David Kim, 29
C2 Education, Duluth, Georgia
Projected 2008 sales: $48 million
Description: Tutoring company
Live and learn: When he was a college student in 1997, David Kim developed a passion for tutoring kids. "[I saw] how they improved," he says. "Being able to motivate them and relate to them, since I wasn't that much older, I saw there was a niche for that type of mentoring and tutoring." A Harvard student at the time, he launched a business and started hiring tutors.
Strategic growth: Response to his tutoring service was so strong that in 2001, C2 Education started offering franchise opportunities to those who truly understand the company's mission; to date, 40 of the company's 112 locations are franchises. "We are dealing with the futures and the lives of the students--it's not just a matter of being able to sell the program," says Kim. "It's important to be able to provide that follow-up service and really deliver on [our] promises."
Test run: Before Kim can demand excellence from students, he demands excellence from his tutors, who must pass rigorous academic, personality and teaching assessments. The intensive screening approach has yielded a range of individuals with impressive credentials, from Ph.D.s and graduates of top schools to retired scientists who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope.
Smart idea: Good news travels fast when elated parents brag about their kids' higher test scores, allowing C2 Education to grow largely via word-of-mouth. When students write thank-you notes or share stories of 600-point jumps on the SATs, the news is proudly posted on the website. Says Kim, "A lot of our growth [is] organic."
Follow his lead: Consider franchising your business for quick expansion nationwide.
What is your secret to success?
Kim: I've always believed you should never be afraid of working hard, of just grinding it out. Business, the idea of starting something new, there's a lot of excitement there. But in terms of the day-to-day, you've got to put in the hours, put in that time. And one of the reasons I've been successful is respecting the relationships we have [with employees, students and parents] and finding the right [tutors].
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
Kim: Have confidence in what you're doing. [And find] support groups--a chamber [of commerce] or other people who are going through similar experiences. Being able to talk to them and bounce ideas off of them helped to keep [me] a little bit more calm and sure of [myself.] I wish I had reached out and participated in some of those things earlier on.
When did you know you'd "made it"?
Kim: We've always felt successful each time we work with a student [and] we see the increase in the grades and scores. In that regard, you feel like you've made it every day you help a student. In terms of the business perspective, I'm still striving; I still feel like I have not made it. That's what drives me.
What was the first toy or reward you bought for yourself when you became successful?
Kim: The American dream is buying a home. My father actually sold our home to get some seed capital to help start the company. So when we finally had enough, we were able to repurchase a new home for everyone--for my family and for myself.