It was 20 years ago today…

It’s a day of nostalgia and excitement for me, as it was exactly 20 years ago that I officially started a little business called Collegewise. I knew I had the knowledge to help families make more informed college planning decisions, but that’s as far as the vision went at the time. The birth of Collegewise was really just the official filing of the DBA (“Doing Business As”) paperwork with the County Clerk’s office so that I wouldn’t be violating any city ordinances if someone actually paid me to help them. Three days later, I had my first official meeting with a family. I drove to their house to meet in their living room as I did for most of my meetings during the first year of business. The computer I’d ordered was still en route, so I wrote and printed their enrollment contract at Kinko’s that same morning. At the time, my little business was a start-up in every sense.

What an exciting, fulfilling, life-changing journey the 20 years since that day have been.

As this 20-year mark approached, I’ve enjoyed reminiscing, traveling back in my mind to the smaller milestones along the way that meant so much at the time. Our first student to receive a college acceptance. Our first office. The first employee who agreed to join me. Our first counselor training. Our first invitation to speak at a conference. Our first company holiday party, website, newsletter, additional location, and the first blog entry—each felt so big at the time, and each is now a small but special chapter in the 20-year tale.

Publishing our first book. Selling Collegewise to Princeton Review. Buying it back two years later. Our first appearances on major network news. Expanding across the country and the world. As Collegewise got bigger, as we kept filling our ranks with idiosyncratic miracle workers who shared their personal brand of best work with us, our collective successes seemed to grow, too.

Like any part of life’s journey, not all of the memories are happy ones. The two weeks in August 2005 when our building’s management refused to fix the air conditioner and our office turned into a sauna. The time a beloved co-worker decided it was time to move on. The 2009 recession when we almost lost everything we’d worked so hard to build. Stress, sleepless nights, doubts—they’ve all crept in at different points. No business, family, or college is perfect.

But 20 years later, when I look at everything that matters most to me in my life, almost all of it connects to Collegewise in some way. Many of my closest friends have come up through the Collegewise ranks. My mentor who first encouraged me to become an independent college counselor works alongside me here today. A co-worker even introduced me to the woman I’d one day marry and start a family with. When I look at our two sons and the life we share together today, I see the Collegewise roots in all of it. As much as I’ve given to Collegewise, it—and those who’ve joined us along the way—have always given even more back.

The Collegewise of today is so much more than just me embarking solo on an undefined adventure. Every day I come to work with colleagues who inspire me, who want to build the company they’d choose to hire (and work for), and who leave work every day a little better off than they found it. They bring so much care, attention, pride, generosity, and joy to their work, and they make life better for their customers, their co-workers, and their company. What a privilege to call this my job, and them my colleagues.

After 20 years, Collegewise is no longer a start-up; we’re a stay-up. And as is the case with any success, we didn’t get here alone. So to the customers who’ve trusted us, the co-workers who’ve shared your best work with us, the fans who’ve referred us, the friends and family members who’ve supported us, and everyone else who’s been part of this journey, thank you. Greatness is never built with mediocre parts, so however small or large your chapter in our 20-year story may be, I so appreciate the role you’ve played.

And happy 20th birthday to Collegewise, the company that’s changed so much for so many, especially me. I can’t wait to see what you have in store next.