Some entrepreneurs are born into the role. Such was the
case of Tom Adams who, at the age of 30, became CEO for a family business selling language-learning software. Rosetta Stone may not have been Adams’ creation, but the company’s phenomenal growth during his tenure is testimony to the role of the entrepreneur within a mature corporate structure. Armed with his passion for languages and skillful execution, Adams took Rosetta Stone to new heights, achieving 20-fold growth during his seven-year tenure.
Rosetta Stone’s self-study language solutions include software packages and online services with speech recognition capabilities. Its signature yellow boxes at mall kiosks and airports present an alternative approach to traditional classroom teaching techniques. Memorising grammar rules and vocabulary lists are replaced with interactive experiences of reading, recognising and speaking. Its premium
offering is TOTALe, a $ 750 product that builds on the original course by integrating coach-led practice sessions, language games and live online access to native speakers.
The company’s expansion did come with tremendous growing pains, Adams told INSEAD Knowledge, as it involved reconfiguring systems to handle the million-plus transactions a year -- an expensive but necessary initiative to manage a growing consumer-driven business. The company also had to structure its management team to build scalability as its products are currently available in 31 languages and clients include educational institutions, armed forces, government agencies and corporations.
|A Rosetta Stone teaching module|
Adams took the company public in April 2009, in the trough of the recession, becoming only the third company at the time to do so on the New York Stock Exchange. “There was that moment of ‘are we doing something crazy here?’”, reflects Adams. Apart from the pressures of providing liquidity for private equity investors, the company was in the throes of international expansion and in need of the extra capital. “In the end, we felt so good about the business, we felt so good about our prospects of our company that we weren’t deterred.”