This Entrepreneur Conquered Student Debt by Launching a Driving Academy
Brandon Dye is the witty, always smiling and go-to driving instructor in Northern Virginia. In Sterling, VA he started out just like many other teens with local jobs like stocking shelves. After high school, Dye went on to receive an undergraduate degree to become a Health, Physical Education and Driver Education teacher. Facing an overwhelming amount of student loans, Dye saw a way to supplement his teacher salary by opening his very own driving academy. After six months of obtaining the necessary licenses, insurances and certifications, the BD Driving Academy began and has been educating new drivers ever since.
Find Your Grind spoke to Brandon Dye about his passion for making sure teen drivers are safe, his advice to other young adults in the job market, and starting his own company.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What was your first job and how did you get it?
My first job was at a grocery store in Sterling, Virginia. It was during my junior year of high school and I worked in the pharmacy area stocking shelves. To be honest, I didn’t have a great work ethic when I was young. I had many jobs throughout high school and didn’t take any of them seriously. I’d work at one for 3-6 months, then apply for a new job where my friends worked. My first real job was as a Health, Physical Education, and Driver Education teacher. I was lucky to get hired within a month of graduating college, so I didn’t have to stress out about finding a job.
How did you decide to start your own business?
We all know that teachers don’t make a ton of money, and it didn’t take long for me to figure out that I’d have to supplement my main source of income in order to live a comfortable lifestyle. I struggled having to suddenly pay for all my food, clothes, rent, car payment, health insurance, and college loans. So I finally decided to take a leap and start my own business. I had never taken a single business course in high school or college, so I was pretty clueless as to where to start. Luckily, I found a program in Arlington county that helps people start small businesses. They helped me figure out how business taxes work, what business licenses to get, and how to incorporate my business as an LLC.
What struggles did you face as a young adult? How did you find your career path?
Money was tough for a while. I hate owing money, so I made it a goal to pay off my vehicle and college loans as soon as possible. I bought cheap food, carefully budgeted how much “fun” money I could spend, and lived with three other roommates to save money on rent. I found this career path because I would see my classroom driver ed students sign up for driving school with local businesses, and I’d hear about how the kids didn’t really like their driving teachers. I found out that I was eligible to be a driving instructor because of several driving courses I took in college. From the time that I decided to start the business until my first driving lesson, it took about six months. In that time I had to get my business licenses, set up insurance, get certified by the DMV, and obtain a driver’s ed vehicle.
What is a job, internship, or class a high student should work on now to get on the right path?
I highly recommend high school students take business courses, personal finance, and technology/computer classes. I feel like the skills learned in these courses can be utilized throughout one’s lifetime. Internships are crucial. These will really help students understand the real “ins and outs” of a job.
If you could, what would you tell your high school self?
I actually think about this often. I’d tell myself to get serious about my education. Just like many of my students I teach, a lot of freshmen and sophomores don’t think that their grades in 9th and 10th grade will affect their future.
What schools, classes, and work did you do to reach your profession?
I got my undergraduate degree in Health and Physical Education with an endorsement in Driver Education. The Driver Education aspect of my degree is what got me my teaching job and allowed me to start my small business. Even with being busy with a full time career and side business, I’m still pursuing my education. I’m taking graduate school courses online and play on earning two Master’s Degrees within the next four years. Those degrees will allow me to be more marketable as an employee, and may open new opportunities and career path changes in the future.
What type of skills or personality traits do you think are important for professionals in any career?
I think social skills are the most important for young professionals. Obviously being knowledgeable in your field is mandatory, but being able to relate to people, clearly communicate, and work well with others is imperative for success.
What if your favorite and most difficult thing about your job?
My favorite part of the job is getting to work with my students. I’m very passionate about about teaching students correct driving skills to be safe on the road. The most difficult think is risking my life for my job, literally. There have been dozens and dozens of times where we have came within inches of hitting other cars or crashing. It can be frightening at times, but still choose to do it. I guess someone’s gotta do it!
As someone who works with high schoolers do you have any observations and notes to make/tell them about their next steps?
For young entrepreneurs, I suggest finding a product or service that differentiates you from competitors. For me, I saw a need for a driving school instructor in Falls Church that students and families know and trust. Rather than inventing something and convincing people that they want it, find something that people already want and pursue that path.