“You will never have the perfect roadmap to bring your idea to reality.”

Tiago Souza and Felipe Marinho, co-founders, Soulphia

Tiago Souza and Felipe Marinho are both from Sao Paulo, Brazil where Tiago worked in the pharmaceutical industry and Felipe worked for Shell Oil.  But both were entrepreneurs at heart.  When not working his day job, Felipe was managing a vibrant restaurant he owned.  And Tiago left his job at an analytics firm to launch an app designed to bring cheaper medical care to low income patients.  

Felipe Marinho

So when Felipe and Tiago left Brazil and followed their wives to the United States, even though they didn’t know each other, they already had a lot in common. And when they finally met each other through a mutual friend, the seeds for a potential partnership were already planted.

Their business, Soulphia, sprang from their experience of volunteering together at a homeless shelter in Hoboken where they made and served dinner to over 200 people. Later that evening over their own dinner, they talked about their experience – how they both felt exhilarated yet frustrated that they hadn’t significantly changed the lives of the people they had served that night. That night, Soulphia, a company that trains homeless shelter residents in the US  to teach conversational English online to people worldwide, was born on the back of a napkin.

Tiago Souza

Both Felipe and Tiago were committed to founding a company with a strong social mission, but it was initially unclear how their idea would translate to reality.  “When we first started out, we had no idea how big our business could ultimately be,” says Tiago.  “We just knew we wanted to change people’s lives for the positive.”  

“And we knew we couldn’t wait until we had the perfect plan or we would never have gotten started.” adds Felipe.

Felipe and Tiago began working their networks to find the people they needed to help them bring their idea to market. But they also knew that once they launched their initial concept, they needed to listen to their customers to ensure success.

Originally, Soulphia focused on selling one-on-one classes to individuals looking to improve their English skills. But they quickly learned that people preferred to learn in a group setting. And they found that the subscription model was more effective than selling single classes.

They also found other market opportunities for their unique mission focused educational product.  Soulphia expanded into the B2B market after Brazilian businesses reached out to them to train their employees in English. And, because their business model also includes the social mission of giving shelter residents transferable skills to help them move to financial stability, Soulphia is now partnering with local governments, recently signing an agreement with Jersey City, NJ to train shelter residents in the community.

“The secret to our success? Test, learn and adapt,” says Felipe. Tiago echos that sentiment, “You have to try an idea in the marketplace, get feedback and then adapt, adapt, adapt.”

Their words of advice to future founders? You will never have the perfect roadmap when you start out so begin with a simple business idea and strategy, work hard, and always listen to the customer.

Now that they have more than 1,300 students in 15 different countries and 50 tutors trained to give online classes, Felipe and Tiago are now looking for investors and B2B partnerships here in the US. To learn more about Soulphia, go to www.soulphia.com.

Come hear Soulphia partners live at upcoming Stage2Startups events!  On November 21 in Greenwich, Ct. Soulphia partner, Rafael Borja, will talk about how he is helping Soulphia plan for it next round of funding.  And on November 26 in NYC, hear Felipe give his one minute funding pitch to a panel of investors.  Register here for these Stage2Startups exciting events.

Copyright© 2019 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

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