Q 1: Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.
Ans: At Solution Prep, we help high school students earn admission into their top-choice colleges by providing them with both college admissions coaching and SAT/ACT prep. We offer both 1-on-1 and group programs online; in our centers in Wall, East Brunswick, Toms River, and Little Silver; and directly at select high schools in Monmouth, Middlesex, and Ocean counties, NJ.
Q 2: Kindly give us a brief description about yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).
Ans: I started teaching these college entrance exams in 1998, when I wasn’t much older than my students. I taught my way through college, earning degrees in both music and communications, initially thinking teaching was a job for now (albeit a fulfilling one), not realizing it would become my lifelong calling. Maybe my biggest achievement has been partnering with local high schools for presentations on college admissions, financial aid, application essays and more, which gives me the opportunity to help hundreds of families at a time, and thousands of families each year; it’s incredibly rewarding to help get good and helpful information out there.
Q 3: What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (to make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?
Ans: I stumbled my way into running my own business by luck. I’d spent nearly a decade teaching under the umbrella of this company or that—which turned out to be a great opportunity to learn what worked and what didn’t—and occasionally helping friends, but then I started getting calls from friends of friends, and parents of students friends, and I just got to the point where I had so much good word-of-mouth that I didn’t have the time to work for anyone else anymore. I didn’t invent the wheel; I just got enough experience with so many different wheels that I was able to make a better one.
Q 4: What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Ans: The hardest transition is going from working alone to working with other people—getting what’s in your brain to be in other people’s brains and learning to delegate. It’s not for everyone. So you have to decide if you want to limit the size of your business to just what you can handle or undertake the challenge of growth, because then your job is no longer just providing the service or product, but wearing all the different hats of a small business owner.
Prioritize your family. In my first ten years of my business, my son was 8-18 years old, so I had to build my work schedule around him. When he went away to college, I definitely took on way more work, and the company grew much more quickly, but those years watching him grow up and being a part of that together were just so much more important.
Don’t start a business to make money. Find a way to get paid for what you’re good at and reinvest as much as you can afford to into the people who can help you do it more and better.
Q 5: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans: I mean, how are we defining “successful”? The short list has to be patience, tenacity, and flexibility.
Q 6: How many hours do you work a day on average?
Ans: Too many. Most days I work about 10-12 hours. When I’m lucky it’s closer to 6-8, but there are plenty of days, especially from July-November, when I work 13-15 hours day after day.
Q 7: To what do you most attribute your success?
Ans: Success is always a combination of skill, determination, and luck. Yes, there are things I’m good at that make my innately qualified for what I do, but there have been a lot of times where I worked hard on something that didn’t pan out and I had to keep going anyway. At the same time, there have been opportunities that have shown up at my feet through just having our name out there to enough people for long enough. And at the end of the day, there’s no way I could have started this business or kept it going through the pandemic without loads of government money. No one wants to talk about that, like it was only our smarts, but the social safety net has saved this company more than once and it’s a lie of omission to not mention it.
Q 8: How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Ans: The best marketing we have is great word-of-mouth. Most parents who call us to get help for their student have heard about us from a friend or relative or their guidance counselor, or are coming back to us with their next child after having worked with us with their older kid(s). The few times we’ve taken out digital or print ads, we’ve gotten very few clicks/calls if any, so now we only pay for an advertisements that support our students and their activities, so even if the phone doesn’t ring, it’s still money well spent.
Q 9: Where did your organizations funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?
Ans: This company started with just selling my own time, so there was no up-front cost aside from gas money to get to students’ homes. But when we wanted to open our first center, we got an SBA loan through our bank. It was only half as much as we thought we needed, but we made it work. Though there were definitely times when I wasn’t paying myself. When the pandemic hit and we decided to stop going into students’ homes, federal and state grants helped us with rent and utilities to get our third and fourth locations off the ground so we could still meet students where they are.
Q 10: What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
Ans: A team of reliable, self-starting co-workers. That often means kissing some frogs first and throughout the journey. But the best way to be successful is to surround yourself with people you can count on.
Q 11: Where you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?
Ans: This company started with SAT and ACT prep, with some college admissions coaching on the side, but the college admissions portion is growing more and more each year, especially amid the evolving “test optional” college admissions landscape. We’ll see how the 2024 redesign of the SAT works and how the ACT adapts in response, but we could very possibly become a majority college admissions coaching service unless we choose to get into more tutoring opportunities, like for other tests or curricular subjects. It’s a roller coaster, and we’re along for the ride.
