Startup of the week: One Third Stories

Startup of the week: One Third Stories

Two old school friends want to "revolutionise the way we learn languages in the English-speaking world and beyond" - and they're starting with children's books.

The pitch

One Third Stories makes learning a language as easy as reading a story. They create children’s books that start in English and end in a different language, by gradually introducing foreign words.

Who's the team behind it?

Alex Somervell and Jonny Pryn. Somervell grew up bilingual in South America to British parents before moving to the UK age 17 and has since learnt a few more languages (his latest project is Russian). Pryn, on the other hand, was subjected to the "somewhat imperfect" British language learning system, featuring a French teacher with a strong cockney accent.

Alex Somervell and Jonny Pryn

The pair met during sixth form, after which Somervell went to Exeter University to study Languages and Pryn headed to Nottingham to study Literature and Linguistics. Pryn read A Clockwork Orange as part of the course and, inspired by the fictional language Nasdat, decided to write a children’s book.

After graduating in 2015, the pair launched One Third Stories. They have completed the Ignite 100 accelerator programme, secured a start-up loan, validated the product and market with various prototypes, launched a crowdfunding campaign, won the Nottingham University start-up competition, and most recently partnered with the Spanish Embassy and Goethe-Institut.

What's the gap in the market?

Somervell and Pryn believe that foreign language learning is a major, and under-served, area that parents are eager to invest in.

"Learning a foreign language is now compulsory at primary school, however the reality is that the majority of schools don’t have a specialist teacher that is qualified or confident enough to deliver the lessons," Somervell explains. "In addition to this, the British Council reports that 58% of adults regret their poor language learning education.

"Both factors lead many parents to look for complementary solutions to the formal education system. Apps like Duolingo are great, but are often limited or not suited for children, private tutors can be expensive as well as time consuming, and programmes like Dora the Explorer lack educational value.

What we look to do is combine education with entertainment so that children literally learn as a consequence of enjoying the story. Parents and children don’t have to be linguists to read the stories, and we provide audiobooks to teach pronunciation, and other resources to complement the learning experience."

Success so far?

One Third Stories launched a Kickstarter campaign launched in May 2016 with a target of £10,000 and ended up with over £35,000 raised from almost 1,300 customers who pre-ordered the books. They also ran a ‘kidsourcing’ campaign, which saw over 1,500 children contribute their ideas to a story.

The partnership with the Spanish Embassy and Goethe-Institut, and investment from Nottingham University, looks set to take them to the next level of development and visibility.

Biggest challenges?

"To be honest, it’s all a challenge," Somervell admits. "There are so many highs and lows in doing what we do that we go from having a great day to an awful day very quickly. That’s a challenge in itself, but getting our heads around how we can make this cool idea into a self-sustaining business has probably been the most challenging aspect."

Ultimate ambition?

Somervell and Pryn are confident with their core product, so they're eager to expand fast - and far.

"In the future, we’re going to look to work with the best authors, illustrators, linguists and tech people so that we can literally revolutionise the way we learn languages in the English-speaking world and beyond," Somervell declares. "Why can’t we start with children’s stories?"

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Get as much advice as you can from the best people you can find, but ultimately you’re going to have to make some judgement calls, so trust your instinct and keep going as long as it’s worth it."