The start of the story.


ModernBrain's founders, John and Yilin, have been on the cutting edge of public speaking education for two decades.

John was born to a family of teachers and entrepreneurs in California. He competed in model united nations in high school. After studying at American University and UC Irvine, he graduated with degrees in political science and psychology. John worked at the Department of Justice, where he helped redesign internal communications. Throughout his career, John has helped lawyers, financial planners, and other professionals advocate for themselves.

In a chance meeting, John bumped into members of Irvine Valley College's forensics team in a local bookstore. They asked him if he wanted to apply his professional expertise to coaching international public speaking. This took him around the globe, including to China, where he trained others in National Parliamentary Debate Association and British Parliamentary-style tournaments. John trained a Chinese speech and debate champion and more than 20 two-year college national champions. John lived in China in 2006 and has made more than 30 trips to China for speech and debate. His last trip was in the fall of 2019, when he taught speech in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

John's experience with Chinese speech and debate led him to create an online service for international speech coaching a decade before Skype and Zoom meetings were the norm. While he enjoyed his work with the Department of Justice and financial planners, helping teach younger people the competitive skills they needed to improve their lives truly inspired him.

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The tale continues.


Yilin, who was born in Beijing, moved to Irvine with her cousin to attend Chapman University. She majored in economics and minored in graphic design before getting her MBA. Soon, she was running lifestyle companies. However, one of her favorite projects involved creating lesson plans to teach art to students in Santa Ana. She held on to that love for education.

When she met John in the early 2010s, he shared his passion for public speaking coaching with her. She quickly fell in love with the activity. John had coached scores of private students from middle school to community college and Yilin knew how to take his offerings to the next level. She quit her job and focused on creating something exceptional with him.

When ModernBrain officially started, their first class had three students. John was the only teacher.

As of 2022, ModernBrain supports over 1,000 students and over 30 coaches.

Modern day ModernBrain.


At first, ModernBrain's students mainly showcased their skills by presenting to nonprofits or their schools. In 2018, John and Yilin decided it was time to branch into the competitive world. Within a year, their middle school students were ranked in the top five overall teams in California. In less than five years, their middle schoolers were the first place overall team at three state championships and the Tournament of Champions. They expanded their speech and debate offerings to include mock trial, model united nations, economics training, and admissions counseling in multiple states.

Why do they still do it?

John said, "You feel like you're helping people, but it's a specific kind of feeling. Doctors help set broken arms. We help people get better at performing. But it's not like we just give them exactly what to do--they learn how to earn it. They change and better themselves and we get to be a part of it."

Yilin continuds, "I started doing this because I thought it was cool. But helping people reminds me why I do it. Every day, I hear from the kids. They say how it's changed their lives for the better. And when we get to help these students for so many years, watching them grow up, they start to feel like family."

A message from Yilin Mao, ModernBrain's CEO:

On November 29, 2023, John Lewellen passed away. He will be remembered as a loving husband, an enthusiastic champion for education, and a visionary leader whose advocacy for ModernBrain shaped the lives of thousands of coaches and families across the world. His dedication lives on in every student he taught, every teacher he trained, and every person he delighted with his stories, empowered with his empathy, and inspired with his mission.

ModernBrain will continue to serve our families under the direction of Yilin Mao, ModernBrain’s co-founder, John’s wife and CEO. We are deeply grateful to John for the indelible, unique, uplifting impact of his life’s work.

John and I founded ModernBrain together and I will continue our vision for the company and John’s legacy. Our ModernBrain team is fully committed to ensuring a seamless transition and we want to assure you we will work diligently to meet your needs and maintain the quality of service you have come to expect. If there is anything you need, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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