How Tanya Marie Maileani Naehu Co-Founded a Successful Online School Teaching Hawaiian Culture

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  • Who: Tanya Marie Maileani Naehu
  • Website:
  • Course Topic: Hawaiian Culture
  • Interesting Stats: Over 12K students

Who are you and what course have you created?

I am the co-founder and lead educator of Ka Hale Hoaka. We offer an online school of Hawaiian learning with courses for all ages.

What market does your online course serve?

Our online course serves learners of all ages, from babies to elders.  We offer free and paid courses that contribute to an understanding and application of Hawaiian knowledge. Subjects such as language, history, social studies, arts, and sciences are available to all who desire to learn.

What’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?

Our courses are driven by the ʻōlelo noʻeau or ancient proverb, “I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope.” Our future is in the past, meaning that many of the answers have already been laid out for us by our ancestors. If we look towards these traditional practices to guide us into the future, we will be able to make better decisions for ourselves, our ʻohana’, our land, and our world.

How did you get into the market?

I’ve been an educator in Hawaiian knowledge and language for the last 22 years. I have practiced my culture since I was a toddler.  I have dedicated my life to the betterment of my people and the perpetuation of a language and culture. I’ve given that gift to my children and to thousands more students over the last two decades that once tended to the land and sea and produced some of the most thriving ecosystems on the planet.

Since the illegal overthrow of Hawaiʻi in 1893, colonization, gentrification, and commodification of Hawaiʻi, have successfully been taken from our everyday lives.  For the last 50 years, there has been a significant movement to revive and restore what we almost lost. We are on a mission to help with that process.

Tanya Naeh's site

Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?

During the first week of the Covid lockdown, a friend called me one day, Kalani Ho-Nikaido, the co-founder of Ka Hale Hoaka. She asked if I could tutor her two young children in Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies. She recently became a widow and wanted to honor an agreement with her husband. The deal was to raise their children knowing who they were as Hawaiians.

We spoke about what that might look like. Then, she came up with a brilliant idea to offer a free three-week course via Zoom to learn the Hawaiian language. Everyone just started being on lockdown. Many people didn’t have much to do with themselves, so it seemed like it was perfect timing. And within a few days, we had 495 people signed up.

By the end of the first week of enrollment, we had 700 households enrolled in our free three-week course. - Tanya Marie Maileani Naehu Click To Tweet

And that is when we knew that we had something really special.

Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?

It was the first time I had switched to a virtual mode and that was very foreign to me. So there were a lot of learning curves. Just doing a zoom was hard for two moms trying to push themselves into really uncomfortable places. Then, the growth happened so quickly.

We learned from our mistakes, refined, and made things better. I also thought that I wasn’t good enough to be doing something like this because all of a sudden I had become more publicly seen, and so I was afraid that there would be naysayers but what I realized was it was just me holding myself back. And so I’ve grown a lot in that way. I also knew that the purpose was much greater than mine.  I did it for my ancestors, my children, my people, my community, and future generations. That is enough to keep me going every day!

What’s your online course like?

Thinkificʻs online platform has made incorporating Ka Hale Hoakaʻs wide selection of courses easy. We can still use the same types of instruction and materials that I would use in an in-person class. There are pre-recorded self-paced units that include worksheets, vocabulary flashcards, practice games, song and hula videos, art projects, and more. I also offer live courses and can create group pages for specific groups from particular workshops.

They can access the recorded live workshops to watch over again, all resource links are shared, and there is also the ability to have chats, and easily integrate other apps to enrich your classrooms and group spaces.

Tanya Naeh's site

How long did it take you to create your course?

In March 2023, it will be three years! It took us a total of three years to create over 10 really robust courses, and we also have a lot of supplemental libraries or resource libraries that we’ve created. Since our humble beginnings, our enrollment has grown to over 12,000. Our growth has been quite tremendous!

At first, when we began our business, it was just me and Kalani doing everything from filming, editing, processing, uploading, posting, sending, and answering all the emails. You name it we did it. We finally got a nice contract and enough sales that we were able to grow our team. And so each time we made a new contract if needed, we scaled up to accommodate our workload and it’s been very helpful.

Tell us a little about the process of launching your course and getting your first sale(s).

After our free 3-week Zoom class, we used all those 700 emails to begin our email family and immediately created a beginning Hawaiian language course. We wanted to retain the interests of those who just took my class, so we started producing one class a week, every Monday a new lesson was released until we finally completed all 16 lessons. Now, this is an evergreen course that is one of our most popular courses, the best part is the creating work is done, and we made something scalable!

This is the same model we used for many of our courses, one lesson released per week until the course was done. Now, almost three years later and refinement along the way, our production time and the work team have figured out a workflow and how each of our roles fit into the completion and rollout. Now, it is automatic!

