Golda Manuel, the founder of Leksi, was born in the Philippines and moved to the United States right after her 6th birthday. Moving to a new country and away from her family has, so far, been the biggest event in her life, she says. “It took me a while to get the hang of living in America, but going to school was the hardest transition.“
Eventually, Golda became accustomed to the culture and even discovered her favorite subject: science. “My interest in science grew in college and I later graduated with my Doctor of Pharmacy.” She practiced in some amazing places like critical care and biotechnology. But deep down inside, she always had a desire to build something that could make life easier or more convenient for her and for others. Education has been a critical piece of her life, and today, she gets to work on Leksi, a technology that makes learning more convenient.
Golda, you describe yourself as a misfit when you moved to the US with your parents and started attending school. Do you have any memories where you felt specifically left out?
When I started the first grade in the US, I didn’t speak any English. It was really hard to make friends, especially since I didn’t know anything about American customs and culture. Because I didn’t have many friends, I spent a lot of my time in the library, even during recess. When I look back on it, I feel lucky that I had supportive teachers that encouraged me to explore my interests and learn on my own. Sometimes I take it for granted, but I’m so grateful to know how to read and write. We’d be so lost without these skills.
Fast forward, how did you come up with the idea for Leksi?
Back in graduate school, I experimented with ways to study more efficiently because I was going to school full time and also had 3 jobs. Fast forward to after I graduated, I needed to keep current with medical literature because it was a really important part of my job. Sitting down to read school notes and medical journals is really time-consuming and with other life priorities, these activities get ignored or half completed. So I thought about how I can combine reading and using my time more efficiently while I’m commuting, jogging, or cooking. I previously heard of converting documents to audio so I began to research this technology. I came across a few programs but quickly found that they were inconvenient to use and made studying even more of a chore. So I set out to make my own. Eventually, I called it Leksi, short for leksikon, the Tagalog form of lexicon.
How does your program work?
I wanted to make Leksi convenient and easy to use on the surface, but be driven by the most current and reliable technologies underneath. Leksi is a text to speech platform that converts PDF, Word, PowerPoint and other document types to an audio version you can listen to any time. Imagine an app that has audio versions of your notes, files or articles organized in a playlist-like design or integrated within your favorite Podcast platform and you simply tap to listen. That’s Leksi.
Tell us more about your first months as an entrepreneur. What was your biggest challenge?
I’ve heard people say that entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, but I didn’t understand it until I started building Leksi. Family and friends would often ask me why I just don’t get a “normal” job or why it’s so important for me to build Leksi. I think others have a hard time understanding the desire and unwavering belief unless they’ve experienced it themselves.
Over time, I’ve built up a new support system that consists of other entrepreneurs and people that support me regardless of our differing beliefs. As an entrepreneur, you have to protect your mental and emotional health to prevent feeling insecure, not good enough or defeated. Taking crash courses in the glamorous (design, fundraising, etc.) and not-so-glamorous (finance, licensing, etc.) aspects of business can also boost your confidence and instead of feeling like a girl with a dream, you begin to feel like a woman with a business.
We can imagine that developing the equipment you need is also a big question of budget. How are you financing your concept? Do you have investors?
From the very beginning to now, I’ve bootstrapped Leksi. I’ve learned a lot of things on my own, like programming and web design, which has helped to keep costs down. Truthfully, learning how to program is difficult and there were days where I just wanted to quit. But every time I felt like giving up, I reminded myself of how important it is to me to build this tool that would make studying and learning easier and more convenient.
By chance, I’ve talked to a couple of investors informally about business financing. More money, of course, would make things a whole lot easier, but I have a vision for Leksi that also ties deeply into my own values when it comes to education; it’s important to me that that’s not compromised. But one investor gave me really great advice. He said to get to know investors early but keep bootstrapping as long as I can. And if I ever decide to seek funds, I’ll have investors to approach that already know me.
How do you want to establish your tools in countries like the Philippines?
I wish the topic of educational technology was at the forefront of countries like the Philippines. But in reality, getting elementary education is one of the biggest hurdles there because it’s too expensive. Many families there have to choose between having a home or sending their children to school. This was the reality when I was growing up in the Philippines and this is still the reality today. I envision Leksi to have a role in advancing education by providing education funding and much-needed school supplies to vulnerable communities in countries like the Philippines. Giving children the opportunity to get elementary education for free would make such a big difference in their futures.
When you started with your business, did you feel ready to take on the world with your idea or did you still have concerns if it would work out?
My level of confidence fluctuates daily and is affected by what people say, articles I read, how much sleep I got, essentially anything that enters my mind. Entrepreneurs have to be spam filters and make sure to toss the spam and save the gold. I know Leksi can be valuable for many students, especially those who are juggling jobs, family priorities, and busy schedules. How to share the value of Leksi and help people envision how they would integrate it into their current study routine is the challenge.
Where is your focus on spreading the word about your concept? Where do you find your clients and how are you approaching them?
I’m focusing primarily on the graduate student and continuing education population. I think Leksi would be really helpful for them because they’re juggling multiple priorities and always have to read a ton of articles and literature.
What´s your long-term goal with your business?
I want Leksi to be available across college and university campuses and to make it a normal part of how students study, just like listening to music or a Podcast. When we’re in school, we tend to neglect critical parts of having a healthy lifestyle like cooking healthy meals or exercising. Leksi can help people build a bright future for themselves while participating in and enjoying day to day activities.