With a strong reputation among our local schools and having helped thousands of families in the greater Kansas City area achieve the scores they needed for the schools they wanted, one might think Get Smarter has been around for ages. This month we put another academic year behind us and next month we celebrate our ninth year in Kansas City (not quite ages, yet), and we hope to be around many more years. As we reflect on nine years of score improvements, educating families about college, and answering numerous questions about this process, we thought we would share a short history of how we got here in the first place.
The story starts in 2004. Stephen Heiner, the founder of Get Smarter Prep, was in Southern California. He taught test prep part-time but loved it so much he wanted to do it full-time. He tossed around ideas, recruited from among the best he knew, and then took a weekend retreat with several other colleagues and talked about aspects they liked from the big-box companies and things they didn’t like, and came up with a small-group focused firm. The goal was to teach fewer students per class, because more personal attention meant higher score increases, period.
It was successful for two years, building up a strong practice within Orange County, California. Stephen wanted to leave the area to move to a part of the country with a little less stress, a lot less traffic, and a more reasonable housing market, among other reasons. He had family near Kansas City and had always liked KC when he had previously visited. He did research on the area, looking at demographics and the schools, and decided to leave the sunny climes of California to move to Kansas City. In July 2006, Get Smarter Prep (GSP) opened its doors in Overland Park, just a few doors down from where our current offices are today. (As an aside, for those of you who have ever spent time in Southern California you can appreciate what a sacrifice it was, even for half a year, to take on Kansas City weather.)
There were a couple things that the founder didn’t know going in: 1) how much the market had to be educated about these tests and how coachable the tests really are (people thought you either did well or you didn’t, but there wasn’t a real consensus city-wide that there were reliable methods to beat the test and improve scores); 2) how long it would take to get the first paying client (it happened in December 2006).
From January 2007 until the present day, GSP has grown our practice. We’ve even been privileged enough to have a teacher who was part of the first training class still be with us: Gina Claypool. We’ve learned that the best way to get new clients now is the way we got clients in the first place: word of mouth. Nothing creates belief in a company like someone you know directly benefiting from a company’s services and then telling people they know about it. This isn’t to say we don’t do other things. We advertise in selected print pieces. We manage our social media and search engine presence. We sponsor school teams and/or calendars. We also sponsor or have booths at college fairs and other similar events. We give talks at schools to calm parents down about college or about the PSAT or about any of these standardized tests that only scare because people don’t know the truth.
As we move into our 9th year the spirit of the founder is still strong at GSP. We still focus on small group classes and private tutoring. We still stay on the phone with parents until we’ve answered every question they have. We still have the highest standards for the teachers we recruit and we make sure that they have quarterly continuing education to maintain our standards. And we still remain dedicated to our raison d’etre: “The score you need for the school you want.” We hope to be able to serve you sometime soon.
Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.