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Bootstrapping an Evergreen Business From Oregon: Kirstin Quinlan, CEO of Certified Languages International (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Jun 8th 2015

There is a trend among entrepreneurs wanting to keep running companies without seeking an exit. Certified Languages International (CLI) is one such evergreen company.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your story. Where are you from? Where you born, raised, and in what kind of background?

Kristin Quinlan: I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I went to school at the University of Oregon. My children are also there. One is graduating from there now and my daughter is currently enrolled. They are fourth-generation University of Oregon attendees. I spent a year of my education in Amherst, Massachusetts. Other than that, it’s all been here.

Following graduation, I was floundering for a bit. I taught skiing and worked in a ski shop. I did that for about nine months. After that, I was hired by a distributor for Pioneer Electronics. I didn’t know a thing about consumer electronics, but I dove in. I worked in sales for that organization for about five or six years. Then, I went to Aero Electronics, which was the world’s largest distributor of semiconductors. I didn’t know much about semiconductors at that time. I went to school and learned. I worked with electrical engineers in designing electrical components. This was in the late 90s when everything was starting to embed some sort of diode or component into designs.

It was a brow-beating job and ruled by corporate heavy-handedness. It was rough. I stayed there for about two and a half years. I ended up leaving because I had zero time with my children. I stayed home until my youngest got off to kindergarten. That was about three years. While I started looking for a job, my father who had started Certified Languages International, asked me to come on board. It was a very small company at that time. I was an English Literature major and a good writer. I was helping write proposals and manage the translation end of the business.

The rest is history. I never left. I became full-time ultimately. There was not a department in the company that I didn’t either develop or work in. There was a series of events over the course of the next six years in which I climbed through the company and ascended to the CEO role in 2006.

Sramana Mitra: What year did you start at the company?

Kristin Quinlan: 2000.

Sramana Mitra: The company was three years old at that time, you said?

Kristin Quinlan: Yes. The company was founded in 1996.

Sramana Mitra: What did it do?

Kristin Quinlan: In 2001, those are the most recent figures I can come up with, we were about $1.9 million.

Sramana Mitra: What does the company do?

Kristin Quinlan: Our company is on-demand or over the phone interpreting services. When a facility is communicated with a limited English proficient consumer or patient, they need an interpreter to be able to communicate. We do a large portion of our business in the hospital healthcare system. It equates to about almost 60% of our business. We’re also in the financials market – banks, credit card companies, and insurance. About 20% of our population here in the United States speaks a language other than English. It’s a huge portion of consumers. Our company handles currently 211 languages and is always expanding on demand.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Bootstrapping an Evergreen Business From Oregon: Kirstin Quinlan, CEO of Certified Languages International
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