Mark Truman's company started providing students with help achieving their college goals in 2008.
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He's up against some tough competition in the test prep industry, but he's managed to build a strong and growing customer base. We wanted to hear more about his startup experience and he was nice enough to answer our questions.
Where is your business located?
We have two offices. One is located in Albuquerque, NM and the other is in Phoenix, AZ.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Omniac Education is a private education firm that specializes in helping students get to college through academic tutoring, ACT/SAT test preparation, and college consulting. We meet with students privately and in classroom settings to educate them about their college options and help them reach their dreams.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
This isn't my first business. I had several startups in college, mostly focusing on web design. When those didn't work out, I started tutoring and teaching SAT and ACT preparation classes.
Just before Omniac Education started, I was working for a company called Education Consulting and Tutoring Services, headed by a wonderful man named Alan Posich. Alan hired me to run the Test Preparation portion of the business and trained me to do college consulting and manage academic tutors. Unfortunately, he got very ill at the end of 2006 and passed away a few days into 2007. The family decided to shut the business down, but the staff wanted to keep going!
Where did you get the startup money?
I took my last paycheck from Educational Consulting and Tutoring Services and opened a bank account for Omniac Education. It was a little over a thousand dollars, but it was all I could afford. The scariest part was that I knew Omniac would have to help me make rent the next month! Luckily I had plenty of prospects lined up through ECTS and my teachers and I immediately did well.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Our main competitors are Princeton Review and Kaplan. We compete with them primarily by offering the same high quality programs in a significantly faster environment. Our courses and classes are half as long as their classes are, allowing us to offer programs more cheaply and with less strain on students' schedules. They have great programs, but we teach the stuff that matters and get the same results.
In addition, we also offer more focused services. Rather than try to help every student from elementary school to grad school, Omniac focuses primarily on high school students. We have everything that high schoolers need and are never distracted by what is going on with Medical School or Law School admissions.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
It's been so different! I knew the industry I was in when I started Omniac, but I didn't understand the business side at all. I've had to teach myself to write budgets, design employee training programs, and plan for cash flow. Every step has been a blast, however, and I'm thrilled that I took the plunge.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I never bought a yellow pages ad! And I wish I'd gotten a website up sooner! The internet is the future of marketing and I'm sorry I wasted our first year trying to run ads, buy brochures, and pass out fliers.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Referral programs have been fantastic for us. Parents rant and rave about our services and just need a little push to go talk to someone. We love students that come to us as referrals because they already know how great we can be if the student is willing to work.
We've also seen my blog bring in quite a few leads to our website. It's been fun to write the blog and it gives students a way to connect with our business before they spend a dime!
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
I would advise anyone who is getting into private education to build a good team. There is no way to know everything and see every kid, so you need to have other people you can trust. I'm blessed with a great group of teachers and admins, but I've put a lot of work in to finding and training them.
Mark, thanks for sharing your story! It sounds like Omniac Education is sure to be successful.