015 | Business Survival For The First Five Years, With Frances Kweller

Frances Kweller - Podcast Episode

I’m your host Manuj Aggarwal and today I’m talking with a lawyer and entrepreneur and founder of Kweller Prep on the topic of what it takes for your business to survive the first five years as she addresses the mistakes most entrepreneurs make in the first five years of business, and how you can avoid them.So Francis is a lawyer and quite experienced on the subject of business survival. And she has graciously consented to this interview, to share her knowledge, experience and wisdom to help us avoid the mistakes in this area so that every entrepreneur can understand how they can survive their first five years in business.

So, to start off with Francis, can you tell us a little bit about yourself your background and experience, particularly in the field of Business and Entrepreneurship?

Absolutely. So I graduated from the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. I’m a child of immigrants and I set for the New York State Bar. I graduated from Hofstra University School of Law. I opened this business shortly.

After I passed the New York State Bar Exam formally and then informally around the business all throughout college and throughout my years at law school, my dream was to help smart kids Excel to get to the next stage in their academic journeys. And there were so many kids who I felt during my own experiences in high school, did not have strong guidance with the roadmap, the roadmap to college and the application process. I dedicated my career to helping others. And I’m very proud to tell you that we’ve had a lot of success. Kweller prep has two locations and one in Queens, one in Manhattan. We’ve worked with thousands of students hundreds every semester and our programs have become famous. We have a line of textbooks there an Amazon, I could show you here the books. So I’m really thrilled to share that information. We have textbooks we have published articles we were on fox news recently with regards to the college cheating scandal and just swimming commentary in that remark. We talked about integrity, and you know how to do the right thing and study the right way through school.

So how did you get started in this, in this business? Tell us a little bit about your Early Start and Early struggles if you’ve had any.

So in terms of getting ready for this business, I can’t imagine anything fully prepares you for the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. I’ve had the business now for 15 years. But I must tell you, it’s been very hard. The first start, the initial path to the business started when I felt that I had reached the peak of my own education, and I passed the New York State Bar. So that was my starting point. And I said, I’m gonna have my own business. To be very honest with you. I had a lot of discouragement along the way, my parents being immigrants who are not that supportive of running a business of me being a female and having my own space and I taking my own least and the risks involved in that. Getting Started. required me taking the lease I took a lease against my name against my personal credit. I also, I mean, it was very hard. I had no co-signers, I took a very small space. And to be completely honest, I even had students sometimes just sitting on the floor. I mean, I just didn’t have space as the business was growing, but I didn’t really have the resources to keep growing as opposed to what I have now, which is over 5000 square feet in Queens and close to that in Manhattan. So we have a lot of space now. But the startup years involves a lot of personal sacrifice.

Awesome. So what kind of things did you do to overcome those challenges? And specifically, you know, you may want to share some advice and your own personal experiences. For the entrepreneurs in our audience who are at that stage. They are either at the beginning of their business or they’re thinking about launching a new business.

So there is a lot of fear something that I’m very good at now is not listening when people discourage. But I will say that my early startup years was involved. A lot of people saying do not do this. It’s really interesting because there were so many no’s. I even there was even a time in my early stages where I would count them. So and I want to make sure that the audience is aware, Kweller Prep is referred to as the best prep school in New York City now, so where I was to where I am is a remarkable transition. So just keep in mind that in the beginning initial stages, I got a lot of resistance with my vision for the school and the dynamic of the environment. Something that really helps me was joining organizations that support small businesses. BNI is something I wants to make note of. They have weekly meetings and they work with small business owners. I also want to comment that there was a little bit of backlash with me being a woman entering the business world and entrepreneurial ventures. It was very, very hard and it took me some time to adjust to speaking and presenting myself and being called honey and sweetie and that’s a cute idea. And what now is a multi-million dollar successful company. It was very, very hard to explain this vision. What I did, knowing that I am a woman and looking to become an entrepreneur, I started to join organizations. I joined the term Tory Burch foundation. I joined the SBA, the Small Business Administration, I became certified so Kweller prep as a business. I, I looked into getting credentials and certifications. So I’m a member of the National Association for college counselors. I’m a member of the Tory Burch foundation. I was I received a micro loan from the foundation as well. SBA, we were featured in the magazine for we were one of the most successful startups that they ever loaned money to. I joined BNI I mean, I joined so many different women’s groups that support small businesses. I joined ladies who launch I mean, anything I could do to find a support system I joined. And I remember going from meeting to meeting to meeting and it’s really tough journey. So I definitely want to share that I also became certified as a WBE, which was a women business enterprise that helps you get priority contracting with to work within the public school system. So we do a lot of work with the title one division, and we receive funding through those outlets as well for students. And we run college trips and college tours and visits all of this as possible because I looked into certification for women once I realized that it was a disadvantage to be a woman entering the business world from comments. And there was so much discouragement, the end result of me looking into all these different certifications and women’s groups. I mean, this is a very powerful women owned business and I’m very proud of it.

