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Meet Sarah Farzam of Bilingual Birdies in Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Farzam.

Sarah, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am half Mexican and half Iranian and my parents met in an English as a Second Language class, so you can imagine languages is are a part of my legacy. I launched Bilingual Birdies in New York City twelve years ago by passing out fliers in parks and playgrounds while chatting with moms and nannies. This was pre-Instagram and Facebook so it was all very analog, vintage I guess you can say! It was very difficult in the beginning. I survived off of pure grit and my very “not-shy” personality. I’d spot young families pushing their kids on the swings and walk over as cheerful as I could to invite them to attend a free demo class with their toddler so they could experience learning Spanish together in a fun, musical, and very epic way. Some people were excited about it. Others were confused. Over time I think families would see how stoked I was for them to check out what I’d been working so hard on that they took a chance and showed up!

I was only 24 years old at the time and back then “young entrepreneurs” were not as common as they are now, so people were willing to see what all the hype was about. I have always believed so much in the power of multiculturalism and celebrating diversity so when I’d explain that Bilingual Birdies is so much more than just a language program for kids, people really started to understand the magnitude of what we were trying to accomplish together! Slowly parents started showing up to my 45-minute mommy-and-me classes and then inviting us (me + a few bilingual musician friends I hired) to come teach in their kid’s preschools during the day. The whole thing started growing based off of word of mouth. As we trail-blazed our way into more and more preschools throughout NYC, parents wanted the music that we would sing in the classes for themselves to enjoy at home. I asked some friends to help me record an album of our original tunes in Spanish, French, Mandarin, Hebrew, and English. That was a collaboration of 18 bilingual musicians who came together to create magic for little ones!

After a decade of listening to what families wanted and pivoting numerous times I added new services such as: bilingual birthday parties, in-home private lessons, professional development workshops for other early educators, the Bilingual Birdies Band who performs at kid festivals around town, two more albums of original music in 4 languages, and most recently launching Birdkit, the Bilingual Birdies licensing opportunity which has allowed us to hatch in my hometown, Los Angeles. Now, bilingual, musical, entrepreneurial humans who love kids can get licensed to launch their own Bilingual Birdies business in any city they want, with the curriculum, marketing, and business support provided by us. We now operate in 13 cities across the US and even in Canada and Australia. In LA we have a licensee focussed mainly on Hollywood and the East Side. But there are more opportunities for new licensees there and all over LA. Today we are igniting a BILINGUAL EDUCATION MOVEMENT that everyone is welcome to join.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Anyone who says building a business is a smooth road is LYING!!!! There were so many struggles along the way. In the beginning I had no clue about how to even set up a business — what’s an LLC? How do I register my business? Oh, I need liability insurance ok what’s that and how do I get it? Oh look now my website isn’t working how on earth do I afford to pay someone to fix this? Yeah there were some serious struggles. I was in my 20s trying to find my way in life as I was refining my ability to power through obstacles and some days I really wondered how I would be able to keep going. But very extremely proud to say I never missed payroll and all of our customers praise the work we do in classrooms.

Those moments of getting established in the early stages are something that you have to remind yourself are all opportunities for you to rise into your greatness, to learn about who you are and how you will handle the hard times, and how to find the strength to keep focussed enough to not quit. Once I was a bit more set up, of course there was an enormous amount of new hurdles to leap over. How do I grow this business now to create more jobs and contribute something of value to children and society at large? One foot in front of the other, I yanked out as much inspiration as I could from quick weekend vacations to inexpensive beach places, meditation and yoga in my tiny apartment, hanging out with little kids and chatting them about life, talking with other entrepreneurs about what they were up against, seeing live music, going to all the free museums, setting aside quite time to be in nature and think, acupuncture, and so much more. It’s worth every minute to figure out what your survival toolkit looks like.

Eventually it came to me that the only way I’d be able to make the largest impact is to find a way to use technology to scale and empower other bilingual people to become entrepreneurs in their communities and reach as many kids as possible so we can spread the good word that: being bilingual, diverse, and multicultural are all an advantage in this life. Today, there are still so many colorful struggles that I had never even anticipated! Setting up an ed tech company that operates across borders has so many moving parts. Maintaining a rosy disposition for my employees so I may have the honor of encouraging them to excel at work is hard and I love it!!! Knowing everyday that the work we do to serve children in the most true and positive way we can is what keeps me going.

Please tell us about Bilingual Birdies.
Bilingual Birdies is a foreign language and live music program for children up to age five. We specialize in teaching Spanish, French, Mandarin and English to thousands of kids a week in the US, Canada and Australia. Our methodology is to teach through music, dance, and puppetry! The live classroom experience is made possible from Bilingual Birdies Licensees who are trained online on how to teach and launch their  own Bilingual Birdies businesses and then receive monthly new themed curriculum to support them as they grow their businesses in their city. Our classes are extremely high energy and super fun for kids and adults!!! The lessons are all about things that relate to the developmental world around little ones such  as vocabulary about transportation, pedestrian safety, farm animals, emotions, making friends, magic tricks, insects, dance parties, different families, and even cultural celebrations.

What sets us apart is that aside from learning a new language all the children get a chance to celebrate diversity and multiculturalism in every class. We are giving kids the bilingual advantage and also helping them to see that being different, coming from an immigrant family, being mixed, knowing about many languages and cultures, and being your authentic self is all — super cool. I am most proud that we’ve emerged as the only bilingual ed program that has developed an opportunity for other bilingual budding entrepreneurs to jump on board to get licensed and trained to launch their own Bilingual Birdies business and join the bilingual education movement we’ve started.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I could start over, I would’ve tried to use technology sooner in the growth of my business. I’ve always valued live experiences over technological connections. But as soon as I realized I could use technology to scale more live experiences, a light bulb went off for me! I also would’ve spent more time in the beginning refining the mantra– you are good enough. I think that anything that leads you to believe otherwise is a deviation of focus and stunts your growth to keep shining. Somehow we all need our own personal toolkit to quickly course correct when we think we can’t do something. In the end, there’s always a way to figure it out.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photos: Mariliana Arvelo, Šara Stranovsky, Karen Song

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