Meet The PE Class Of 2018: Erin Janklow, Founder and CEO of Entrada ESL
The 2018 PE Intensive, which took place April 13 & 14, brought together the the top 200 female founders from the PE Venture Competition for hands-on workshops and mentorship in New York City. Among the 200 were 10 finalists who have been given the additional opportunity to participate in the pitch competition on Saturday, April 14 for a chance to receive a $10,000 grant and a spot in a five-week accelerator program hosted at Rent the Runway’s headquarters.
Today we’re pleased to feature Entrada, one of two “wild card” companies selected during the Intensive to participate during the live pitch competition (along with the 10 pre-selected finalists). Visit our 2018 PE Intensive website to meet the entire #PEClassOf2018, read our rundown of our favorite moments from 2018 PE Intensive, and relive highlights and behind-the-scenes from the Intensive with hashtag #PEIntensive18.
Erin Janklow is Founder and CEO of Entrada, a company that uses technology to teach hospitality staff how to become fully conversational in English as they work. We caught up with Erin after the Intensive to learn more about the inspiration that led her to start Entrada, how she dealt with early feelings of failure, and her favorite moments from #PEIntensive18.
What inspired you to start your business?
Entrada creates human connections by enabling communication, and provides an engaging, effective learning platform to integrate into a service worker’s routine. While studying in Italy, and later working and teaching, I became fluent in Italian despite having no prior knowledge of the language. The process took under one year once I lived in the country where the language was spoken, and my skills skyrocketed when I was immersed in learning opportunities.
The relative ease with which I developed and maintained native-level fluency made me wonder what barriers many neighbors in my home community face while developing language skills, which set me down a path of research and development. Later, while working at TripAdvisor, I had many conversations with GMs who often lamented the language barrier across departments.
I saw one clear path to solve two challenges with Entrada, and look forward to tracking the connections, promotions, and opportunities that come when communities and teams can fully communicate with one another.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Early product testing showed high excitement at launch, followed by very few days of program use. As a result, our early hotel trials felt like failures. With additional time, perspective and research, we were able to design a program better suited to our learners’ needs. This resulted in our discovery of our most powerful differentiators: we now see a 70 percent engagement rate for our language program, compared to the 15-20 percent that is common in the industry. Every element, from delivery method to support tools, is designed to integrate directly into a service worker’s busy day. Reframing challenges into learning opportunities with powerful outcomes makes the difficult days worthwhile!
What’s been the greatest reward?
Ana, a housekeeper and Entrada learner at the Embassy Suites, reported, “The delivery man brought a shipment of soap to the hotel. He almost left the heavy package outside, which would have been very difficult for me to move to its proper location. As the man turned to walk away I found myself saying without thinking, ‘Can you put the box inside, please?” Surprised at how easily the delivery man understood her, Ana walked away with increased confidence in her English ability and reduced the required workload for herself and her colleagues.
During trials, I have the opportunity to spend time with our learners and watch them transform from shy and nervous into empowered, confident individuals as a direct result of the program my team has created. I can imagine no greater reward than empowering humans with the confidence and skills needed to transform their lives.
Our last program showed an average increase in conversational skills of 107 percent, with the largest advances coming from pronunciation, comprehension, the ability to ask and respond to questions, and confidence. All learners stayed with the hotel through the duration of our program, and one was even promoted! It’s amazing to watch a blue-sky vision not only turn into reality, but also provide immense value to employers and employees alike.
What changes would you like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
The service industry is ripe for disruption: nearly all have accepted “band aid solutions” when it comes to language instead of addressing the core root of the challenges their staff faces. There is a latent assumption that bilingual supervisors will manage, that learning a language as an adult is “just too hard”, and that poor customer service stemming from miscommunication simply “comes with the job”. Simply, that could not be further from the truth.
An empowered, engaged workforce improves operations and increases retention, while simultaneously enabling staff to enter their communities equipped and empowered to succeed. I would love to see the day when all staff members can serve guests efficiently and confidently. People travel for cultural exchange and for business, and I look forward to the day that connections arise from enhanced communication.
Even with the changing landscape of the jobs of tomorrow, the service industry will continue to rely upon entry-level staff to keep their properties functioning. The industry, then, has the opportunity to be a stepping-stone into integration and community participation.
By solving a pain point in service industry organizations, we are able to leverage an entire industry to create equity at scale. Our ROI is compelling and retention a need waiting to be resolved, which gives me confidence that businesses will become even more profitable while also empowering their staff to develop skills that enable them to succeed both personally and professionally.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
Our innovative, disruptive learning platform simply feels like something that needs to be done. For years, I questioned Why is this program not yet available? before realizing that I was, in fact, the one who would create it. We provide a simple solution that can improve the lives of millions of people around the world, while also improving operations and the bottom line for the service industry. I have no doubt that the needs we are solving are true, real, and present, and that our program is the most effective and engaging platform for service industry employees.
With these convictions, the business becomes a game of logic to discover how to tie various elements of our program together. Because of this, I have no doubt that we will succeed. This knowledge and clarity keeps me going on days that are otherwise difficult.
With the resources and support of Rent the Runway and Project Entrepreneur, we will more quickly reach our goals of spreading compassion through increased access to communication.
What about #PEIntensive18 did you enjoy most?
PE was overflowing with brilliant insights, tangible support, trusted conversations, and empowerment in all forms. Hearing brilliant women who have created multi million dollar businesses discuss their plans, their thoughts when they were at our stage, their outlooks now, and the necessity of sleep (Thanks, Arianna Huffington!) all served as powerful reminders and motivators that despite the challenges, I am surrounded by brilliant supporters on the journey with me!
All photos courtesy Erin Janklow
Visit our 2018 PE Intensive website to meet the entire #PEClassOf2018, read our rundown of our favorite moments from 2018 PE Intensive, and relive highlights and behind-the-scenes from the Intensive with hashtag #PEIntensive18.