Ray Blakney is the CEO and co-founder of Live Lingua, a renowned online language learning platform. Live Lingua offers a unique and immersive approach to mastering a new language, as it pairs users who want to learn Spanish, French, German, Chinese, and more with their own hand-picked, certified, native-speaking tutor for online teaching sessions. An award-winning Filipino-American entrepreneur, speaker, and podcaster, Ray builds and helps others build 6- and 7-figure businesses on a bootstrap budget. Ray lives in Weymouth, Massachusetts.
Where did the idea for Live Lingua come from?
Mexican swine flu. My wife and I started our first business back in 2008. It was a brick-and-mortar Spanish language immersion school in Mexico. My wife is Mexican (but went to university in the US) and was my Spanish teacher when I arrived in Mexico as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. We launched our school – and got married – at the end of 2007 with only $2000 US in our bank account. Luckily, the school was a success from day one and was fully booked within weeks.
Then in March of 2009, the Mexican swine flu appeared. Within weeks they had closed off the borders of Mexico (and most of our students came from outside of the country) and our students canceled. We had just started a few months ago and did not have enough savings to keep operating for more than a few weeks.
It was then that my wife had the idea of contacting our previous students to see if they wanted to have classes over Skype. It worked better than I expected. So I decided to launch a website and offer the classes to the public, just to see if anybody would sign up.
The swine flu ended in eight weeks. It did not end up being a global pandemic. So within a few weeks, our brick-and-mortar school was full again. But to our surprise, our online classes kept growing. Within six months it was generating more revenue than our brick-and-mortar school for just a few hours a week of work.
At that point, we decided to sell our physical school (it took three years to sell) and focus on the online school. In 2012, we rebranded it as Live Lingua, and we have been growing at about 20% a year every year since then.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
One of the keys to my productivity is having a set schedule every workday. Every day starts with a good night’s sleep. I make sure to be asleep by 11:00 p.m. and wake up at 7:00 a.m. I have been doing it this way for so long that I don’t actually need an alarm. I am pretty wide awake until 5 minutes before 11:00 p.m. and I wake within 10 minutes of 7:00 a.m. every day.
To start the day, I go through my version of The Miracle Morning (by Hal Elrod). I have a 30-minute routine of brushing my teeth, washing my face, journaling, exercise, and meditation I do every weekday to wake up. I then have breakfast before starting work between 8:00 and 8:30 a.m. I spend one hour answering emails while drinking my coffee.
At 9:30 a.m. I close all my emails and focus on getting two hours of deep work on the biggest task that needs to get done that day. Between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. I get in my workout (gym or swimming). After the workout, I get back and try to do one more hour of deep work. At 1:30 p.m. I have lunch until 2:00 p.m.
Between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. I schedule any meetings, calls, or podcast interviews. If I have some time without meetings during that time, I try to get some more work done. Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. I answer any emails that came in for the day. If I finish the emails early, I allow myself to spend that time unwinding by playing computer games.
Family time is from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., which I spend with my wife and so. At 9:00 p.m. I am in bed reading until my bedtime at 11:00 p.m.
Some people think having this kind of regimented schedule is boring. For me, it is freeing, and I don’t have to waste time thinking about what I have to do every day. This is my weekday schedule. On the weekends, I just go with the flow to allow myself to unwind.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I follow a very regimented method when I have new ideas for businesses or new ideas to use in my existing businesses. The first thing I do when I have a business idea is to give it one week to process. Many times in that week, I am able to come up with good reasons why it is not a good idea once I get past the excitement phase of the idea.
If it still sounds good after a week, I do keyword research online to see how many people are using Google to search for that idea/product every month. If I find that the search volume is promising, I use the following simple calculation to figure out if it is worth my time. I take the number of people searching for the idea each month and multiply it by 1%. That is to say, I calculate I can sell to 1% of them if I do the marketing right.
Then I take the results of that and multiply it by how much profit I think I could make on each sale of the idea. If that profit per month looks good, I ask myself a key question: is anybody else selling it? I search on Google for the product. If nobody is selling it, or only 1-2 people are selling it and I think I can do better, I try the idea out.
If dozens of people are selling it, or there are 1-2 extremely good versions of the idea on the market that I could not realistically do better than without huge investments, I kill the idea.
What’s one trend that excites you?
