This is a follow up story for SI Certs. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Gabe Kramer and I am the CEO of SI Certs. We sell online subscription-based educational test-prep training B2B and B2C in the construction industry. All of our courses give people the chance to earn specialized certifications to do more work in construction, as well as increase their pay.
We’re very fortunate to see continued success with our business as we have entered our 10th year in business! What started as a side hustle is now a full-time offering for me as I run the company, and my founding business partner is about to quit his job in two months. He is established and does very well with his day job, but we have so much promise here he is counting down the days!
Last year (2020) during the pandemic, we crossed our goal of $1M in revenue for the year, up by about 45% from the previous year. This year we’re tracking to $1.5M and looking for that nice goose egg of $2M in 2022.
Finally taking more vacations as a family! (When you’re starting up a business, this kind of stuff gets tossed aside. But at the end of my life, family and faith are all that matter. I won’t be thinking about how many weekends I worked or even how much money I made!)
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Even though this first Q of 2021, we’ve been seeing strong growth. We had our best quarter yet, by almost $100K!
If you’re doing really well, don’t forget where you came from. You had to learn too, and you should never stop growing as an individual.
For 2020, we really focused on building more products to sell. We already have an existing client base. If we can create more things they will buy, more revenues should follow.
We’re still spending the same amount of time on Google AdWords, but maybe 30% more spending to market the new products we’re rolling out. What we believe we’re seeing is the continued word-of-mouth advertising (our strongest), and people still find us with the Adwords. So we are still seeing growth, evidence that we have more market to capture. Our client base is throughout the U.S.
On a side note with AdWords – for every dollar we spend, we’re getting about a 6x-7x return. We’ve seen this as high as 8x. But there seems to be a point of diminishing returns with Adwords. We can’t simply throw more and more money, or we would! There’s a cap right now of about $2K a month we spend and beyond that, our return factor just drops.
With our unique model, it can take 2 years to develop a new educational training course (product). So by nature, we tend to dump lots of time into new product development. We have to intentionally make time and efforts to market, think of new strategies, and do new and creative things to market. With my business partner coming on board FT this summer, I think it will jumpstart us along these lines. He specializes in sales, marketing, and graphic design. He’s good!
Right now we’re in a heavy push still on launching new courses. This year, we should have launched five new courses. This is great, since coming into the year, we had 10 offerings for sale. Big move for us.
I’ve hired on some part-time help with technical editing and a little writing. This helps me take our courses in development toward completion.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
When the adrenaline wears off a bit from constant working on your own business, you start to look for help. Good help. While we’re in the development of new products, I’m working a good 40 hours a week. I’d like to do about 30, but then not enough stuff gets done. I guess to a degree we will always be in development. This commits me in a big way, so it’s really great that my business partner is coming onboard full time (quitting his day job) to take a lot of my responsibility.
Giving up ownership to the right like-minded people is worth it when you get more expertise and effort on board, and you are committed to less. But of course, business is like a marriage, so you want to be like-minded. Or, it could be a hellish nightmare.
I’ve just turned 41. We are building our dream home, I have an amazing wife and two kids, an amazing church we belong to, and we have the means and opportunity to take vacations together. I’m realizing more and more that time is so valuable. It’s the only thing that everyone on the planet has the same amount of, and you can never get it back. The chase of your business dreams is awesome, fueling, satisfying, hard as hell, and worth it, but you have to look at what you’re doing and what really matters in life. People and relationships often get sacrificed in the name of business, but they are the real meaningful things in life.
Everything you can buy also happens to be all of the things that provide the least satisfaction and long-term happiness or joy in life. The things money cannot buy bring the most satisfaction and joy in life. Who cares how much money you have if you’re lonely, or have no one to share it with? What if people look at you only as a resource and “rich person”, and nothing more? Success can bring a host of other problems.
We’ve been really successful financially, but these are the things I think about often. Time, training my kids to be wise, work hard, and not squander what we may eventually leave them, and important relationships around me. Investing in the growth of others! Life can’t just be about me. These might be the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past two years.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
In our 10 years of being in business, I don’t think I’ve been able to see past about the next 3 years. But every year, new ideas and directions seem to present themselves! So thankfully, we have never come to a point where we’re not sure of the next step in our growth.
I quit my day job over two years ago now. I am a 72% owner. My founding business partner who is 26% owner is going to quit his job in two months of this writing. This is the other big news this year. He is older than me and has done sales and marketing longer than I have. He will be improving our company relations, do lots of improvements with our website design and UX, and I believe will help us hit our growth goals with a bit of an exponential factor. When I quit, I could focus on so many more things and it jump-started us into new possibilities.
Long term, I’d say my goals are these: to become a household name in our industry (we are already there to a degree; to remain profitable; to expand our offering base, and perhaps branch into a new type of paid service product line offering; to bring on more developers for more expertise giving us new offerings. We want to be at $3M in revenue in the next three years!
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I should read more! I just haven’t spent much time reading books. I am starting to learn the piano!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
As I’ve said before, the best business ideas seem to be truly solving a real problem. Or, convince enough people that there is a problem, and then propose something amazing to solve it. “I didn’t know I needed that but I do!”
How many people want to make more money? Everyone, so while someone may be really hungry to make money, I don’t see that much of a successor in and of itself. I know people who seem to think about making more money all the time, but they never seem to have a strong long-term result. But when someone really has a great idea and unique way to solve an issue, this I think is the best way to start something.
You probably hear all the time “Don’t give up.” My advice would be this – don’t think that what you might be failing in or struggling in is all that you are. You are more than your business venture idea, more than your accomplishments, more than your failures, and even more than your successes. Just because something isn’t going how you’d hoped, there is more to life than this!
If you’re doing really well, don’t forget where you came from. You had to learn too, and you should never stop growing as an individual. Remember humility, compassion, things people are doing to help the hurting parts of our society and community, and do something to help them. Treat people right and with respect, dignity, kindness. Kindness has been lost in our society. Many times the people “under” you are directly responsible for large amounts of your successes.
Our business helps educate others, but I truly feel some non-profits are doing things so much more important than us let’s say. And they need us when we are successful so they can continue making this world a better place for people who can’t help themselves. Give back, and give, even if you don’t have much. It truly is better to give than to receive.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are starting to look for another programmer, but not aggressively. We’ll see how this plays out this year.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
SI Certs has provided an update on their business!
Over 2 years ago, we followed up with SI Certs to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
8 months ago, we followed up with SI Certs to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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