Talking Small Biz: Stroll down language lane yields profits

Dan Roitman, of Stroll, in the language-learning firm's Philly office. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)

DAN ROITMAN, 34, who lives in the Art Museum area, is the founder and chief executive of Stroll. The company has an Internet-based marketing platform that sells audio language-learning products. Stroll has 160 employees and is based at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard. It's one of the fastest-growing companies in the city.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Stroll?

A: I started marketing professional-development products, and one subset was language learning. We focused on that, and the business took off in 2002. We went from $200,000 to $2 million in revenue in 2003. I transitioned from entrepreneur to CEO. You evolve from yourself to a team.

Q: What's the business model?

A: We sell our courses to consumers via the Internet. "The Pimsleur Approach" represents more than 90 percent of our business. Simon & Schuster owns Pimsleur, and they've licensed it to us to sell to consumers.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: Working professionals, 30 to 35 and above. They can learn with an MP3 player, iPod or in the car with a CD player. When people come home from work, after sitting behind a computer all day, it's difficult to get them to use a computer-based product. We teach people to use the language intuitively. Before you learn to read and write, you learn to speak.

Q: How much do consumers pay for the courses?

A: We have a starter course for $10 that teaches the basics, and then we have more advanced-level courses over 90 days that can help you satisfy work requirements for oral proficiency.

Q: How'd you grow revenues 100 percent in 2011 and 2012?

A: Our secret sauce is measuring the return on every single advertising dollar. Once you measure it, you can start to optimize it. We view our website as a lab you constantly tweak to get more visitors to buy. If you do that, it creates a compound effect, gain after gain, year after year.

Q: Who are your competitors?

A: Our largest competitor is Rosetta Stone. The truth is we each have our own niche markets.

Q: Are most of your employees in your call center here?

A: The bulk are, probably about 100.

Q: Why you don't outsource the jobs like tech companies do?

A: They're college graduates and are paid competitively. They're well-trained representatives and make money for us. It makes sense for management to be physically close to the call center to have that connection and know exactly what's happening on the front lines, and they know what's going on with corporate.

Q: What's next for Stroll?

A: We want to be a billion-dollar company by 2020. In 2014, we want to diversify and begin building a portfolio of consumer-education businesses where we can apply our best practices to the companies.



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