We could all learn a thing or two from AJ Saleem.
AJ is the founder and Academic Director of Suprex Tutors Houston, a private tutoring and test prep company that employs passionate, highly-qualified instructors. Over the years, AJ has been working on expanding his business: the company now has four different divisions and operates not only in Texas, but in Illinois and New York as well!
While the earlier years of the business may have qualified as a School of Hard Knocks, Suprex Tutors has enjoyed double-digit topline growth for the last five years. I interviewed AJ about the story behind Suprex Tutors – settle in for your lesson below!
Tell us about your business in as much detail as you can. What is it that you do and who are your customers?
My business is a tutoring company that has four primary divisions:
– In-home tutoring division: We strive to offer personalized in-home tutoring for all of our students. With fairly-priced packages, our tutors come to our students’ homes or any location of their choosing to help them in their academics.
– Private school: We have a private school, Excelsior Academy, which helps students that deal with learning disabilities. We currently have 8 students in our school and offer standardized testing.
– Non-profit tutoring: In addition to for-profit tutoring, my company offers a non-profit tutoring division for families that cannot afford to pay for our normal prices. We subsidize the prices so everyone can get the help they need.
-Software development: This is more of a new division for us, but we are developing tutoring management software. We are hoping to use this new software and sell licenses to other tutoring companies in order to diversify into other industries.
What made you choose this path? Is it a family legacy or are you a pioneer? Did you go to school for it or are you learning as you go?
I decided to go into the start-up tutoring business because I wanted to make a difference in the world. At first, I had a corporate job at an IT firm but I felt that the tasks I did could easily be replaced. In addition, I was often required to adhere to strict procedures that I felt were burdensome and ineffective.They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day. Why do you love what you do?
What drives me every day is the fact that I can make someone’s day. As a principal of my private school, I have seen many of my students grow up and pass their learning barriers. For example, one of my students who could hardly write a single letter could write full sentences after just a year.
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
There definitely has been some adversity for me as I have grown my company. At first, my parents preferred that I keep my corporate job, but as soon as they realized the impact I made on others and the passion I had for my business, they supported me. Additionally, my business has had liquidity issues to pay my employees, but thanks to an understanding workforce and helpful parents, I was able to bypass these problems.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
One of the craziest things that happened on the job was when one of my employees believed that she was the owner. She would actually start charging items to the company credit card without permission and show up to work late just because she felt like she could. In the end, I had to write a full letter to the unemployment insurance company in order to avoid paying.
What do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with that concept?
During my time off, I typically like to spend time with family members and catch up with friends. I also enjoy networking with other professionals in the education field. I do have less free time than before, but I typically try to get around 30 minutes of reading a day.
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
Social media is relatively important to my business and marketing. I have found that social media allows you to offer customer service in a more convenient, less time-consuming way.
How are you involved in your community?
I love my community, so I try to get involved in any way possible. I donate a portion of my business’s profits to local charities and I support many of my former high school’s clubs.
What does supporting local mean to you?
Supporting local means buying from local businesses in order to build the local community. I believe in this and I buy from my local Best Buy.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
The future is extremely bright for my business as there is an untapped market in the education field. We hope to continue our double-digit sales growth and cut costs enough to start turning profits. We have plenty of tax carryovers so we will avoid paying taxes for a while.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
My number one advice for aspiring business owners is to surround yourself with passionate people. When I first started my business, I attempted to hire my employees based on their on-paper merits, but I did not take into consideration their passion for my business. Many of those employees eventually left when they had the opportunity.