My Biz: Little Pim

Her father, renowned linguist Dr. Paul Pimsleur, was the brains behind a language learning system that bears his last name. So when Julia Pimsleur Levine, then a documentary filmmaker, wanted to teach her first son how to speak French, she was understandably picky.

According to BusinessWeek, audio learning materials for myriad languages based on her father’s method continue to be sold by Simon & Schuster, but are intended for adults.

After finding nothing suitable for the under-5 set, she shot a $30,000 pilot video she and her husband paid for themselves and launched Little Pim full time in early 2008.

A departure from her father’s audio method, her animated series features a panda as instructor and is intended to be as entertaining as any children’s TV fare. “We recognize that no child is going to say, ‘Mommy, I want to learn Chinese.’ But if they fall in love with the panda, which many of them do, they’re going to say, ‘Mommy, I want to watch the panda’ and then the next thing you know, they’re learning Chinese.”

Little Pim has won numerous awards and earned positive reviews and parent testimonials. Still, distribution is a challenge, because the New York-based company has to compete with such big players as Fisher-Price and Walt Disney (DIS) for shelf space. The courses are available on DVD in 10 languages and will soon be available via two iPhone apps.

Pimsleur Levine, 41, says her seven-person startup has landed about $2 million from angel investors, will bring in about $500,000 in revenue in 2009, and expects about $1.2 million in 2010.

Photo by BusinessWeek/LittlePim.

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