SOAR was founded by former educators, Brian Willer & Susan Kruger. Our entrepreneurial life began with our sister company, SOAR Learning (StudySkills.com), an educational publishing company specializing in efficient learning skills for students.
As we built that business, we faced all the same challenges familiar to any entrepreneur. We also suffered a major setback; after letting go of a poor-performing employee, we discovered disastrous damage in our infrastructure. This cost tens-of-thousands of dollars to repair and hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in lost opportunity.
It was heartbreaking. And nearly destroyed our business.
But, like a phoenix, we rose from the ashes… better and stronger and smarter than before. In fact, we rebuilt with such extreme efficiency, our staffing demands decreased by 75%! With all that extra bandwidth, we decided to create this new arm of the SOAR business… Strategic Operations Solutions.
What Makes SOAR Unique?
Our “secret sauce” is our use of Agile principles and strategies for building talent-dense teams and executing projects. Agile is primarily a mindset… a mindset focused on creating optimal environments and systems for productivity, according to human-friendly principles. It was Agile that led to our 75% reduction in required staffing. Studies confirm what we’ve personally experienced… Agile increases productivity by a minimum of 5X, while also dramatically improving quality.
As educators, we are particularly attuned to the importance of building “human-friendly” environments for optimal performance. For our students, we built optimal environments for learning. For our employees, we build optimal environments for productivity and quality.
A dear friend and fellow entrepreneur observed about us, “It’s no surprise that you’ve become so successful at building efficient teams. What you do for entrepreneurs is what you’ve always done for students… provided a structure that allows them to be successful. You’ve identified the common success mechanisms that work for everyone.”
Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Damage
It was the recovery from our damage that ultimately opened our eyes to the assets we held, all along. Our initial growth was so rapid (and coincided with the arrival of our second child and “adopted” cousin), that we didn’t have the bandwidth or take the time to examine how to build our team or infrastructure with the same care we used to give our classrooms.
That experience was extremely painful, but it did provide us with valuable lessons that are now cornerstone to the services, values, and mindset we use on behalf of our clients, such as:
- “One is the most dangerous number in business.” (One employee, one client, one supplier, etc.) We had always heard this saying, but in our immediate stages of rapid growth, we didn’t have a clue how to avoid this trap. In our case, the “one” employee had sole access to many things and was able to hide poor workmanship, and perhaps intentional sabotage.
- How to rebuild with safeguards and feedback loops to prevent such damage from ever happening in the future. We do not want to ever have to repeat this lesson… for ourselves or our clients! It is now part of our company culture to design transparent systems, auditing mechanisms, and dashboards so that you will always know how your business systems are performing.
- The power of agile management. We were still in the “deer-in-headlights” stages of discovering the damage when our friend, Perry Marshall, invited us to join him and his team at Menlo Innovations in Ann Arbor, MI. We immediately recognized that Menlo’s approach to project and task-management (rooted in “Agile”) would be key to our rebuilding efforts. Agile principles are about creating human-friendly environments that naturally multiply productivity and Agile management is now the “secret sauce” behind all our companies.
- How to rebuild with extreme efficiency. “Extreme efficiency” has always been the core foundation of our student-friendly curriculum, so this was not a new concept to us. However, we were out. of. money. So, we were forced to get even more creative, examining every step in every process to ensure minimal expenditures of software, materials, and staff time. As mentioned earlier, when all was said-and-done, our staffing needs reduced by more than 75%! (Which is why we now offer Strategic Operations Solutions… we have a lot of extra bandwidth!)
- How to train team-members to do advanced work. Due to our non-existent budget, we brought most functions “in-house.” This is one (of many) areas where our experience as educators was a huge asset! We broke complicated tasks down into manageable chunks, provided collaborative and multi-sensory training, then utilized agile teaming techniques to support each person to success. It was wildly successful! And, we’ve replicated it time and again.
“Thank you, again, for all the support you provided to my team, in preparation for last week’s event. It’s remarkable how you empowered two completely inexperienced meeting planners to pull off a nearly flawless event, completely on their own.” – Perry Marshall
Brian is a co-founder of SOAR and has two names around the office, “Director of Fun” and “Mr. Make It Happen.”
Yes, he loves to have fun and ensures that we keep things fun and light-hearted around the office. (Which, as it turns out, is scientifically proven to be a great productivity boost!)
His other talent is for problem-solving. The more challenging a situation is, the more the odds are against a favorable outcome, the more likely Brian is to come up with a solution.
Brian has a Masters of Arts in Education, specializing in experiential education. He’s also earned a Ph.D. from the School of Owning Your Own Life and Running Your Own Business. He’s invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in his own development at marketing and entrepreneurial conferences across the country, including seven years in Perry Marshall’s International Roundtable Mastermind and two years of training in Rob Berkley & Victor Chang’s “Entrepreneur 2 CEO” Mastermind.
Susan is the other co-founder of SOAR. Her specialties are in strategy, organization, and system-development.
Susan’s work in education and entrepreneurship have led her deep into the field of economic development. The largest bottlenecks in economic development are all tied to the quality of the “workforce,” which she sees are a result of two major issues:
- Mass irrelevancy of curriculum and instructional approach in schools, AND
- Completely ineffective environments for human-productivity and engagement in the workplace.
Susan is very active with several organizations in Oakland County government (our local county): Workforce Development & Education Advisory Roundtable, Economic Development Advisory Roundtable, and is the founding co-chair of an organization tasked to inspire, retain, and attract young talent to our region, Oakland Next.
But, whenever she has a chance, Susan will ditch the office for the nearby lake to paddle around on her stand-up paddle board.
Susan has a Masters of Education as a Reading & Learning Specialist, she’s authored two best-selling books, reads countless books on entrepreneurship, business, and leadership development, and has joined Brian at all of the business/marketing/entrepreneurial conferences and masterminds listed above.
Jessie is SOAR’s Executive Director of Marketing and Operations. She originally joined SOAR as a college intern. It was during Jessie’s “interning” years that we discovered all the damage, described above. While we were in shock and despair, Jessie rolled up her sleeves and fixed problems, one-by-one. The experience of having to fix all of the damage gave her a deep appreciation –and skill—for building systems with built-in feedback loops. SOAR’s survival was heavily dependent on Jessie’s “can-do” attitude and willingness to learn whatever was needed to solve a problem.
She joined us on our transformational tour of Menlo Innovations and instantly “got” the same vision that Susan & Brian did about how to build agile teams for maximum productivity. She’s been actively working with agile principles since 2014.
Jessie graduated from Michigan State University (Big Brother to University of Michigan) with a Bachelor's Degree in Advertising in 2015, but she's not your typical "Millennial."
In their spare time, Jessie and Brian have become semi-pros at Break-Out Rooms with a current record of 27-2.
Now that you know who we are, find out What We Do.