When we first launched, it was a hit from the beginning, and I was a little scared, but I trusted Kalani, my co-founder and business partner. She just had a long history of successful entrepreneurship, and so she guided me along the way. I was responsible for creating content, and she was responsible for getting it out there and building up our clientele or our enrollment for our school. And so, together, it was a nice partnership.

Do you have a lead magnet?

We have paid advertisements on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram that offer free Hawaiian language lessons. In order to get access to watch the 13-minute video lesson you must register your name and email. That allows our email family to grow, and they will get special discounts and offers, not to mention the first view of all our new content when it is released.

What’s the traffic strategy that works best for you?

Facebook Ads and a consistent content rhythm on Facebook, Instagram, and Email have been our best traffic strategy. - Tanya Marie Maileani Naehu Click To Tweet

Consistency wins the game.  We make it a point to provide our audience with incredible value even before they purchase one of our courses.

Tanya Naeh's site

What online course platform are you using?

We use Thinkific.

Do you like it?

Yes! We love it.

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Are there any features you wish it had?

I wish it integrated with other LMS platforms such as Canva and Google classroom.

What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?

Our first system was better suited for a Business to Consumer model, our business model has morphed into a more substantial base of business-to-business models, and we liked the ability to do mass enrollments, group reporting, and customized course bundles.

What other tools do you use to run your online course business?

We use Active Campaign for our email management and communications with our community.

What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?

There are so many to choose from some of the favorites are Millionaire Messenger by  Brendon Burchard, Atomic Habits but James Clear, Originals by Adam Grant, and RocketFuel by Gino Wickman.

Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?

I made many mistakes, including trying to do too much and getting burnt out.  My friend and co-founder guided me in creating sustainable and scalable work practices. That is the beauty of virtual platforms; it gives a little wiggle room to offer space between content creation to watch it grow and refine.  The growth that we have made has been tremendous, and all the mistakes were worth it.

Please tell us a little about what the money you’ve earned from your course has done for you.

After the first 18 months, I was able to buy a brand-new car with cash for the first time in my life.  My husband and I dreamt of traveling with our family for years but could never afford to.  In the last three years, we have been to New Zealand, California twice, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Boston. This summer, we are going to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and staying at a beautiful beach house on a lagoon!

All of this as a family, bye-bye to making ends meet, hello to creating more life experiences and priceless memories.  I am also finally doing all the home renovations I only dreamed about and paying everything upfront!!! On top of that, we have hired 6 employees since our humble beginnings making our lives more balanced and more time for making memories. Wowza!

In addition to revenue are there any numbers you would like to share?

In the following year, after launching, we landed two 6-digit contracts and built our student body to over 12,000. We are now entering our third year and revenues have continued to flourish.

Tanya Naeh's site

What has creating your course done for you personally?

We knew we had created something extraordinary, and we wanted to build it and offer something that could fulfill the needs and desires of many different individuals. Those people that, because of the lockdown, we’re finally finding the time to do the things they’ve always wanted. We also were able to offer more Hawaiian-based resources for learning. In turn, it has become a resource for homeschooling, public, and private schools. It warms my heart to know that what we created has given a connection back to Hawaiʻi for those living afar abroad, those that are part of the diaspora.

Do you have a story of a transformation from any of your clients?

“The Ka Hale Hoaka team truly lives by the proverb, Kūlia i ka nuʻu (strive for excellence). The quality of instruction is simply excellent, and the authenticity of the Hawaiian cultural content will feel familiar to all who have taught in a Hawaiian language immersion setting. This is the perfect curriculum for ʻohana who want to teach their keiki safely at home in a multi-age setting using Hawaiʻi-focussed material and Hawaiian cultural content. I cannot recommend it highly enough!”

  • Pua Mendonca

“Keiki have been engaged and excited to be engrossed in their culture with a curriculum that was created in the same place they live with the utmost respect for their ancestors which has been so difficult to find over the years. It’s been a beautiful experience so far. This may be the best investment I’ve made for their education.”

  • Chelsie Evans

What advice do you have for people just starting out?

I struggled a lot at first; switching to a virtual platform was the first challenge, and Zoom was totally brand new to us and intimidating. I also struggled with self-doubt since now I was putting myself out there on such a public platform. Ultimately, it all came down to one thing; I had to push myself into uncomfortable and unfamiliar experiences to see growth. Now, we can all do what we love and are good at. What started as two moms trying to give a gift to their children soon turned into a bountiful online school that is being used in homes, workspaces, and both private and public schools in Hawaiʻi, and around the globe!

Learn more about Tanya Marie Maileani Naehu of

Lisa Parmley
Lisa Parmley

Lisa Parmley is the founder of After gaining a Master's degree, she worked in research for about seven years. She started a training company in 2001, offering a course helping people pass a professional exam. That course has earned multiple 7 figures. She created SEO and authority site building training around 2007 which went on to earn well into the 6-figure mark.

She has 22+ years of experience in the trenches creating and selling online courses. Get help starting and growing your online course business here.

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