From a business analyst in one of Miami’s biggest firms to opening a one-room school in South Beach with one student …
Possessing a passport stamped with countries from all around the globe…
Watching the school grow with an intensive English program with thousands and thousands of international students …
40 different nationalities passing through its corridors …
Meet the man who triumphs over the Tower of Babel. Meet Greg Degnan in the latest episode of The Come Up, Content with Teeth’s short video podcast profiling the up-and-coming entrepreneurial scene in Southwest Florida.
The Come Up Episode 5 Highlights
Here is what to look for in our latest episode where host Scrappy Jackson interviews a dynamic educator and inspiring entrepreneur.
What does Greg learn most from his students? Because of the melange of different cultures and viewpoints in one room, you learn more from the students than the students do from you.
Is teaching English a dead-end career? The English language is still the PEOPLE’S language. Learn why the industry has a lot of growth potential.
What advice would Degnan give to his 12-year-old self? Follow your dreams but find out why it’s important to be a generalist instead of a specialist.
The future of a Language Center and an English Language Institute: Online, virtual reality and lost in the Metaverse.
What does Greg value most when hiring English teachers? Experience! Watch the episode to find out exactly why – the reason might surprise you.
In this episode, meet an interesting dude who started his career hanging out with Magic and The Dream Team in Barcelona during the 1992 Olympics.
About Greg Degnan and Content with Teeth
The Come Up Episode 5 Video Transcript
Scrappy Jackson: What’s up, what’s up, what’s up, I’m Scrappy. And this is the Come Up. Entrepreneurs on the rise throughout Southwest Florida. We have ’em for you. They’re fascinating. They’re genuine. They’re innovative. Content with Teeth, a real innovative marketing company. They do content marketing. They’re our sponsor, and they’re doing it really big. Just like this fat head behind me. Today’s guest is an entrepreneur. That’s doing big things as well. His name is Greg Degnan. He’s from the University of Florida. He’s a teacher. He does really interesting things in South Beach, Fort Myers and Hollywood with his schools. Greg. Welcome.
Greg Degnan: Thanks, Scrappy. Great to be here.
Scrappy Jackson: Yeah, it’s really great for you to be here as well. And, uh, my first question is, you know, you went to the University of Florida. You got a great education. What did you do from jump right at the beginning?
Greg Degnan: Great. Yeah, go Gators. I’m a graduate. I’m a proud Gator graduate in 1991. I was there. I had, Emmitt Smith actually in one of my classes, but, yeah, as when I graduated in 91, the majority of my friends, and peers were going off to get jobs, you know, in Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, whatever city they could, but I really wanted to travel. So I took off, I got a passport and I started just traveling all over. I was all, I went all over Latin America to almost every country in Latin America, all over Europe. At that time they had the Interrail pass. So we traveled to other countries and I also hit Asia and interesting. My first job real job was with a dream team in, uh, Barcelona.
Scrappy Jackson: Oh, cool. Very cool. So tell us about the dream team. That’s amazing.
Greg Degnan: Yeah, it was awesome. I got to meet all the players. I mean, my job was nothing special. I was in logistics, transportation, kind of getting the players around. I wrote a short book about it called, chasing the dream team, but I had some great moments. You know, just speaking with Magic and Clyde Drexler and some of these guys. I actually was translating for them. Cause one of the things that, because it was in Spain, I had Spanish. So when the players would go out and try to communicate, I would help them. A lot of funny stories and, I just saw Magic has a documentary now on Apple TV, it’s called, They Call Me Magic. It’s an amazing documentary and I’m, I have a little cameo in there. I’m younger. Yeah.
Scrappy Jackson: That’s awesome. So a lot of students, they go abroad. They wanna have some fun. Right out of college. They’re not sure what they wanna do. Do you do the same thing or you looking to find yourself or do you know exactly what you wanted to do with your career at that point?
Greg Degnan: Uh, yeah. Great question. I, I just want, I wasn’t ready to go to an office. I studied finance at UF at University of Florida, and I just really wanted to travel after being in school for so long. And in fact, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and what I found very quickly is the easiest job to get as you’re traveling is an English teacher. Because everybody, you know, in different countries speak different languages. And at that time, especially, they all wanted to learn English. So I would just ride the train in Europe, for example. And if a city looked nice, like I would stop in Budapest, get off. And within a day or two, I would have a job as an English teacher, which was really amazing. And it taught me, you know, to start to love teaching. Cause before that I had no experience teaching English, but I learned, you know, the methodology, teaching English to international students of all ages, different group sizes. And it really helped my public speaking and presence as well.
