Until now, I’ve interviewed entrepreneurs who are changing the landscape of Jewish life through the creation of non-profit organizations. Todd Shotz, CEO and Founder of Hebrew Helpers reveals another way to go. All you have to do is solve one riddle. What do you get when you cross high-quality, customized service with unmet education needs in the Jewish community? The answer: a profit. And very satisfied Jewish learners.
Hebrew Helpers, a full-service, for-profit Jewish studies company, provides private lessons to students of all Jewish backgrounds and affiliations. The company is growing from coast to coast because it addresses the unmet needs of parents who want a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or Jewish education for their children that is convenient, attends to individual needs, and is personally meaningful. While Hebrew Helpers works with plenty of families connected to synagogues, most families say they can’t find what they’re looking for through traditional institutions. Todd was fortunate enough to stumble upon this niche in the Jewish community, and chose to go the for-profit route when organizing his start-up.
If you’re trying to figure out how to organize your start-up, Todd says keep in mind three key advantages in going the way of profit.
1. As a for-profit start-up, you work for the client’s satisfaction.
Todd’s business is growing because his clients are satisfied. The internet helps spread the word, but Todd says nothing beats a recommendation from someone who has loved his or her experience. “I'm not beholden to boards, bosses or funders. We serve the family, not an organization.”
To ensure client satisfaction, Todd meets with each family and carefully selects the right mentor to work with each child. “We use the term mentor instead of tutor, because we are providing a knowlegeable educator who is also a Jewish role model, someone who genuinely cares. Real learning can’t take place without that kind of care.”
Todd and the mentor stay in regular communication with the family. Like with all good customer service, when a problem arises, it is immediately addressed. With these consistently positive experiences, Todd says he is able to generate a healthy cycle of satisfied clients that grows his business.
2. As a for-profit start-up, you don’t waste what’s most precious: time.
Time is Todd’s most limited resource. When you work in conjunction with a nonprofit organization or a foundation, “You wind up spending days on end filling out grant applications, funder reports, and attending meetings they think are important.” Freed from the requirements of reporting to an outside organization, Todd puts his 60 to 70 hours a week into improving the business. “As a for-profit company, I am released from that bureaucracy and can put time into the actual work. Putting the time in where it matters,” says Todd, “like developing mentors and connecting families to the larger community, translates into quality and growth.”
3. As a for-profit start-up, inventiveness is always part of the operation.
Hebrew Helpers started primarily as a tutoring service. Over time, Todd heard that parents needed more than just the actual educational component, so he expanded to conduct small group learning for students of all ages, post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah continued studies, and adult education. HH also provides services that help with all aspects of a private Bar/Bat Mitzvah service, including music, Torah scroll, prayer booklets and sound systems.
Today, mentors are often the officiants at the Bar/Bat services. These services take place in backyards, party venues, rented sanctuaries and across the globe. In the coming months, Hebrew Helpers mentors will officiate ceremonies in Israel, Venice, Prague, Crete, Hawaii and Costa Rica. Todd’s clients started to suggest that the big hall, high center piece and loud band ritual was not going to cut it. So now Hebrew Helpers coordinates with venues and tour operators to support families who choose a destination Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
After 11 years operating in Los Angeles and New York City, Hebrew Helpers mentors have begun working also in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Todd says he didn’t ask a funder if he could expand. He heard the need and used his characteristic agility to offer new services in new places. “We are lean and mean. I watch revenue and expenses carefully as we try new things. Expansion is driven by families’ needs, not funder agendas. We might be open to investors, but that will come with a whole other set of requirements!”
There is no fudging Todd’s electric enthusiam. “I love what I do. I love the students, the parents and the mentors,” he pauses. “I’ve just got to tell you this story,” he says as we close our conversation. “Yesterday, I got a call from one of our mentors. She said, ‘I just walked out of the session with Oliver. I can’t believe I actually get paid for this.’”
Getting paid for what you love to do—and what Jews in the community genuinely want—sounds like a great way to go. A for-profit startup, reiterates Todd, is freed from the agendas of funders so that you can work for customer satisfaction, use resources to increase quality, and grow based on the needs of clients.
I have to wonder why more start-ups don’t go the way of profit. What are your thoughts?