Q 12: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Ans: I admire any business where the owner works shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the team and pays the people they work with fairly. Sure, you can get an MBA and run a company by the numbers, but to be a good boss, you have to know how to do everyone else’s job and the reality of what that means.
Q 13: How important have good employees been to your success?
Ans: My co-workers have been the most important part of our success together. Without them, I’d just be a tutor for hire, with a hard cap on how many students and families I could help each year.
Q 14: How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Ans: I’m lucky to have an annual cycle that aligns with the school year, so I can push something hard for a school year, but if I’m not getting traction, I can wipe the slate clean and try different ideas next school year.
Q 15: What motivates you?
Ans: It’s going to sound corny, but I’m motivated by helping people. Saying I wasn’t the best student in high school is an understatement, but I got help when I needed it and succeeded because of it, so getting to give that back and help people at that stage in their lives is incredibly rewarding.
Q 16: What are your ideals?
Ans: That’s a broad one. I think a better educated population improves society.
Q 17: How do you generate new ideas?
Ans: Talk them out. Take others’ input. Play devil’s advocate.
Q 18: How do you define success?
Ans: Dave Chappelle’s father cautioned him against pursuing a career in comedy because the odds of being successful were so slim. Chappelle told his father that success, to him, wasn’t necessarily being rich and famous, but making as much money doing what he loved as he would at a job working for some company. His father understand that this definition of success was much more feasible and gave his blessing. I think about that a lot, and thought about it especially through those years when my mother didn’t understand that I did, in fact, have a “real job” before we got up to having centers and administrative staff and health and dental benefits. If I can help a lot of people and make enough to live on without sweating the bills, and pay everyone who works with me a living wage, that’s success to me.
Q 19: How do you build a successful customer base?
Ans: It’s cliché, but under-promise and over-deliver. Most of our competitors don’t follow up the way we do. Once a family is working with us, we make sure to support them throughout the college admissions process, which can often be a two-year process together. We even keep in touch with those families after our students have gone off to college. We do these things because we genuinely care. It has the added benefit of creating great loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals.
Q 20: What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Ans: I’ll be completely honest: it’s hard a lot of the time. But getting to set my own hours is a major perk because I am naturally a night owl. I could never teach in a school if for no other reason than that I just can’t program my body to get up that early in the morning or sacrifice those late-night hours that I enjoy.
Q 21: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Ans: My most satisfying moments are when our students get into their top-choice colleges, ideally with great scholarship offers. We’re not just churning out widgets over here; we’re helping teenagers to get to choose the lives they want to live.
Q 22: What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
Ans: In some cases opportunity or an idea. In other cases it’s a willingness to turn a career into a life instead of a job. But that’s not for everyone and a world of only entrepreneurs absolutely wouldn’t work. So it’s great that there are all different kinds of people who can work together to make any number of ideas come into existence. Maybe the brutal answer is that an entrepreneur has to have enough of a cushion (financial, family, etc.) to be able to afford to fail. I’m sure there are lots of would-be entrepreneurs out there with great ideas, passion, and hustle who just don’t have the resources or connections. Most entrepreneurs fail multiple times before they succeed. Solution Prep is maybe my 10th attempt since I was a teenager, and I learned from all of them.
Q 23: What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
Ans: I try to keep our structure as horizontal as possible. We’re small, so there’s no unnecessary hierarchy or chain of command. I think of everyone who works with me as a co-worker and team member. When I train someone new, I’m not training them as a boss or as an employer, but as someone who has more experience and can pass on that knowledge and be available to answer questions as they arise, not give orders.
Q 24: In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
Q 25: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Ans: I would have started it in Southern California, where the weather is perfect all the time. I’ve established such a reputation in my corner of NJ that I’m kind of a prisoner here, and I hate the winter.
Q 26: How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Ans: My then-girlfriend/now-wife convinced me to hire her early on, and though not every couple can work together, it’s been the best thing for us personally and for the business because we can talk about work and ideas and how to improve things without the traditional M-F/9-5 structure. It also helps that we have shared experiences to discuss and relate to.
