Chris Gerding

Master of Business Administration, Class of 2015

Founder & CEO, Boomalang

Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating?

I graduated in 2015. At that point we had just started Boomalang because we had begun the idea in the Launching the Venture course at Owen. After graduating, I spent a lot of years growing the right team, building out our technology to scale and changing A LOT based on our first customers. We moved to Brooklyn for a couple of years which was great because we’re an education resource for high schools and universities. Being in NY was a great place to be surrounded by colleges, universities, as well as great thought leaders in ed tech and language learning. With COVID, we just moved back to Nashville. Fortunately, COVID didn’t slow our growth because we’re a good fit for remote learning and meeting trends that align with what teachers are looking for right now when they can’t be in class as much.

What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?

Boomalang is a conversation platform and international team of native speakers, trained to guide conversations in different languages. We provide educators a way to integrate authentic, one-on-one immersive experiences for students. The idea came as a solution to a personal problem. I had this breakthrough experience with language learning when I was in Costa Rica before I came to Owen. It was called a language exchange where I was helping a local in their second language which was my first language and vice versa but you do that over a cup of coffee or a beer. It was just this amazing breakthrough and the most fun I had learning and applying in the language realm.

Before Owen, I started researching for some sort of website or community to have these types of exchanges. There were some but there were 100 ways to improve what was going on out there. Through conversations with professors and high school teachers during my time at Owen, I learned there was a niche need for something like this in the language classrooms, especially in universities. Instead of doing two years at Owen where I might re-brand Coca Cola for an assignment in a marketing class for example, professors were open to letting me use Boomalang as the case-study. Business school was a great time to start the seedling of an idea, hear feedback from professors and classmates and crystalize what to look for in a teammate. It was prep for starting a business in a way, and then it became real through the Jumpstart Foundry accelerator program afterwards.

What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?

Learning how to prioritize and learning what is the most important use of your time is a big challenge. In academics and corporate companies you’re usually told what your goals need to be or where your focus needs to go. Figuring out that on your own as an entrepreneur can be really challenging because you’re always questioning what you should prioritize. I know some people don’t perform in that type of environment very well or they don’t like it and others do. I love that environment where I have to make decisions for myself and am accountable to myself. That is an area that I prefer much more than a “here’s what to do” format.

What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?

I would start with grit. Putting in the work, sweating it out and being passionate. You have to be so interested and passionate about your idea and seeing it to the finish line that you’re willing to make a lot of sacrifices and willing to be vulnerable. I think entrepreneurs also need the ability to attract similar enthusiasm around them. Whether it’s for building a team, raising money or selling to customers — that’s the most important skill of an entrepreneur. I am always surrounding myself with people that are much smarter than me and that’s the goal.

What are you most proud of about your business?

I am most proud that we’re making a difference for both the customers who use Boomalang and the employees who work on the team because it’s providing them an opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have. Many of them in the beginning for example were Venezuelan and this was their only way to be employed and stay in college, given what was going on in their country as a whole. That was really special and it has permeated now to over 20 countries. They’re thrilled with the opportunity and they have a lot of fun doing it. Being part of something so much greater than myself is really rewarding and seeing it benefit both sides all while still being a profitable business rather than just a fun project.

What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?

I definitely have some specific products and tools that I use but more importantly it’s about putting the books down, putting the blogs down, stopping listening to podcasts on how to start or what to do and just putting yourself and the idea out there. It’s about being vulnerable, taking as many meetings as you can, talking to who you think are potential customers over and over and over again. Any minute in that direction is more valuable than reading about how to begin in my opinion.

For the Owen students specifically, taking Launching the Venture and doing anything that relates to the entrepreneurship program is an obvious win and where I got most of my value from Owen. Any other advice in general is go in all 100% if you can. I know for a lot of people it has to be the right time or the right idea and whether or not they have a runway, or can raise money or live on the cheap—like I certainly did! For me it felt inevitable to give it a shot — I felt like I had to do this and would certainly regret it if I hadn’t given it my all. I know a lot of times people try something on the side and it typically doesn’t work out if they’re not all in.

What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?

I know everyone (whether you’re starting a business or not) has periods of balance and imbalance. Entrepreneurs can go crazy all the time and I did for a while, but I’m better now at finding balance. I stay active, workout, and go outside just as much as I can with my family. Something a little stranger that I do is this breathing technique which has completely changed my life. It’s called the Wim Hof method. That breathing and cold showers totally changed the game. If I wasn’t doing Boomalang I’d be their evangelist!