Sunday, December 06, 2009
Danville Man Can Help You Talk the Talk in Many Lands
By Pat Phillips
DANVILLE – Mark Frobose isn't afraid to describe himself as a "rags to riches" story.
"To show you what is possible, I started with an idea more than 25 years ago, then I failed my way to success over the years," he said. "It wasn't until I moved back to Danville that I became successful."
The story actually began even longer ago, when Frobose, now 55, was attending North Ridge Middle School. He wanted to take a French class but was denied access because his math scores weren't high enough. He brought his math grades up, only to come away from his French class with a D.
"I basically didn't do well because I didn't understand grammar," Frobose admitted.
On a trip to Europe with other Explorer Scouts, the group was staying at a hostel and heard guitar music. Those in the room spoke only French, so Frobose used his D-level French ... and opened the door to a wonderful experience.
"I came home so motivated and got straight A's after that," he said.
Mark Frobose started his own audio language-learning business in his Danville home. By Rick Danzl
He went on to get a master's degree in foreign language at the University of Illinois.
"In 1981, in an Albuquerque studio apartment, I wanted to start a language school, but wasn't happy with any of the textbooks," he said. "So I decided to write my own when someone told me, 'You can't do that.' You can ask my wife: If you tell me I can't, I'm going to prove you wrong."
After some success, Frobose's own insecurities got in the way.
"I held several jobs, but in 1993, I started recording cassettes teaching languages while my day job was putting in fence posts," he said of finally finding some direction with his idea.
"Through every setback, I learned something," Frobose said. "I had this idea that rich people were evil and unhappy."
It was then that Frobose had a frank conversation with his father, who explained that there are just as many poor people who are evil and unhappy. The difference is what you do with your money, his father told him, and that what he was doing was something that could help people.
When the opportunity arose to market his Language Dynamics series on Amazon.com, the business really took off.
"I could sell there and compete with the largest publishers from my garage," Frobose said. "The drawback was I only got 45 percent of each sale, but I sold everything in the garage in a month. I told my wife, 'We're not in Kansas anymore.'"
She was glad to hear it, since her question throughout the process was, "When are you going to stop spending $3 for every $1 we're taking in?"
By 2006, his language series was the No. 2 best-seller in its category on www.amazon.com.
"It was raining success," Frobose said. "We had been working like demons, first reproducing the cassettes and later the CDs. I felt like I was living David and Goliath. I kicked the devil and they didn't like it. Those big companies consider this the flyover part of the country – the part you fly over between New York and L.A. How could someone from here possibly compete?"
Frobose felt he had now reached the point to sell the business.
He attended a meeting of publishing agents where, like speed dating, he got three minutes with a representative to pitch his product before moving on to the next agent.
"I figured my business was about in the middle of the spectrum of the people there," he said. "I had sold $42,000 gross for that December. The next thing I know, Macmillan Audio made me an offer for the concept, repackaged and remastered what I did on my computer at home and renamed it 'Behind the Wheel.'"
Two things definitely stood out to Macmillan Audio.
"First, what made Frobose's learning series so attractive was the success it enjoyed. It had healthy sales numbers and particularly that the user comments were positive and there were many of them," said Mary Beth Roche, vice president and publisher at Macmillan Audio. "What makes it popular is the elements of his program give people what they really want."
People don't get bogged down in grammar. They learn intuitive sentence building, she said.
"The second part was Mark himself," Roche said. "He's an English-speaking guide who uses English as a tool for people learning other languages."
Frobose now defines himself as financially independent, since he inked the deal with Macmillan on July 7, 2007, but he is not resting. He is doing presentations on Internet business, motivational speaking and consulting as well as being involved in real estate in Arizona.
"He serves as a consultant for us as the editorial director for 'Behind the Wheel,'" Roche said. "He has done radio tours promoting the series, and his passion comes through."
Macmillan Audio has aligned itself with Internet travel sites so that when someone books a trip to Italy, an advertisement will pop up for a free download of a 'Behind the Wheel' Italian lesson.
"We are delighted with the product," Roche said. "Now, Mark has the time to focus on the stuff that he loves – getting people to learn new languages."
High school students benefit from relationship with Frobose
DANVILLE – Schlarman High School Principal Bob Rice was impressed when he first met Mark Frobose, "The Language Guy."
When Rice found out Frobose had developed language-learning series, he invited him to speak to a school assembly.
"As a presenter, he's quite a motivational speaker," Rice said. "We had him talking with some teachers and foreign exchange students, and he was carrying on conversations in five languages."
When Frobose was ready to dispose of the first evolution of some of his "Language Dynamics" books, which preceded the "Behind the Wheel" CDs, he gave Rice a call to see if the school could put them to use.
Economics instructor Jason Woodworth is now using the textbooks with his students. They are building a marketing strategy, figuring how to set a price that can net the most profit and how to get others to buy and sell the books.
Follett Bookstore took some on consignment, Rice said.
"The class is learning about supply and demand right now, so that may lead to some additional ideas," Woodworth said. "Hopefully, we can take this opportunity and turn it into a good fundraiser for the school."
Getting to know Mark Frobose
Claim to fame: "The Language Guy," author of "Language Dynamics" and "Behind the Wheel," a language-teaching tool.
Occupations: Consultant, motivational speaker, real estate.
Interests: Playing the guitar and singing, languages, travel and hanging out with his family.
Languages: Fluent in French, Italian and Portuguese and conversational in several others.
What's he reading: "Speak & Grow Rich," "Getting Started in Consulting," "Gone Fishing Portfolio," "Get Slightly Famous."
Advice: Keep it simple.
How 'Behind the Wheel' works
— Uses a flexible structure that makes even a 10-minute lesson effective.
— Teaches sentence-building techniques that allow listeners to create their own original sentences, rather than reciting phrases.
— Focuses on frequently used vocabulary that will be used right away to create sentences.
— Offers immediate English translations throughout every lesson, rather than forcing listeners to guess what they are saying.
— Features both an English speaker to instruct and guide the user and a native speaker to demonstrate authentic use and pronunciation.
— Offers a companion text with a transcript of the audio program plus additional practice exercises.
Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an EFL Teacher Trainer, Intellectual Development Specialist, author and speaker. He has written ESP, foreign language learning, English language teaching texts and hundreds of articles used in more than 135 countries. Get your FREE E-book, “If you Want to Teach English Abroad, Here's What You Need to Know" by requesting the title at: firstname.lastname@example.org Need a blogger or copywriter to promote your school, institution, service or business or an experienced writer and vibrant SEO content for your website, blog or newsletter? Then E-mail me for further information.