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Published November 13, 2009, 05:14 AM

Grafton (ND) native, entrepreneur speaks at University of North Dakota

By: Ryan Johnson, Grand Forks (ND) Herald

A man who grew up in Grafton, N.D., and formed a successful business while in college spoke to entrepreneurial students Thursday night at the University of North Dakota, discussing how his business came about and offering tips to future business leaders.

Joe Keeley, 28, is the president and CEO of College Nannies & Tutors, franchisor of the nation’s largest nanny and tutor company. He has earned recognition for his business success at a young age, with awards including the 2003 Global Student Entrepreneur Award, Minnesota Collegiate Entrepreneur Award and being named to several lists of business leaders to watch.

But Keeley said he didn’t start the business with franchising and awards in mind. After graduating from Grafton High School in 1999, he went to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul to study business, hoping to get an internship and then find a secure job.

“That was the path I was on,” he said.

SEEING A MARKET

In fall 2000, Keeley was looking for a job to make some extra money while in school. He ended up becoming a nanny to a family with two little boys and a girl, and was needed because the parents were both busy physicians.

His gig as a “manny,” a manly nanny, introduced him to an entire industry he had previously not known about. But it also gave him a business idea when other parents started asking for help in finding suitable college student nannies that would be a good fit for their active kids.

He slowly built his business, gaining media attention and more customers along the way, but said he was still trying to get a job rather than run his own company. It wasn’t until the spring of 2003 as graduation neared that his career path came into question.

“I was absolutely horrified because as soon as I walked across the graduation stage, the game changed,” he said.

Keeley’s experience made him an attractive job candidate, and he was offered a good position with General Mills. But he said the interviewer looked over his accomplishments and asked why he would want to leave his own business and give up his autonomy.

He said that helped him see he needed to give his business more time to see what could happen, and College Nannies & Tutors now has over 60 franchises on both coasts and the Midwest, employing more than 1,600 college students.

Keeley offered a number of business lessons he has picked up in the last decade, including the benefits of investor relationships and the importance of a business revenue model. But his main lesson during the speech was simpler — the entrepreneurial students need to follow through on their ideas and not think people with more working experience are the only people who can form a successful company.

“Go boldly,” he said.

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