More people realizing they can work online from anywhere in the world. I hope this causes people to venture out and explore more of the world, which in turn will help everyone realize we are global citizens.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Does coffee count?
If not, the one habit that I think makes me more productive as an entrepreneur is having a fixed morning routine I do when I wake up that excites, motivates, and energizes me.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If you have a business idea, just throw up a website and promote it. Don’t worry about the page or the offer being perfect—just launch something. Then wait for the feedback to come in. Most of it will probably be bad, but don’t take it personally; just learn from it and improve. Do this day in and day out and within a year or two, you will have a growing business.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
There is no such thing as separating work and personal life.
As human beings, we simply don’t work that way. If you have a bad day at work, it will affect your life outside of work. If you have trouble at home, it will affect your work. Striving to separate those things is like striving to separate two parts of who you are. In order to be happy, I think people need to mix those two things more so that everything is part of a whole.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Can I say drink coffee again?
It is so important to work on one thing until completion before starting something else. It does not matter how big or small. Don’t stop answering an email to check a text message. Don’t stop working on your report to just “hop on Facebook for one minute” (which always ends up being 30 minutes). Don’t start a new business when your current one is starting to do well.
Focus on completing one thing before moving on to the next. Rinse, lather, and repeat.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Move to a cheaper country. Many entrepreneurs start their business as a side hustle from their main job that pays the bills. They grow it to a point where it makes $1000-$2000 US extra each month. Not bad, but not enough to quit their day jobs. And this is where they stay for years.
What helped me build my businesses when I reached that point was to move to a place – in my case Mexico – where $1000 to $2000 US is more than enough to live on. The idea is that instead of spending your few hours of free time outside of work trying to grow your business, you do so full time while looking out at a beach and living comfortably.
This does not have to be permanent. But by doing this, most people who have successful side businesses could easily increase their income to over $5000 US or more per month in 1-2 years of full-time work. At that point, you can decide to move back to where you were living before, but this time with more freedom and potentially even more income than you had before.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We had to build the business twice. After launching Live Lingua in 2009 during the Mexican swine flu crisis, we grew to mid-six figures in 2012. Our business was built using SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which is how you get your website to rank highly on Google’s organic rankings.
In 2012, Google did an algorithm update that killed our business. Overnight we went from being on the first page of Google to not in the first 100 results. So on that day we had to start from scratch and build up the business again. It took us two years to get back to where we were before, and we have continued to grow since.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Only one? Like most entrepreneurs, I come up with 10 business ideas a day. More than I could do in a lifetime. Here is a big one I don’t have the time to do: build the AliBaba of Mexico.
For those who don’t know, AliBaba is a marketplace where stores in the US can go to find China-based suppliers to produce their products for them. The challenge is that these days with the trade wars and increased shipping costs, China is no longer the cheapest option out there. Many companies are looking to move their production to Mexico, but there is no good way to find local suppliers.
If somebody could contact the trade federations in Mexico to get lists of their suppliers and put that all online in a database that would allow people to search for suppliers in Mexico, it could be game-changing. Add to that the new trade agreement between the US and Mexico and it becomes an even more affordable option for US companies.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We just spent $100 US on a professional Christmas shoot. This is the first one we have done as a family with our newborn son, and it was worth every penny.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
One tool that helps me be productive is Microsoft To Do (formerly Wonderlist). This is a simple to-do list, broken down by day, that syncs to my phone and computer. I make sure I have the three most important tasks I need to complete every day – planned two weeks out – on the app and work through the list every day. It is a simple and no-frills tool, but it is exactly what I need to stay focused.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend ‘Millionaire Next Door‘. The book is a bit dated with regard to the numbers now, but it talks about how most millionaires are really made and how they live. Spoiler: they don’t buy yachts and private jets.
What is your favorite quote?
“If they were to write a book about your life, would anybody want to read it?” — Unknown
This was the quote that caused me to quit my almost-6-figure salary job as a software engineer and set off on that path that made me a location-independent entrepreneur. I pictured myself sitting in a cubicle writing code for the next 30 years and realized I did not want my life’s book to be about that.
• Live a life that they could write a book about.
• Grow your business by moving to a tropical beach.
• Don’t try to separate work and life. Make your work part of your life, and your life part of your work.
• No matter what you want to do in your life, get started today. If you don’t, it will be your biggest regret tomorrow.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.