Startup Europe interviewed Amber Ogborn, COO of Swellish
Amber why don´t you introduce briefly yourself and your project
My name is Amber Ogborn and I’m the COO on a language project in the incubator at Euratechnologies in Lille. We have a service called Mail Billy which provides human translations for short texts in under an hour in addition to marketing and communication services. We also have a project to help professionals improve their English based on cognitive science-oriented brain games.
Can you tell us how the project was born and your main focus right now?
My partner Jason came to Euratechnologies with the idea last summer. At that time, he was fully focused on the games. We started working together in September and by November, Mail Billy was born out of necessity — we were constantly helping the other teams out and not making any money off of it. By launching a quick mail service, our friends in the incubator and around Euratechnologies were able to get quick translations & corrections and we were able to make a little bit of money. We realized that this could be a real lever for the games we hoped to make and soon linked the two projects.
Your project requires many skills (technical and business knowledge) how do you manage that?
To manage our technical needs, we recruited a young CTO and we consult regularly with tech friends who give us advice and guidance. For business knowledge, we rely on our mentors to give us feedback and help us make the best decisions for our projects. When things are tricky, we take a good look at the situation; analyze what has been done and what we need to do to move forward. It’s not always easy and it’s not always what we “want” to do, but we do what needs to be done.
You are a mother, how do you manage your time and your money since you have no income yet?
Unlike many of my friends in the incubator, I do not have a partner or Pole Emploi (French medicare) to depend on, so in that sense, I’m not very lucky! My family lives in America and it’s basically just my son and I here in France. I started saving for a professional project years ago, so at the moment I am living on a mixture of savings and “love money” from “personal” investors. I’m also selling my house, downsizing, and cutting back on all of my expenses. My personal motto for the last few months has been “do more with less” and I live that to the fullest!
As for my son, I depend on a community. I have amazing friends and “adopted family” who help me out before and after school when I need, and a team of babysitters who are available at the drop of a dime. I make an effort to spend as much time with him as I can, and I sacrifice my personal time instead of my time with him (i.e. I’ll work again once he’s in bed).
There are many ways to learn English today, what is the specificity of your project?
Jason and I are both educators. We have worked with a range of students and professionals, and yet we have always noticed the same weaknesses. English is “boring” for so many people until the moment that they realize the need to speak it in order to get by professionally. I think the specificity of our project is that we are creative — we know how to entertain people and make them learn without realizing it. Hearing the same mistakes over and over again, we know how to anticipate our user’s needs in order to provide them with the highest quality content possible.
If you could go back in time and change something in your entrepreneur life, what would you do?
I wouldn’t. In truth, every experience I have had has led me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. I regret that I worked on two start-ups prior to joining Jason’s project, but I don’t regret what I learned from either of those situations. I have pulled from those experience many times in the past few months.
Any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Two things: don’t become an entrepreneur if you hate working, because that’s a recipe for disaster. Next, if you are new to your field, fresh out of school and with beginner-level skills, either be ready to go home and study a lot every night & work like crazy to improve your skills, or spend a bit of time working as an employee and take advantage of having a manager and a team to learn from.
My partner and I were both made aware of the problem we’d eventually try to solve because we were employees and we were faced with the problem every day. Otherwise, just go for it. Don’t wait until you’re “more stable”, or have “more money”, or any of those things. If you have an idea, it should be now or never. The rest will fall into place.
As a women, have you ever felt less powerful than a man in your entrepreneur life?
Isn’t this a pertinent question! Less powerful, yes, sometimes. But is it because a man makes me feel that way or because I just naturally feel that way? I’m not sure. I know that we joke a lot — “when are you going to make us a cake?” (Side note: I actually love to bake) or “when are you going to clean?” are questions I hear every week, but I laugh along with the guys. Initially I found it hard to give presentations or participate in meetings where I was the only woman, but now I think I use it more to my advantage. My goal though is to be as comfortable as possible in front of anybody — male or female. Nobody should ever give anybody else the power to make them feel powerless.
What’s next for your project?
Games: our MVP is in its final stages of completion. Soon you will be able to sign up and test our first games.
Mail Billy: Big things coming — new projects, new offers, and perhaps in exciting new locations? Stay tuned !