Also Let’s talk about some mistakes that you may have made or you notice other entrepreneurs make, specifically in the early years. Can you tell us more about that?

I would like I mean, I thought about this because I’ve been asked this question before. I think the biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make is to share their ideas and partner up and I really want to share I researched ones that on Legal Zoom partnership to solution agreements, those dissolution documents are the most downloaded forms. I think that a lot of people in my formative years in my 20s as I was forming Kweller. So many people partnered up and then so many people got into arguments with their partners. So what we wound up having was I would observe through social media through Facebook businesses, forming with people who were friends and left enemies. My best advice to anyone looking to start a business is to just trust your guts and go at it alone and try it by yourself something that I want to share and I’m speaking now from 15 years of experience which is different. where I was before. I make executive decisions from early morning until late at night. I make decisions that can change the business by a million dollars at this point. I make decisions that can affect hundreds of students, I make decisions and children’s lives. I make decisions from the moment I wake up into the moment I go to bed. And many of those decisions impact a staff there’s so many tutors who rely on the income that they receive as tutors here to pay for college. So I’m making decisions morning until night. If I had a business partner, I would have to constantly default to a second opinion on everything. And what happens now 15 years leaders that I’ve really learned to just trust my gut, I can make a very fast decisions now, because I’ve done so much alone. I know of many people who formed partnerships quickly, that is really my best advice. I don’t want to give standard advice which is don’t overspend I overspend. Don’t take too many loans. I took a lot of loans. You know, I mean, don’t even get into business with your blood relatives do not enter the business venture. It’s always nice to have a support system and guidance and you can give them a thank you gift later. But the best advice I can give any one looking to start a business is to go at it alone until you feel comfortable enough and you have to know every single part of the business by yourself to not delegate these things. That that’s a very big piece of advice.


I have heard people say that don’t go into business with your relatives. But you know, not taking on a partnership is is key because I have also seen many, many partnerships. They end up in bitterness.

I mean, it’s unfair bargaining power too, because this is your relative and you don’t want to argue. And you I mean, forget relatives don’t go into business with anyone because people, outsiders will always they see the fruits of your labor, but they don’t see the labor. And there were times where I started in my early startup. And thank God Those days are over. But I had to sleep in the office and I had to, I mean, I had to put in 20 hour days, I’m not on payroll up until recently, but I didn’t I wasn’t paid hourly to be here. So the hours that I put into building this business, I mean, I easily put 90-100 hours easily per week. I mean, when you have the business, it’s your baby, it’s nonstop work. So I would really make sure that you have a clear picture that it is there’s no I this is what I also learned. Because as the business grew, the client base also just became a little more affluent, and we work with some very high end clients in Manhattan. Something that  I learned is that everyone works so hard. No one who has a business just has easy money thrown at them. So it’s something that took me a while because I didn’t know this myself. I’m a child of immigrants. I didn’t know. And now I’m very proud to tell you that I understand. I understand that every single successful business you see. I mean, the people work to the bone to get to that point.

Well, that is very true. And the fact is, that can be said for professionals who are in their careers as well the only differences in business you work for yourself. If you have a career, you’re working for somebody else. So you you know, it’s a way of looking at things but yes, you have to work hard for your income for sure.

Something else that I’ve noticed is when you have your own business, there’s a lot of pressure for that towards the customer. So even though you technically work for yourself, and you technically are your
Own Boss, I have to respond to all the parents and the children and the tutors. And so you just have to learn to realize that even though I don’t have a boss, let’s say higher than myself, per se in the company, I’m constantly responding to everyone who’s here, and obviously, knowing that the business relies on referrals. Sure. Yeah, I definitely want to add to that also with regards to referrals and the business. I mean, we’ve spent easily we spent over six figures a year in terms of advertising. Nothing brings in more money than happy customers. When the customers are happy, they bring more customers they they send a text message they call a friends, when they’re happy, they will get five times the return and one happy customer. So I think that’s really important just to remember to have treat every customer like goals because that one, it’s really interesting because with them Kweller. No one really knows you Know the backgrounds of the children. So everyone’s kind of grouped, and they’re all really smart, but they come from many different backgrounds. So we have children here, and everyone is just treated equally and they’re loved. And it’s very clear when they’re here. They’re also respected. They feel it. The kids feel it here.

That’s great. Now, going back to your point about partnership, did you actually form a partnership earlier on or did you go do it all on your own?

