This is a follow up story for SoFlo Tutors. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi! I’m Adam Shlomi, founder of SoFlo SAT Tutoring, an online SAT and ACT test prep company that works with high school students nationwide. After suffering a severe leg injury during my time at Georgetown, I started SoFlo from my bed and have been growing the organization for a few years now.
When I founded SoFlo, I was personally tutoring a few students here and there, which is a far cry from where we are now: in 2021, we doubled our student numbers and broke one million dollars in revenue with 58% gross margins.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
SoFlo’s revenue has increased by over 100% while still maintaining profitability, and we’ve started to place some side bets with different services like college counseling and math tutoring. Especially with more universities trending towards test-optional applications, diversifying SoFlo has become increasingly important to our growth and success.
I piloted a college admissions program in 2020 that helped 20 students navigate the complexities of college applications. After seeing what worked, we onboarded 50 college counselors and started selling counseling to existing test prep customers. Our goal for this new facet of SoFlo is to build an effective and repeatable college counseling system so we’re able to invest in customer acquisition funnels outside of our current customer base. Next year, we’re looking to increase capacity to meet the growing demand for our college counselors.
Even with growing revenue and new offerings to explore, the increasing cost of PPC channels has started to pose challenges to SoFlo’s growth curve, which has begun to flatten out. Specifically, ads running through Facebook and Google became less profitable, especially with the switch to IOS 14.5, which negatively impacted Facebook’s targeting ability. Despite these obstacles, we’ve found success in organic brand growth by harnessing SEO. I found our most convertible avenue to acquire new customers was original content, so I began seriously investing in informational SAT blog posts over the summer.
To capitalize on the potential of SAT and ACT prep copy, I chose our best tutors as authors so they could share insight and expertise with people beyond their students. Since the Internet democratizes knowledge, our free blog content can benefit everyone with our tutors’ tips and advice. After shifting our attention to the blog section of our site, we saw organic traffic increase in August and, since then, have had over 80k visits to our website in a year!
Even though we found success with organic traffic, some experiments also failed. We wrote a 20,000 word ACT blog post: essentially a short book. I thought long content that was 10x better in less competitive spaces (SAT SEO is more competitive than ACT SEO) would be sure to rank instantly. But the ACT Math blog never ranked, in part because of poor navigability because of the insane length. Our misfire with the blog post quickly taught me to focus on truly useful content, not posts built simply to cater to search engines.
One of the most exciting opportunities I had during 2021 was to share my experience as an entrepreneur in The Hustle, which is my favorite newsletter — I read it every single day. Knowing that The Hustle deemed my startup story worthy of being shared with their audience was a true personal achievement. I was super proud of the article, which you can read on their site: “This entrepreneur built a $1m SAT–tutoring business from his bed.”
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
It’s fitting that one of the best lessons I’ve been taught by running a tutoring company is to learn from my mistakes. I’ve found that I achieve the best results when I carefully reflect on past decisions instead of just racing from one choice to the next as I have in the past. I’ve started curating these reflections in a quarterly, invite-only Substack newsletter to friends so I can reflect on my experiences and progress.
Remind yourself to push through, move on to new ventures when necessary, and the only way to win is to play.
Putting my thoughts into writing has been a great way to think back on my accomplishments while also critically evaluating what factors led to some of my failures. Recapping the good, the bad, and the future of SoFlo tutors has made me a better decision-maker while also keeping me in touch with interesting people who are supporting me along this journey. It also allows me to crowdsource ideas from my close circle, providing me more insight into my experiences than I would be able to illuminate alone.
More specifically than looking back to see forward, I’ve also learned just how much people and rules matter. This lesson has become increasingly important as SoFlo grows and our tutor turnover rates increase. Organizations are complex systems that create unique cultures around their people’s attitudes and company guidelines. I’ve found that a strong and supportive culture is the single most important aspect of a successful organization.
At SoFlo, I’ve been careful to create and maintain a successful culture of people who are cared for, empowered, and valued. We’re also made of self-starters and people who are interested in self-improvement and continual growth — every day, SoFlo’s tutors and administrative team members fight to strengthen our culture.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
This year, SoFlo is launching high school math tutoring; again, increasing our service lines to include college counseling and math tutoring will allow us to tap into our existing funnels to generate more revenue and continue growing. The math tutoring pool is extremely attractive, large, and profitable — Wyzant lists Algebra II as the most demanded subject for tutoring. We’re rolling out high school math tutoring with our $60/hour no-contract pricing structure and are looking to scale this service in the upcoming year.
On the personal side, I’m young and SoFlo is a strong first step, but I’m also interested in buying and building more e-commerce businesses in the next few years — I love working online because of its flexibility, reach, intricacy, and I know the Internet is the future. My curiosity about different industries, even those outside of the digital sphere like real estate investment, has continued to grow and I am looking towards more long-term career arcs than SAT tutoring.
Even though I have a general sense of where I want to venture soon, I’m still anxious and sometimes doubt myself when I think of the roadblocks I could face. Working in online industries can require both soft and hard technical skills, a deep understanding of the various business models, and connections. But I know that if I had let my anxieties overtake me when I first started SoFlo, I wouldn’t have been able to create and run such a successful company straight out of college.
My journey managing SoFlo has shown me that good, consistent work and strong relationships can offer me more opportunities in the future if I need strong pivots away from SoFlo Tutors. For the time being, though, SoFlo is profitable and still growing. I love what I do and who I work with, so I don’t plan on slowing down with SoFlo anytime soon.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I’m reading two books right now, but I can’t say that I recommend either of them.
I’m reading Ann Patchett’s novel, Bel Canto, a narrative following an opera singer held captive at a dinner party by a terrorist group. While it’s not the best book I’ve ever read, I found it by my grandfather’s nightstand. When he recently passed away at 100, I began reading it to become closer to him.
The other book I’m reading right now is The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World’s Oldest Game by J. C. Hallman. I began playing chess almost daily and even started a chess club in my town to play against more competitors. Again, even though it’s not necessarily something I’d recommend to everyone, I want to be a well-rounded person who’s not just fixated on growing my company. I’ve also started exploring other hobbies outside of chess-like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and they’ve been great ways to grow myself holistically.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
The hard truth? Most businesses fail — so don’t beat yourself up if your venture doesn’t pan out the way you want it to.
Customers are the most important people to listen to. Imagine yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what you would want as a consumer before thinking about what you should build and why they would or would not want your offering. It won’t work for every single idea you have, but push through and persist until you find a winner.
A couple of nights ago, I was out with a multi-millionaire who sold a medical marijuana company. That business that gave him all of his success wasn’t his first attempt: it was the seventh business he started. The other six failed, but he didn’t let the misfires stop him from persisting. By staying gritty, learning lessons from every single mistake and failure he experienced, and trying new avenues, he eventually found huge success.
All aspiring entrepreneurs know this cliche about failure and persistence to the point that I didn’t even blink when he told me about his first six failed businesses. It’s different to just hear about it and to actually live the experience and still push through, so just remind yourself to push through, move on to new ventures when necessary, and the only way to win is to play.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
SoFlo is looking to hire a full-time account manager, which is a well-paying, fully remote management position for someone who likes to be friendly, organized, and helpful.
Interested applicants can learn more and drop their resumes here.
Where can we go to learn more?
Learn more about our team, mission, and my personal story at our website. My personal website, has links to most of my media mentions, some of my written work, and more information about my personal entrepreneurial story and SoFlo.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
SoFlo Tutors has provided an update on their business!
Over 1 year ago, we followed up with SoFlo Tutors to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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