For middle school sweethearts William and Jaime Heaps, it was much more than that. The couple opened their Sage Educators tutoring and test prep business at 333 Miller Avenue in August 2007, just one month after they’d moved here from the Washington, DC area.
In doing so, they leased a seemingly massive, 2,100-square-foot office space, and crossed their fingers.
“We definitely understood the educational side of the business when we started,” Jaime Heaps says. “But we were new to the business side of things, and we definitely rolled the dice a bit.”
For that first year, it was just Williams and Jaime in that big office, as they sought to keep costs down and grow organically, hoping to build a sustainable business that would make a lasting impact on the community.
And over the past nine years, the Heaps have done just that, in spades. Within two years, Sage had six employees, and now have 25 full-time employees and locations in Larkspur and San Anselmo to go along with their Mill Valley flagship.
They have become an integral learning center across all subjects for a wide range of students but primarily those in middle and high school. The Heaps say they believe great educators deploy “a synthesis of knowledge, passion, compassion, and humor” in an effort to foster “confident, motivated students by serving as their teachers, role models, and friends.”
Sage has also been a vital contributor to local schools via their support of Kiddo!, the the 34-year-old juggernaut private education foundation that supports a vast array of music and technology programs within the Mill Valley School District.
“We’re incredibly grateful for Sage Educators’ support over the past nine years,” says Kiddo Executive Director Bill Lampl. “Their direct contributions as well as in-kind gifts used as raffle and auction items have been instrumental to our efforts to fund vital programs and teachers at our five elementary schools and middle school , including art, music, drama, poetry, dance, P.E., technology, teacher grants, classroom aides and library aides.”
Williams and Jaime Heaps met in middle school in Fairfax County, Virginia. They both attended Virginia Tech, where they studied political science and languages, and they each spent a semester abroad – William at Universidad de San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador and Jaime at the American University of Paris and the Sorbonne. They both then got their master’s degrees at the University of Amsterdam, before they returned home to the DC area.
Jaime took a job teaching in the Fairfax County Public School district, while William became a teacher and director at a DC-based tutoring and test-prep company. Those experiences imbued in them a love for education.
“Both of us kind of knew that we wanted to be teachers, but we also wanted to be entrepreneurs at the same time,” Jaime Heaps says.
Jaime’s parents Doug and Gail Dolton had moved to Mill Valley in 2004, and Jaime and William decided to go west and start their own business. Their biggest priority from the outset has been building relationships.
“That’s what has set us apart,” Jaime says. “Our tutors tend to be on the younger side, and as a result of that, they can relate more to the students. We push the mentoring side of things, and that builds relationships that last, so much so that we have students and past students over to our house for dinner all the time.”
The critical component to building those relationships, Jaime says, is hiring tutors full-time instead of as contractors, who’d often be tutoring at the beginning or end of the work day for their regular job.
“They’re getting paid whether they’re seeing kids or not,” Jaime says. “As a result, we are able to train them better and give them the time to do their research. We think we get better people as a result.”