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Alumnus Founds the Next Rosetta Stone

Chapter & Alumni News

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

Mandarin Chinese routinely ranks as one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn. But Ryan McMunn’s (Colorado) BRIC Language Systems (www.briclanguage.com) seeks to bridge that gap in a new way. Many attributes contribute to unique difficulty of learning Mandarin Chinese, and chief among them is the tonal nature where every sound has four distinct pronunciations. As a vice president of Asian operations for a U.S. manufacturing company based in Shanghai, Ryan spent five years struggling to learn Mandarin.

Ryan McMunn and his business partner Kassey Wong.

Other language learning programs didn’t seem tailored to the uniqueness of Mandarin. He was able to overcome these frustrations only after meeting his current business partner who had a program that could be customized to what he needed for work. Within twelve months Ryan was speaking Mandarin fluently with colleagues and closing multimillion dollar deals.Other language learning platforms focus on online training without instructors. This approach tends to use a one-size-fits-all mindset, overlooking the nuances of languages with distinctly different structures. BRIC seeks to change that model by having every class conducted by an actual teacher living in a country whose native tongue is the language the student wants to learn. The coursework is customized to each students’ needs and interests and include valuable cultural training. Perhaps the most valuable piece of the puzzle is that BRIC offers internship programs in China as well as travel immersion so students can fully grasp and use the language they’ve learned.

Building off this discovery of a more effective teaching method, Ryan expanded to apply this innovative learning model to include Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, with plans to launch Russian soon. Each course has been customized for the unique dialect of each language, as opposed to one method for many different languages. BRIC is just now getting to the point of influencing the market, particularly in New York City where speaking these languages is a valuable tool in the business community. Ryan’s long-term vision is to do for language learning what Amazon for the book industry —a feat he acknowledges will take several years of work to achieve.

"You figure out how to motivate people in different ways to get things done for the group."

McMunn credits his experience in Sigma Nu for giving him the skills to succeed, especially in launching his own company. “Networking is one that comes to mind first. I knew no one when I first moved to Colorado. Trying to meet people through recruitment and convince them you are worthy of being a brother teaches a skill that few people have. Walking into a room full of complete strangers and making contacts is incredibly valuable in starting a business and also living in a foreign country.”McMunn’s experience as an officer in Gamma Kappa (Colorado) also heavily influenced his success today. “Getting a group of college men to do anything together in an organized fashion is difficult. As Alumni Relations Chairman I had to do this for Parents’ Weekend and other alumni events. You figure out how to motivate people in different ways to get things done for the group.”

Entrepreneur stories like Ryan’s are not uncommon but the path to success is never guaranteed. Ryan has several tips for aspiring entrepreneurs in achieving success.

  1. Find a mentor who has done what you want to do.
  2. Make sure you have a solid business plan. Don’t just jump in because you have a good idea.
  3. Get ready to change that plan a lot and be able to pivot. We started as all private lessons and now do almost all group and corporate training.
  4. Get ready for stress and sleepless nights. A lot of people in the entrepreneurial world wind up self-medicating to relieve stress with alcohol and drugs. Don’t go down this path. I just lost a very good friend and one of the most successful people I know to this. Instead make time for yourself. Exercise, relax, and be able to step away from the business and rely on your team.

 

It’s evident Ryan hasn’t lost his passion for what he originally sought to achieve. His deep interest for the culture he spent so much time immersed in and his appreciation for the people who helped BRIC succeed contribute to his entrepreneurial drive. “It’s the people. I have a staff that has been together for over ten years at one company and five years at BRIC. I have a Chinese god daughter who was the flower girl at our wedding in May. I also have an unbelievable business partner and too many good friends to mention. It’s not all about the business or the place but it’s about the people you meet along the way.”

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9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: 540.463.1869 | Fax: 540.463.1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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