Scrappy Jackson: So you are in South America, you have a finance degree. How do you get back to United States and get a job?
Greg Degnan: Yeah, eventually I came back, just, I had my passport stamped a lot all over the world and I came back and I went to UM, University of Miami for my MBA. I wanted to get a little more serious on the business side and that created a lot of opportunities. I had a lot of great internships at Burdines, which is now Macy’s. And if you remember Burdines, that was a big store in Florida a while ago. I did some great things there. We would work on an algorithm, for advertising to find the best advertising mix. At that time, they had this huge budget for advertising. This was pre-internet. So they had to decide how much are we gonna spend in TV? How much are we gonna spend on radio? How much are we gonna spend in direct mail?
Greg Degnan: So we, I was part of a team that created the algorithm to find that perfect mix by product category. What will our budget be? That was a great project. I worked at, BACARDÍ in the liquor industry for a couple of years, doing projects. That was also amazing cause they’re based in Miami. At that time, BACARDÍ was introducing flavors. So in the past, they would just have, you know, three BACARDÍ, file in the middle of the shelf on the shelf. Right, right. There was a hundred brands at that time. So what they did that was very smart is started introducing flavors. And that was part of the, the group that introduced BACARDÍ LIMÓN, BACARDÍ O, BACARDÍ Razz. And once they started introducing all these flavors, it took up all the shelf space.
Scrappy Jackson: Sure. Cause they had all the leverage. Right.
Greg Degnan: Exactly. So they kind of knocked out all these mom-and-pop, you know, rum companies and just kind of took over and got stronger and stronger at that time.
Scrappy Jackson: So you’re in the corporate world, but somewhere, international teaching, you know, speaking the languages. That pool must have come in somewhere.
Greg Degnan: Exactly. Yeah. I missed it. So even as great jobs that I had and experiences, and as an analyst, as a business analyst in Miami, working for these great companies, part of me still, you know, still in a cubicle, I still had a boss and I just kind of wanted to go do my own thing. So I had such a great experience teaching that I opened the one-room school in South Beach, called it South Beach languages. And at the beginning, I was the only teacher, you know, one room, one student and little. I remember my first place was on 12th McCollins Avenue paying $300 a month, you know, just for one little room. And then little by little, we grew it, we added students. And today we, you know, we have, we’ve got thousands and thousands of students,
Scrappy Jackson: You have a diversity of students. How many countries have gone through your corridors?
Greg Degnan: Um, I would say probably 30 or 40.
Scrappy Jackson: Wow.
Greg Degnan: Different countries at least, at least.
Scrappy Jackson: And just, how do you, how do you communicate to so many different ones?
Greg Degnan: Yeah, that’s a great question. Cause like, again, when I taught in Mexico I had a class of 12 Mexican students. Right. So they were all familiar with Spanish and English. Whereas in Miami Beach, we might have a class with one Brazilian, one Japanese, one person from Serbia, it’s all, all mixed. So that teachers only speak and teach in English. So they go slowly. they have methodologies to use. So it’s up to the students to learn. It’s kind of an immersion methodology.
Scrappy Jackson: Sure, sure. In your hallways, is there cultural diversity to the point where they need to assimilate?
Greg Degnan: Um, yeah. I, I’m not sure. What, what you mean exactly, but like the, for example, it’s amazing having all these different cultures in one class, right? So a lot of students come up to us at the end of their experience and be like, wow, you know, I’ve never had that kind of experience where I had conversations with a French person and a Brazilian person and a Japanese person and a somebody from Bangladesh. And what it does is this kind of a microcosm of the world. You see all these nationalities coming together, talking to each other. Of course, there’s a lot of arguments, you know, with different viewpoints and economics and politics and all these things. But the 99% of them go home, like, wow, that was, that was a great experience.
Scrappy Jackson: You have South Beach, you got Hollywood, you have tutoring in Fort Myers. If I’m somebody that wants to be a teacher at your school, what’s the first question you ask me.
Greg Degnan: Um, I value experience the most. So I would say how much, how many years of English teaching experience do you have? Obviously, if you’re a kindergarten teacher or first-grade teacher, that actually is pretty helpful because you, you know, you’re teaching people with at the beginning stages, which is what we’re doing. They don’t know any English, a lot of them. So we do take, English teachers all the time. New English teachers. Experience. And most of our teachers have to have a certificate depending on the course of teaching. An English, ESL certificate, TEFL, they call it.
