.

The story behind the name mYngle is actually a nice one. We were doing one brainstorm after the other, but every time the names in .com were taken. A bit discouraged, I decided to look at what was available in the aftermarket of domains. And there is was! Myngle.com in an online auction, expiring within few minutes for 10$! It had everything we wanted: the meaning (interaction between people), extendable beyond languages, and the Y to make it into a brand name. That was it! The name I have long been searching and could not find. It had found me!

What has the journey been like for Marina Tognetti, from starting your career at P&G to founding a language learning platform?

I am a bit of an atypical tech entrepreneur, as the passion for entrepreneurship came later on in my career. When I graduated from University it was an era when entrepreneurship was not very common for academics. Starting at Procter & Gamble was at that time a logical direction for someone coming from business and specializing in marketing. I built a successful career by other large multinationals, Philips, Sara Lee, The Boston Consulting Group and eBay; living and working in different Countries, and got an MBA from INSEAD.

It was when working as consultant on a project on internet strategy that I first saw the potential of internet to disrupt entire industries and change forever the way we buy, sell, and interact. I had to be part of that! That was the driver to start an innovative company as mYngle, as I knew I could make a real difference, putting in practice all I had learned in my career till then.

Looking back at your career, what would you have done different when starting out?

I like challenges, in everything I do. Which is also the reason why I left Italy short after University to live and work in different Countries, why I backpacked through Asia for one year, why I like extreme sports. Why I become tech entrepreneur. Probably, if I had to re-do it, I would become entrepreneur earlier on in my career. Entrepreneurship, especially in tech, allows you to look far ahead, innovate, change traditional business models and disrupt industries. That is where my drive for challenges and adventure is at its best.

What has been the biggest driving factor for you as a leader and entrepreneur?

Building a business from scratch is always challenging, building a tech start-up disrupting an industry as traditional as that of education, is exponentially more challenging (especially more than 10 years ago, when we started). I like challenges! Now online language education is setting the standards in terms of quality and flexibility. And we have been part of that! This has been for me the biggest driver as leader and entrepreneur.

You have been a key influencer and speaker about women in business, what would be your advice for some of the aspiring women leaders and entrepreneurs?

Probably the most important advice I can give to aspiring women leaders and entrepreneurs is to stop comparing. The stories you read about the few that ‘’got it all’’ are rare exceptions and often not the full truth. Let that go of that. Let go of trying to imitate types of leadership you see around but which are not you and be really true to yourself. Don’t look around for answers, look inside.

Explain the importance of language for business professionals? How does the mYngle platform help them?

Global economy increases multi-culture within corporations, and therefore the need to upgrade language skills. Not only, but the world is no more Western-centric, which means that the economic balance shifts to the large new economies, with demand for skills other than English.

mYngle is the solution for busy professionals who need language training to be successful in their international business. We offer customized language training programs through video conferencing in 45 different languages anytime, anywhere. Our lessons are one-on-one, with highly qualified native coaches and related to the job-position of the learner. Our virtual classrooms enable learners to take classes 24/7.

What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning?

The main challenges were not at the beginning, but when we had to ‘pivot’ from the initial business model to a completely different one, which is the mYngle we are now. We made a complete turn-around, actually, two: from an open marketplace to a quality global online school, from B2C to B2B.  That was the key to success of mYngle.

The biggest learning is that change is an essential part of being entrepreneur. When you are innovating, success is not a straight line, but you will encounter many unexpected turns and twists. You’ll have to be able to adapt. It is how you deal with uncertainty and change that sets you apart.

What are some of the pre-conceived notions or stereotypes that you have faced being a women entrepreneur?

The issue about female leadership is amplified in tech start-ups: women are as innovative as men and companies run by women are as successful. But only 5% of tech start-ups are owned by women.

Technology is revolutionizing every part of our life and our society, yet women are still not participating in this revolution in sufficient numbers.

I believe the main issue here is that too often women are hold back by the too many doubts about their own ability, which is amplified in tech entrepreneurship because of the very low chances of success. Entrepreneurship is in fact hard and risky: 90% of tech start-ups fail. In order to be an entrepreneur, you need to be confident, which is often what women lack. We need to change that! As I say: Confidence comes not from always being right, but from now fearing to be wrong.

How do you plan to take mYngle forward? On a personal front, where do you see yourself standing in the coming years?

The future in leading mYngle will surely hold new challenges, as we keep on innovating and being ahead of the market. I look at the many technology developments that are happening all around us as an opportunity. Data Analysis or Machine learning, innovation keeps on happening in all fronts, not only in products, but also in services and processes.

For me personally it will also be time for the idealistic voice inside to speak, the voice that believes in giving something back for a better world. I walked this path and learned a lot. That brought me in a privileged position where I can act and implement new ideas that can make a difference. I can now use my skills to make the world just a little bit better. You will see more of that in the near future.

Who has been your biggest inspiration among women?

I do not have one specific person, but more a ‘’type of person’’ that inspires me: people who use their capabilities for a larger goal. We are living in a difficult moment, when measures need to be taken that are more sustainable. I believe that, overall, female leadership is more aligned with sustainability principles.

So yes, if we add a bit more female leadership to companies and Governments, we might end up improving on the larger scale. Note that here I am not talking about man or women leaders, but about female type of leadership, which is often inherent to female leaders but can be also be exercised by men.

Finally, what do you think is the most important trait for a leader and why?

In this era of challenging technologic evolution, the characteristics of a good leader are similar to that of an innovative entrepreneur. A leader must have a strong vision, to set the direction and anticipate and navigate challenges. A leader must not be afraid of taking (calculated) risks in order to anticipate trends and steer the company also in turbulent waters. Last, but not least, must be able to build an organization that is agile to respond to this fast paced environment.

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