“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening.”
Can you guess what the words droogs and rassoodocks mean?
Even if you’re not a Clockwork Orange fan, most likely you can work it out, and that’s the inherent beauty of the way the human brain works – the context makes the meaning of the words apparent. And this ‘Clockwork Methodology’ is the foundation of One Third Stories, a young business which is helping parents teach languages to their children.
Alex Somervell moved to the UK from Paraguay in 2008, aged 17, where he’d been raised in a multilingual environment; he spoke Spanish with his father and English with his mother. He studied at 6th form where he met Jonny Pryn, who had always struggled to learn French growing up.
Jonny studied linguistics at Uni as Alex further pursued languages, and when contemplating the way language was taught in the cult-classic novel, Jonny started to see the seeds of an opportunity.
They spend time at university developing the idea as a side project, until the summer of 2015 when Alex worked full-time on the idea after graduating. Johnny had already found a job after Uni, and Alex was offered a position with Telefonica in Madrid, but it didn’t stop them taking part in Fast Forward, a pre-accelerator course which helps people to develop business ideas and understand their potential, and it changed their plans.
Alex says: “We met Paul Smith, MD of Ignite at the time, and we really hit it off. The course was good; Paul said he liked what we were doing, and invited us to the Ignite pitch day – and we got in!
“Johnny quit his job, I rejected Telefonica, and instead of sunny Spain, we moved to Newcastle.”
The three months spent in Ignite are credited hugely by the team in helping them develop their ideas into a real business proposition Originally it was an ebook, but through engaging with the target market, they realised that parents wanted something tangible alongside other audio-visual resources.
“Apps are what we thought we’d be producing forever. We did make prototypes, but we hadn't understood that the bar to make it viable was a lot higher for children’s books, to create value for them.
“We realised the more we talked to parents, the more they were asking for physical books they could read with their child.”
And so, after taking on a Virgin start-up loan, they launched a Kickstarter to sell some books - which they believed would help them to launch the app. They hit their target of £10,000 in less than 30 hours, and were overwhelmed with 1300 backers – so they started to dig a little deeper and really understand the marketplace.
“If you look at adult fiction, the market is 60% print, 40% digital… if you look at children’s books, 94% of the market is in print. And what’s more interesting is that market is still growing, 6% a year. So the market is mature, but clearly not saturated, and we realised we needed to focus on books and compliment that with a range of other things.”
After the Kickstarter, they produced activity books, audiobooks, postcards and flashcards to complement their range and immediately sold thousands of pounds of extra products to their backers. A success – and so the app plan was shelved, in favour of listening to what their customers really wanted.
They’re now part of the Camden Collective, an organisation which supports creative projects and startups in abandoned buildings in the borough – One Third Stories find themselves working from an abandoned hospital, and consider themselves extremely lucky not to be working from their sofa at home.
“In January we’re launching the monthly storybox. Parents will sign up to the language learning pack and in it, they’ll have a story alongside an activity book, recipes, flashcards, audiobooks, all sorts of things to help the children to learn. We’ll use a lot of different mediums to help the children learn whether they are more visual, aural, or need more repetition, and we’ll be using stories that children know and love already.”
“Ultimately, making sure there’s an interest and a value for the consumer in using it, that’s the path you need to follow,” Alex says, demonstrating just how his mature his knowledge and understanding of business is.
With four languages under his belt, and the study of a fifth – Russian – already underway, Alex is fascinated by language himself and as enthusiastic as you’d expect about the opportunity it affords to young people. With reading ages of 5-8, the stories themselves have a far wider appeal.
“Learning happens by stealth; as a consequence of loving the story, they learn, and start to love the language. And ultimately they’ll use other resources, they’ll study language at university, they’ll go and live abroad. We’re aiming to inspire lifelong language lovers.”
“The things that make it good for children also make it good for beginners, whether they’re 5 or 40.
“We have our focus on children, but if other people want to buy it, we’re not going to stop them…!”