Scrappy Jackson: So you’re a teacher. You become this incredible entrepreneur. What advice do you give teachers today as far as getting into this game?
Greg Degnan: Well again, I most teachers from what I’ve seen, aren’t going into it for money at all. Because teaching, you know, in general, and especially teaching English, not something you’re gonna get rich, you have to really want to, you know, be a teacher to connect with people and see that light, you know, go on in the student’s head when they learn something. In terms of business, I think it’s still a big opportunity. If people are business people are looking for opportunities, I think this industry still has a long way to go in terms of growth. The world is becoming a little more isolated now, so it’s becoming a little bit harder to get students from everywhere like we used to. But there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth and it’s still, English is still the world language.
Scrappy Jackson: I have visited your schools and there’s an incredible culture. It, it really is, you know, the students are immersed, the teachers are immersed, and throughout the hallways, you get a special feeling it’s really, really cool. The way you put it together. It’s almost a spiritual experience for real. So given that, what is it that you’ve learned the most from your students?
Greg Degnan: I think, yeah, it’s a cliche, but when you teach English, you learn more than you teach. It’s really fascinating. All of the different cultures, again in the world coming to USA to learn English. And they have they’re in awe and big respect for this country, cuz they’re here. They’ve chosen to come here. But just learning from them, their experiences. So we might go around and say, Hey, tell us the culture, uh, of your country. Like, you know, in USA we celebrate independence day in 4th of July, what’s going on in your country? And they’ll tell us the whole story.
Scrappy Jackson: You mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of opportunities in education. What’s your personal vision and where are you going with your career and your company?
Greg Degnan: Yeah, I used to think the answer was building more schools. For a while, we were kind of expanding in that way. But we stopped that and we’re basically focusing more on content. So we are a big school in South Beach and we’re trying to create more content because as the world is becoming more online, obviously, as education, what’s happening with COVID the last couple of years, there’s kind of a, more of a, a realization that the future of our industry and education, in general, is gonna be online. It’s gonna be virtual reality. It’s gonna be Metaverse, all these, all these things you’re hearing about. Right? Right. You put on a headset and be in a class you don’t really need to physically go somewhere as much. Right. You could still have that experience with a teacher with, or the classmates, but online. So at the moment, we’re working on more content, developing our technology as opposed to just trying to make a bunch of franchises. We’re trying to have more content. So, more students around the world can connect with us wherever they are.
Scrappy Jackson: That’s cool. That’s very cool. And as far as Southwest Florida goes, how do we connect with you as far as tutoring is concerned or online classes?
Greg Degnan: Sure. Yeah. In Southwest Florida. At the moment, we offer online, group classes, in-private classes, in English, and Spanish. So if you’d like, if you’re interested in learning Spanish, for example, or English, at the moment, you could still inquire about French, Portuguese, other languages. We may have a teacher available, but because it’s online, we can give you a, for example, if you wanna learn Spanish, we might have a great teacher in Miami that can just get online with you twice a week. It’s about, it’s reasonable. It’s about $40 an hour. The teachers will be flexible with your schedule, you know, best time for you. So yeah, let us know. Our website is SBL.edu like South Beach Languages, SBL.edu. And you can come on our website and make an inquiry.
Scrappy Jackson: Okay. Finally, Greg, if you have to give advice to your 12-year-old self, what would it be?
Greg Degnan: That’s great. Yeah, one of my favorite authors is a guy named Scott Adams. He does the Dilbert cartoon and he speaks about being a generalist as opposed to being a specialist. And I really agree with that. And I found in my life by it’s more of like the baseball analogy of like being a utility player, as opposed to like the saver in baseball. Right. I think of myself more as a utility player, I can go in across different industries. That would be the advice I would give. Follow your dreams, but don’t be too specialized. Be open and try to, instead of saying, this is the only thing I’m gonna put all my eggs in this basket, I would say have a little bit of, have three or four strengths and develop all of them as opposed to just one thing.
Scrappy Jackson: So you gave great advice to your 12-year-old self.
Greg Degnan: Hopefully I did, right? Follow me.
Scrappy Jackson: Greg Degnan, South Beach Languages, South Beach, Southwest Florida, Hollywood, and incredible entrepreneur. We’re brought to you by Content with Teeth. Content with Teeth, a content marketing company, doing really big things, just like this logo behind me, Greg. Thank you so much for your time, man. We really appreciate it.
Greg Degnan: All right. Thanks.