A Bootstrapping Entrepreneur Bets the Family Home

Colleen DeBaise By Colleen DeBaise

Adriana Rodriguez, an Austin mom of two, needed more cash flow after she launched a bilingual school.

It’s not at all uncommon for entrepreneurs to tap into their home equity to finance a business idea. A few years ago, Adriana Rodriguez of Austin, Texas, took an even more dramatic step: She sold her house to support her education startup, and moved her family into a small rental.

The decision wasn’t an easy one for Rodriguez, who was born in Mexico and came to the United States as a young woman with limited English skills in the late 1990s. She had taken pride in the fact that she and her American-born husband, who worked for UPS, owned a nice suburban home in nearby Round Rock.

And moving meant that she would have to uproot her two small children, then 6 and 9, who loved the home’s game room and attended a local private school.

“It was definitely a huge sacrifice,” Rodriguez says.

But after seven years of working as a Spanish teacher at Lycée Français d’Austin (now the Austin International School), Rodriguez had just opened her own bilingual day care, Jardín de Niños Interlingua International School. Her father, who works for Mexico’s department of education, had provided some financial assistance to get the school up and running. But startup costs were higher than expected — about $100,000 in all — and after cobbling together funds, Rodriguez had few places to turn. Banks were unwilling to gamble on her unproven startup, and as an immigrant, she found obtaining credit elsewhere difficult.

“When you open a business you need to have some cash flow, which I didn’t have,” Rodriguez says. “So the way you are living has to change.”

The family sold its four-bedroom house, which at that time — this was early 2008 — was valued at about $200,000. Rodriguez used the proceeds to pay off some debts, and they moved into a two-bedroom rental across the street from her new school, on Austin’s West side. “It had a balcony, and I could see the school from the apartment,” she says.

Most important, the family’s monthly costs were slashed in half, to $1,000 from $2,000. The children — a boy and a girl — shared a bedroom, enrolled in public school, and got used to life without a backyard.

“They weren’t very happy, but they were little so they could manage,” Rodriguez says. The move also reinforced the notion that the school, quite literally, was a family business. “It was to teach them a lesson,” she says. “To open a business, you have to do many sacrifices.”

By this point, the children were already familiar with Rodriguez’s commitment to entrepreneurship. A year earlier, she had taken night classes at the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on the fundamentals of running a business, from writing a business plan to managing finances to conducting market research. The class met three nights a week, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., and because her husband worked at night, Rodriguez brought the children with her. “They would come with their pajamas and their homework,” she says. “They could play while I was doing the class.”

“To open a business, you have to do many sacrifices.”– Adriana Rodriguez

For Rodriguez, the sacrifice has paid off: Within a month of starting her school in 2007 with 10 students, she had a waiting list of 25. “The first 10 days, I was like, ‘I hope I can make this work, because I really have to pay rent and the teachers,” she says. By the end of the first year, she had paid her father back.

By 2009, she had expanded to a second location, and her husband had quit his day job to help out. She now has a third location, and is considering a fourth with partners in Houston. She has a total of 270 students and employs 43 teachers, with annual revenue at each location hovering at about $800,000.

Along the way, Rodriguez says, she has learned some important business lessons, particularly when it comes to hiring teachers. “Sometimes you think it’s the right person and it’s not,” she says. “Then things will twist around.” She spends “more time than I ever imagined” on teacher observations and now interviews candidates multiple times to make sure they are a good long-term fit.

Rodriguez, who has a master’s in education from the National Pedagogic University in Mexico City, now offers elementary-school education for ages three to 12, and has added French and Mandarin lessons. Children have a “beautiful and amazing plasticity” to learn other languages, she says.

Last year, the family was finally able to buy a house. Leo, 15, and Jasmine, 12, have their own rooms again. “We bought an old house in a very nice neighborhood so they could go to a good district,” Rodriguez says, and then they renovated it extensively.

Rodriguez now hopes her children will one day run her school. “When you build things for your family,” she says, “you see the future.”

Read Full Transcript

Adriana Rodriguez — Jardín de Niños Interlingua International School

Adriana Rodriguez (AR): I never picture myself to be a business woman but it was a need to have a better opportunity for my kids. I was thinking this is for the family, this is for us.

CARD: Adriana Rodriguez — Founder – Jardín de Niños Interlingua International School – Texas – USA

SOT: Hola niños buenos días

AR: My childhood dream was to open my own school one day.

SOT: Lobo lobito estas áqui

AR: I wanted to be a teacher since, probably, I was born.

CARD: Adriana was born and raised in Mexico City.

Her mother is a math teacher. Her father is a university professor.

AR: I’m very close to my parents and my father has been my hero. I would see him passionate just to do his work and I was thinking one day I’m going to be like you.

CARD: Adriana graduated with a Masters of Education from university in Mexico City.

In 1998, when Adriana was 21, she visited her sister who was living in Austin, Texas.

AR: She was like ‘well, come here, relax, it’s summertime, find a job if you want to part-time.’

CARD: Adriana was hired as a teaching assistant at a pre-school.

AR: I did not know any English. I went to some classes in English as a Second Language but it did not help me as much as seeing it in the practical life, where the students were saying ‘Ms. Adriana! Come over here! Over there! I need that! Here!’

They were immersing me in the English language.

CARD: That summer Adriana met her husband, Enrique Rodriguez, and she began a new life in the U.S.

She found a position teaching Spanish at an international school in Austin.

Over time she took on extra responsibilities, developing curriculum and managing faculty. She took business classes at night.

AR: After seven years working for them, I was ready to open my school. And I say I want the same model but I want Spanish immersion because we’re in Texas we have the need to speak Spanish.

CARD: In 2007, Adriana borrowed a small amount of money from her father.

That September, she opened Jardín de Niños Interlingua, a bilingual preschool.

AR: I was like, I hope I can make this work because I really have to pay rent and the teachers.

I didn’t have the capacity to fill more than 25 students, so, after a month I got already a wait list, more than 25 students waiting. And I was saying ‘oh my gosh, Spanish immersion is a huge need in Austin.’

CARD: The school grew with the children.

Adriana financed the expansion from her business.

AR: I was going to get the permits from the city of Austin dealing with, you know, building code and plumbing and things that I would never have an idea that I was going to manage. But when you’re in a business, you know you’re going to wear many hats.

CARD: The school has expanded to three campuses, educating 300 students through the fifth grade.

AR: This year, it’s so amazing to me, because our students from the 5th grade are graduating and those are the students who opened this school. Sorry, I wanna cry! But that’s the greatest reward that I can have- that I can see the students who opened this, the first school, graduating.

I hope in the film they don’t make comments saying ‘oh, she was totally a crybaby!’

Credits:

Producers – Victoria Wang and Sue Williams
Director – Sue Williams
Editor – Merril Stern
Director of New Media and Outreach – Karin Kamp
Director of Photography – Sam Shinn
Associate Producer – Nusha Balyan
Assistant Editor – Matt Strickland
Social Media Coordinator – Christina Wu
Music – Killer Tracks

Posted: December 10, 2013

Colleen DeBaiseA Bootstrapping Entrepreneur Bets the Family Home