Q 27: What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
Ans: I don’t want to jynx myself by putting my greatest fear out into the universe. But I handle fear generally by letting myself get distracted with another project so I can be productive instead of paralyzed.
Q 28: How did you decide on the location for your business?
Ans: We have four centers now, in Wall, Toms River, East Brunswick, and Little Silver. Each center has been selected based on a combination of where I’m willing to drive, where our students are coming from, and how conveniently located and well-known that spot is for people in that area. At the end of the day, if it’s not convenient for parents and students, the won’t want to come there.
Q 29: Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Ans: I’m sure there is one, but that’s not what I went to school for, so I couldn’t tell you what it is.
Q 30: If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
Ans: Maybe Rutherford B Hayes in 1876. I’d tell him to give up the presidency and double down on reconstruction. But if I don’t get to talk to the person contemporaneously, maybe John Lennon. That scene in Yesterday was pretty cathartic.
Q 31: Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Ans: I’m not sure it’s any one person. I’ve learned a lot from every job and boss, from my parents, from teachers, definitely from my wife because she’s so smart and capable and encouraging. If I have to pick a famous person, maybe Dave Grohl, because, no matter how successful he is, he’s kind to everyone, and he keeps pushing himself to try new things instead of just repeating the same things that worked last time.
Q 32: What book has inspired you the most? (OR what is your favorite book?)
Ans: Favorite book is probably “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Great narrative voice and perfectly written jokes. I’m not sure there’s a book that’s inspired me the most, but maybe some podcasts that have made me think and really appreciate deep dives, investigative journalism, and audio production.
Q 33: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Ans: There were some people I later regretted hiring. There were times I opened my mouth before something was a done deal. But I’d like to think I’ve learned from those mistakes. No guarantees I won’t make them again, but I’m trying.
Q 34: How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?
Ans: Own them. I’m bigger on “thank you” than “I’m sorry,” as in, “thank you for your patience,” or “thank you for understanding,” but “I’m sorry is definitely part of my vocabulary. We’re constantly adjusting our process when mistakes come up. Our goal is to learn from them to avoid them in the future. I tell everyone who works with me, “Our number one rule: don’t make us look like schmucks.”
Q 35: What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
Ans: Before the pandemic I played a lot of music and wrote songs and hosted podcasts and traveled, but since socializing got hard, I’ve really thrown myself into work more and just wrecked any work/life balance I used to have. When I’m not working I really like watching movies and well-made series. That’s about it right now.
Q 36: What makes you happy?
Ans: I’m happy when I do a great job presenting college admissions info to a big crowd. I’m happy when my students get into their top-choice schools; those are always the best emails and texts to get. Corny answer: spending time with my wife. It helps that we work together. But with four locations, we don’t necessarily see each other at work. On those rare days when we’re teaching in the same center at the same time, It’s nice just to know she’s in the next room. And on those rarer days when our whole schedule of two or three classes is in sync, we get to carpool, and that makes me pretty darn happy.
Q 37: What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
Ans: I don’t have as much of a life as I’d like. There were definitely months in the early days when I didn’t pay myself. I wreck my voice about one a year and have to power through another few months of teaching before I can take a week or two off to just not talk and recuperate.
Q 38: If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?
Ans: I probably would’ve asked fewer questions about entrepreneurship and more questions about education, standardized tests, and college admissions. Unless someone started a company for the sole, bland purpose or running a business and generating revenue, chances are most entrepreneurs are passionate about how they use their talents and less excited to talk about the necessary aspects of running a business that facilitate that passion. I’m not passionate about running a business. I’m passionate about helping students reach their goals and taking the stress off for both students and parents. I’m passionate about using what I’ve learned to make a difference in my community.
1. Business Name: Solution Prep
Address: 530 Prospect Ave, Suite 1D
City: Little Silver
Phone: (732) 556-8220
GMB Link: https://g.page/solution-prep-little-silver?share
2. Address: 1930 NJ-35
City: Wall Township
Phone: (732) 556-8220
GMB Link: https://g.page/solution-prep-wall-township?share
3. Address: 746 NJ-18
City: East Brunswick
Phone: (732) 556-8220
GMB Link: https://g.page/solution-prep-east-brunswick?share
4. Address: 403 Hooper Ave
City: Toms River
Phone: (732) 556-8220
GMB Link: https://goo.gl/maps/5RnCbKH5Z2SBWKzB9