I’m extremely fortunate that I dodged the bullet with partnerships. When I first started the business, I was eager for partners, and this is my good luck. No one believed that this business would succeed to the extent that it would. I think a lot of people were surprised to see that we were in Fox national news recently when we have quite a lot of publicity taking place right now. We’re one of the most diverse learning centers in all of New York City right now with high performers. We have multiple placements in the best high schools in New York, the best colleges in the country. So I’m very lucky and fortunate to the extent that I dodged the bullets, I did not have enough believers that this type of environment was necessary. There was there’s a lot of support for kids who need remedial help, like basic passing High School, there’s not a lot of support out there for students who already are doing very well and want to get to the next level. What I’m referring to is helping students get placement into the best high schools in New York, the best colleges, there’s not a tremendous amount of support out there.

Yeah. All right. And so now if the entrepreneurs who are you know, looking for but let’s say you know in a business, you have to wear multiple hats and have multiple talents and skill set. So, if, if a person does not have a particular skill set, for example, I’ll take my example. I’m a tech entrepreneur. So I am I have a software background, but You know if I don’t have sales or marketing background so I may need to look for somebody who can help me with sales and marketing and on the opposite side there may be people from the business background and they may not have tech background. So in that situation what is the best way to move forward in order to fulfill that gap?

My best advice if you could use your own whatever money you can gather, pay someone an hourly rates. One of the areas that I had a lot of trouble with was tax and tax laws and understanding how to pay tax. I did not understand how to file corporate taxes. I had no idea how to file quarterly taxes. And what I have right now is a tutor once a week for an hour a CPA and we go through the bookkeeping at Kweller, because as I said we have 1200 kids a year now it’s definitely 1200 families I apologize more than 1200 kids. It took me a really long time to understand the magnitude and the growth of the business. which you know, started with 15-20 families. So I would recommend that you have this layer of separation where you pay someone an hourly rate and let them help you let I have a very experienced person who works with me. I think having I run the tutoring center, I had my own tutors on a professional level and they give me very good guidance. That’s the best advice. There’s no need for you to share equity in your business or share that I don’t see it. I think the smartest move is to just kind of let them go away, like have a person and just leave it from there.

That’s great. Alright, so now let’s talk about, you know, the first few years of your business are they, as we alluded to. that’s a core topic of this interview. So what can what are the common mistakes people make, which causes their business to fail within the first five years apart from you know, Getting into partnerships.

So I’m really glad you’re asking that question and I do want to say it’s not rehearsed I’m really just telling you off the top of my head what I know for sure causes problems when you start. I think number one is over promising something that really impresses customers is when you promise a little they say okay, and then you over perform over performance is incredible in the business model, and you just want to add these extra touch the magic is in the details and making sure that everything is covered, at Kweller when students arrive. They get everything from A to Z, pencil boxes, books, materials, snacks, refreshments lunch, I mean we all religions, all backgrounds all demographics and we did hot chocolate. We the kids said they can’t have marshmallows. We got them Hello marshmallows. We got pizza. That kid said they there they can either we got kosher people like we really we made sure everyone so these are added perks. We don’t
advertise these added perks, we don’t say, Oh, we do this, we do that. Well now, what we’re doing right now but this is something that has created a magic touch because you’re signing up for you know some tutoring lessons, you’re getting this beautiful experience where you get the book bag, you get the pencils, you get the notebooks, you always want to provide this is my advice number one, provide more than what you what the customer expects exceed expectations. And that is something that’s definitely going to help you you know, reach your goals. The other thing that I would recommend, centralize the business I am when it’s a startup, I have the 800 number for the company the count the number goes to my cell phone. If there’s an issue. Do not delegate the issue to anyone but yourself because you know how to handle it. I can’t tell you how many times there was an issue a fire with a customer. Something was such a big issue. It’s such a big deal. I diffused it. We talked it out, we went through it, we figured out, you know, the customer is really always right. I really do believe this. I know this is something you hear quite a lot in retail, but this applies to any field, the customer is always right. And you have to make a decision, you know, are you going to argue, no, don’t defend it, the customer is clearly upset over something, find out what it is mediate. That’s very important. I guess going along that thread, some clever advice I want to share is you don’t always have to take a customer. So if you feel that this is the wrong match, you know, you can just agree to disagree. So that’s fair. Also give them a refund. It’s fine. You’ll find someone else it’ll work out. So in terms of getting more successful and running the business and starting those are really my big tips is getting started. Just also something I noticed a lot with my mail. I get a lot of invitations for loans, PayPal sends me loans. I can’t tell you how much mail I receive. It’s an unbelievable amount. And so much of that mail has to do with me getting loans. And then I have checks. I received these checks for 500,000. Just deposit. I would recommend, do not over extend yourself. Just take it one step at a time. You don’t need a big building. You don’t need a big Billboard. You don’t need anything big. There’s beauty in a small business. I would also say don’t burn any bridges. I’ve you know, I’ve had some tough times. I had a really tough transition as the business was growing at the pace. It was where I had to shift from having an accountant to a CPA, I had to shift from having, you know, I’m a lawyer, I had friends who are lawyers. I mean, now the business is managed by a law firm in Manhattan with you know, so there are things that we have to do to elevate the business and the truth is that the initial people. People are no longer in the picture and they were offended, they were upset. But I will say just don’t burn the bridge x, you know, we have to expand in the city that I mean, there were things that we did that were hard for others to take in because they were there when the business was a startup. It’s no longer a startup, it’s a company. So we need different things. Now, my best advice is to just you know, maintain stay in good terms with everyone. I wouldn’t recommend burning a bridge. I wouldn’t go into any heated conversations where you’re right and I’m wrong and doesn’t know it. Just you have one view. I have another but let’s agree to disagree.

