How to launch an online business?

When we hear about successful online businesses, we often think of raising millions of dollars from investors to get the project off the ground. While the vast majority of Internet companies have been funded by investors, there are a small number of entrepreneurs who start their businesses by bootstrapping. One of these projects is Ling App, founded by a young couple who turned their passion for language learning into a successful business. I happened to meet Simon online a few weeks ago and decided to share Ling’s story in an interview here on the forum.

Simon was studying computer science in Heidelberg, Germany, where he also met his wife to be. Since she is from Thailand and Simon wanted to learn Thai, he started looking for an app that offered a language course in Thai. To his great surprise, however, there was nothing useful, as most established platforms only offer courses in the main European languages. As a result, Simon and his fiancée decided to develop an app for Thai learners themselves.

Simon, can you please take us back to the time when you were studying in Heidelberg? I assume you communicated with your future wife in English back then?

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Thank you very much for your introduction, Torsten. This site and forum is a really cool way to bring language learners together.

One small correction, back then we studied in Mannheim instead of Heidelberg but they are pretty close :slight_smile:

My now-wife Khwan was already pretty long in Germany when we met, so we communicated in German. The idea was really simple: Create a phrasebook for the language of Thai because nothing good was out there. And it was relatively easy for us to do because I knew how to code, and she could create the content.

Still, it wasn’t our focus back then and we worked only on and off at it. So we published the app actually in 2015, when we were both already working full time. It was a very stressful time but we wanted to finish the project and see how it goes. When we finally published it (Android only back then), we used only Facebook groups to promote it. It was completely free and we surprisingly got quite positive feedback and some initial downloads.

That motivated us to improve the app, localize it in German, and add a paid premium version. When we realized it made some money (a few hundred $/month), we were ready to quit our jobs and go to Thailand to grow it! We lived in a very cheap place and only went to the university library to work, so we actually could live on a few hundred $/month in Thailand! We never looked back.

Since then we published the app in 60 languages and created more apps. It’s been one of the best decisions of my life to take the leap and start that business.

If you’re thinking about starting something on your own, I really want to encourage you to try it. It’s never been easier than today. Anyway, let me know if you guys have question or wanna share your own experience!


I’ve worked for myself a number of times, which to me is the same as starting a number of businesses. I always liked a variety in my life, and I also moved around a lot. So I’d commonly start a business, then after some point I’d think, “OK, I can do that”, then move on to something else ( or somewhere else ).

I think a lot of people have misconceptions about starting a business. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say they want to save a lot of money so they can start a business. In some cases it really does take a lot of money. But there are a very large number of businesses that take little to no money to start.

Service business are the cheapest and easiest to start. All but one of my businesses were service businesses. There are exceptions, but if you can work as an employee, there is a pretty good chance that you can do the same thing working for yourself. You just need to sell yourself.

If you have a trade skill, or know how to program, or know how to design, or are physically able to do manual work, then you can work for yourself. No matter what kind of skill, there is a decent chance you can work for yourself. If you have a trade, you probably already have the tools of that trade. That means there will likely be little to no up front costs when you start working for yourself.

Although I recommend that people keep working a regular job and start working for themselves as a sideline until it proves successful. Either that or have enough money saved to live on while they dive in full time at their new business. Most businesses will take a while before it brings in enough to make a living. More than once I’ve seen people abandon a business that was successful and profitable because they didn’t have enough money to live on while the business grew.

Working for yourself, or running a full time business is not for everyone. But I highly recommend that people try it. Most people dream of having a business. So try it. If it doesn’t work, it’s still a good learning experience. Most learning in life is not from school or university. Most learning is from doing and experiencing things. Being self employed is something I think everyone should experience, and it’s not as hard as many people think.

Contrary to what a lot of people think about business people being cut-throat, I very strongly recommend that the most important thing is to be fair and honest with customers. That’s even more important than being good at the actual work. It’s more important that making that initial profit. Customers WILL recognize it. They will call you back, They will recommend you to their friends. That’s when the business will start growing.

Just remember that if you can work as an employee, then most likely you can do the same thing working for yourself.


Where and how did you learn programming and what programming languages do you know? And what about Kwhan, how did she come up with the ideas for the dialogues and exercises in the app? Not everyone, by a long shot, can create language learning materials that are both useful and engaging enough to get people to interact with them.

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I always loved technology so I taught myself coding back in high school, making small games. A big part of my studies covered programming, too. Our final project back then was a mobile app written all in Java for Android. That’s why I decided to go with that.

Now that was long ago, so there wasn’t a big choice but Java for Android and Objective C for iOS. Would I start now, I’d definitely go for a cross platform framework like React Native or Flutter.

Khwan didn’t have a background in languages so she thought everything herself from scratch. A big part is always researching existing apps and making them better. She also studied things like UX, product design etc. from courses and books.

I’d say as a founder it’s always great to learn as much as possible and make yourself an expert in whatever it is you do. It makes it also easier to hire the right people down the road!


So you obviously have a positive attitude and have made it a habit to constantly develop new skills. Where do you see the parallels between learning human languages like English and Thai on the one hand and programming languages like Java and Python on the other?

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