Coffee Break: Kevin Krebs, founder and managing partner of HelloCollege
Q: Describe your company.
A: HelloCollege helps families successfully navigate the college planning and the admissions processes through our free resources, educational workshops and private counseling. We improve acceptance odds, reduce college expenses, decrease stress, and improve college and career outcomes.
Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?
A: Yes, HelloCollege is actively expanding our business in a number of key areas, including working on partnerships with schools, districts, and other organizations, and we'll soon form a team to service those partnerships. We also will hire additional counselors and essay support staff.
Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?
A: As HelloCollege has grown, our student population has diversified. Though the company began by primarily serving families in suburban Chicago, we've expanded rapidly over the last several years to serve a broader range of students, both nationally and internationally.
As we've done so, our students' demographics also have expanded, and we've committed to deepening our expertise in assisting first-generation students, low-income, international and military veteran students. To this end, we will continue to leverage our relationships with college admissions directors and representatives around the country to learn more about what qualities admissions officers seek, so we can provide our families with the most accurate direction on how students should position themselves as attractive college candidates -- regardless of their background.
Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?
A: How colleges are handling standardized testing. During the pandemic, many schools stopped requiring SAT or ACT scores, adopting test-optional or test-blind policies, but the last year has seen a shift back toward more schools requiring test scores. It's a hot topic in our space, both for its practical and its ethical implications.
Due to better access to test prep and the requirement for nonacademic knowledge, students from higher-income families are generally more likely to perform well on standardized tests. It's difficult, therefore, to make an ethical case that admissions officers should hold kids from different backgrounds to the same standards that we hold more affluent kids, but at the same time, schools -- especially those focused on STEM and related industries -- may need to emphasize testing because it lends credence to the schools' claims that their students are the supposed best and brightest.
Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie executive, what would it be?
A: Anything is possible -- but not all at once. Prioritize what's most important in the different facets of your business and execute; otherwise, things will get done, but nothing will get done well.
Q: Do you have a business mantra?
A: The great ones adjust. Very rarely do things go according to plan, so you have to be humble about your plans and nimble in their execution.
Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?
A: Larry Wert, a retired media executive formerly at Tribune Media, NBC and a number of radio station groups, was one of my earliest mentors. Larry taught me that it's possible to be in a leadership position and still have knowledge of and contribute to the operation of every aspect of an organization. Larry was always enthusiastic, inspirational and treated everyone with kindness and respect.
Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?
A: Last year our team of less than 20 people reached nearly 50,000 families, and we helped our largest senior class ever successfully navigate the college admissions process. So far, we have HelloCollege alumni at more than 150 colleges and universities around the world -- a number that will only grow in the future.
Q: Was there a moment in your career that didn't go as you had planned? What lesson did you learn from it?
A: COVID changed our business. Before the pandemic, we operated a brick-and-mortar business with in-person workshops, in-person counseling services, and in-person tutoring and essay support.
When COVID hit, we knew we had a choice: we could either be hamstrung until the pandemic was over (whenever that was going to be), or we could treat the situation as an opportunity. So we pivoted on the spot.
In four short months‚ from March to June 2020, our team transformed the way we do business -- transformed the very nature of the business itself. We ended our office lease, let our employees work from home full time, and because our business was no longer tethered to a single geographic location, we realized that our clientele didn't have to be tethered either. At the start of the pandemic, we'd already been shifting toward a more national strategy, but as soon as we went remote, that plan went into overdrive.
These changes allowed the business to grow rapidly, and I learned that challenging situations can bring new opportunities -- if you approach them with the right mindset.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
A: I decompress by working out and cooking, but my favorite thing to do is to spend time with my kids, which I don't get to do as often as I'd like.
Q: What book is on your nightstand?
A: Shirzad Chamine's Positive Intelligence.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: Devising new ways to help more students. The first thing you learn in this industry is just how many families don't understand how to navigate the college planning process -- and how many students are underserved by the college guidance resources at their schools that are stretched way too far. I'm constantly thinking of how we can better help those underserved students and families to make college more accessible to everyone.
Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?
A: I'd be a business coach, mentoring young entrepreneurs.
Q: What was your first paying job?
A: When I was 12, I was a baseball umpire. I took the job so seriously that, when I'd watch professional baseball games, I'd study the major-league umpires so I could mimic how they made their calls. I thought it so cool, and everyone loved it so much that I kept at it for 10 years.
Q: If you could put your company name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?
A: AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, because when it was built, it revolutionized the industry. I'm a fan of disrupters and am working to disrupt the college admissions landscape.
Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why. (besides your company)
A: Melanie Perkins, CEO of Canva- @melaniecanva https://www.huffpost.com/archive/au/entry/canva-ceo-melanie-perkins-on-creating-a-multi-million-dollar-com_au_5cd4174ae4b0ca9b77561e57
Larry Gadea, CEO of Envoy- @lg https://envoy.com/