That’s very valuable advice. for sharing. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about business survival, or the mistakes that most entrepreneurs make?

So, if I could add like anything right now, I do want to say I’m, you know, I’m married. I’m a mother. I have Two children at home and we have dinner as a family now every Friday night, we make sure once a week. there are hundreds of kids in and out there thousands of students. Here’s what I will say. every stage in my life where there was more pressure, I got better at running the business. My first child made me more organized. So I knew that I was having a baby and then I, didn’t know what was going to happen. So here I am having the baby and now I had to plan ahead. So what we have now is of course catalog which did not exist years ago. So now I have the entire Kweller prep schedule for every single parents a year in advance, and the parents love that we have everything planned. Then when I have the second child, I, you know, I there was so much organization because I wasn’t able to be, let’s say at work. When I was at work, I had to be very efficient. So now I began scheduling and I started using the book me app. And I think I became really really organized. Something that I also did if I’m a cuz I’m there are many men and women and as you know, as I said earlier, I’m going to speak quite a bit about women. Something that I did also I hired help. And now especially in the later years, if it’s something that my parents never did, and it’s something that my husband’s parents never did, we never, you know, we have help I have a babysitter, and I have helped. And I think that it’s important to address that. When I’m with my kids. I’m an incredible mother and I give them my undivided attention. And I make sure that the cell phone is off and the TV is off and I give them all the love I can. But I might only be able to do that for an hour. But I give them all that love and all that attention. And when we do bedtime stories, I am reading passionately with my hearts and I put my heart into the book. I make sure that when I give them Attention,   they have it, but I run a business. So you just have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t do things. If it’s alright with you. I’d like to add in terms of, you know, social engagements, I’ve really learned to say no to things and my friends who respect that I have a business. They understand. I run a tutoring center, I’m not available on the weekends, Sundays are completely out, you know, it’s never going to happen. So it’s something that took a lot of adjustment. I think the last thing I want to say, right now, I’m so fortunate now and I am very happy that the startup years which were exciting are over, but, you know, I choose to come into work. So it’s something that I do want to share. You make a choice. Do what you love, you will make money no matter what you like to do. Do what you love to was something that really interest you because you’re not going to feel the 16 hour days. You only feel it really when you do something that makes sense to your mother or your father. Yeah, I really, really want to bring this point home and I hope you know anyone who’s listening to this. You I speak with so much certainty. When you love what you do. You don’t feel the hours. And your and, I mean, I got to show my kids that mommy was on TV the other day and I got to, you know, I get to there’s a lot of pride I have knowing that I built something knowing that it impacts children. It’s something that I love doing what I do right now at 36. When I was 16, I love to tutor I mean, this business sparked in my teenage years. So I really want to share that figure out what you love to do and not really what’s going to bring home a salary because you only have one life and you’re either going to have a career or your Going to have a job and you get to decide.

That’s very well said. Thanks a lot for such a great interview.

Thank you for having me.

Now before before we go, you have shared something, some information about your company and already, but can you share a little bit more information? If people want to reach out and enroll their kids in your programs? and we have the textbooks which are here, so I’m really excited to share. So the company is Kweller prep, tutoring and educational services. And we operate out of Queens and Manhattan and we have a great location air conditioned classrooms we run classes all year long. kwellerprep.com is the website. We have so many videos we have a YouTube channel, families can subscribe on the homepage of our website. We have an email contact list. I can’t even tell you how many compliments we’ve received on the information we provide with our daily emails to families. So I really hope that this has been informative. And thank you so much for having me. And I hope that entrepreneurs remember that I was there and I went through the startup and look at us now. I mean, these are the acceptance letters that you see behind me. You know, like, they’re, they’re all over. So they’re, here. We have a lot of them.

So thanks a lot.

Thank you so much. Thanks. Bye.


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