This is a follow up story for SI Certs. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Gabriel Kramer. I live in Utah and started an online education and test prep company with one other business partner back in 2011. What started with one course as a side gig has grown to a million dollar a year business that I quit my day job over a year ago to run as my sole source of income. As I turned 39, I said goodbye to my day job and worked less than 25 hours a week on average.
We sell both B2C and B2B. Our courses give test preparation, training, and personal coaching to aspiring construction inspectors looking to become certified with a niche trade skill. College isn’t required, and good inspectors who are highly qualified with multiple certifications can cross the 6-figure mark in 5 years or less.
The business is making close to $100K/mo., and this should continue to expand as we add more training courses that people need.
You can see the shirt my wife made me when I “retired” from my day job on my 39th birthday.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The business has grown since our last posting – almost double in probably two years. Clearly, there’s a market demand for our products and how we service users.
Since our business is based online, we’ve spent a good deal of time building landing pages that contain very helpful information and links to walk our users through the process of how to become certified, if there are prerequisites – all for free whether someone purchases or not. We also continue to offer a small free course that people can try to see how our platform works. I believe this has also helped our SEO efforts.
It may be tough to let go of some ownership in the interest of growing the business. But for me, the right business partner made all the difference.
We have been adding courses and have close to 10 more in the pipeline – this would double our current offerings right now. We think this is one big key to our growth in the future. We need to continue to expand our offerings. We also have a full-time employee now, but our base is still what it was – a key group of individuals sharing in the profits, all of us motivated to continue growing and adding new features.
There are a few things bringing us the momentum we are seeing. The product is solid, and it had to be to even take off in the beginning. We had minimal SEO efforts out of the gate (albeit they were good and brought us rankings very early on), so we grew largely by word of mouth. Since our competition was low, we were able to gain a strong foothold in a niche market.
Up through last year, we were focusing on SEO efforts, but coding needs took over and we spent a lot of time/resources adding features and improving our system for the next 5 years of handling a large user base. Also, we’re focusing heavily on adding new products. I don’t want to lose sight of SEO efforts, but we’re constantly having to reprioritize our efforts to maximize the few staff we have to get relatively large tasks done. We have a core group of 5 people that have pushed our company close to the $1M/yr mark and I believe with this group we can get to $1.5M. At about there, we’ll want to hire another coder, possibly full time, and maybe someone to help me with customer service.
Another key aspect of our growth is my business partner, who is still running this as his side gig! He’s making over $100K in his take a year as a side gig. LOL. But when he quits his job, I’m shifting him more ownership and he will be tasked with building our company relationships. I believe this is a critical piece for us for sure. It will hedge our position in the marketplace against the competition.
Here’s my business partner, apparently contemplating the decision to quit his day job and work for SI Certs 30 hours a week. That’s the work week I like to have with our team...or even less. Actually, all of our profit-sharing team works 10-15 hours a week and each makes over $100K. I’m the only one of the team working more than that on a regular basis. But I’m also usually under 30. Now we’re heavy in development on new courses, so I am approaching 40+ over the next several months with new course developers.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
While you’re in the moment, you always feel like business decisions on the table are the most critical that you have ever seen. Or most critical to your growth over the next three months. It is only when able to look back you can see that certain times were really more critical than others as to the future and expansion decisions you make.
It’s interesting because right now, I feel we are in an absolutely critical moment – what we do for the rest of this year will either be the right decisions and catapult our revenues and reputation, or we will waste time and hinder ourselves a year down the road even worse.
For example, as I mentioned we have a limited group of people at the moment. We have to make decisions on where to spend certain efforts and thus what to neglect for now. I see two critical things this year are finishing the products we have been gearing up to launch, and adding certain features that will be a big advantage to our user base. We could choose to do other things, like spend more time on marketing and SEO efforts... but I think this is the best use of our time.
As the CEO, I’m always fielding ideas and other pathways that present themselves, so I have to remain focused on the goal, usually always evaluating what we are deciding to do, and keep us moving toward the goal we’ve determined as the best course of action within our limitations. Have to say no to good things, in order to do what we believe are better things.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We’ve always wanted to go international. This last year we sold training in Africa, Canada, in addition to many of the states in the U.S. This is such a great sign. We are talking to users in Iraq as well. I don’t think focusing on trying to market to users in those countries is the right move right now. Rather, continue to improve and perfect our product base, add new training, and see if/how the demand increases for next year outside of the U.S.
It’s hard for me to think in concrete terms five years ahead. But I can easily think of 1-2 years in terms of concrete, specific products we will offer and how we will service our clients. Maybe this is simply a result of owners always thinking about their business and services, but the directions and opportunities seem to have continually presented themselves to us on what the next 3-5 steps should be. So we continue improving and developing based on what makes sense over the next 6 months to a year.
In five years from now, we should easily be $2M+/yr. Company (whereas today we are about to cross $1M for 2020, have 2-5 additional full-time employees, but it’s difficult for me to imagine specifics about our product lines (like what other courses we will have).
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Sadly, I haven’t read much in the way of books this year.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I still find that if you have a passion to solve a real problem in the marketplace, and a few concrete (no pun intended) ideas on how to do it, you’ve got something. That would be for someone just starting out.
For us, it has worked out really well to have key people in a profit-sharing position. They are motivated to build the business because they will reap the rewards. Also, these people should have an owner mindset (or closer to that) versus an employee mindset. This can’t always work out as it has for us, but we are dealing with digital products so profitability is higher, which means we can share the wealth a bit more.
Also, it may be tough to let go of some ownership in the interest of growing the business. But for me, the right business partner made all the difference. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I certainly could have tried to keep most or all ownership to myself, but my weaknesses are his strengths and I alone wouldn’t have been able to take us where we are today, nor avoid the crazy pitfalls that have come along the path.
Pitfalls – for example, and here’s the flip side of what I was just saying – you’ll always have people in your life trying to sell you on bringing them into the business and even promising you crazy results. I might have made the worst decision of my life that could have sunk our business with one certain individual that was in our life at the time. But my partner had enough wisdom to help me see clearly and shut that down. We removed him from the business and began to thrive immediately. Some people are just toxic to your growth, and you gotta remove them as quickly as possible.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
At this point, we will be looking for another coder beginning in 2021. We’re always open to developers who might be considered an expert in their construction-related field who have the ability to teach, write, and are willing to sacrifice time upfront to develop another course we can sell. Or geotechnical engineers with technical content who would be willing to write smaller PDH courses for us. These are hard finds though.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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