Sam Scheller always wanted to help people.
As a child, he wanted nothing more than to serve and protect as a police officer.
The day after graduating from Clark High School in Las Vegas, he started working for a local ambulance company and got certified as an emergency medical technician.
After seven years working for someone else, he decided it was time to start out on his own. He founded Guardian Elite Medical Service, an ambulance company that provides a medical response to special events and conducts first aid training.
Almost two years later, Scheller, 26, has seen his business expand and has learned about running a small startup company.
“I was working at another ambulance company, and I thought I could do better,” Scheller said of the company’s origins.
Starting with $70,000 he had saved, he partnered with two other people, purchased his first ambulance, and GEMS was born.
Being on the same page as his business partners was his first big lesson.
“With the partnership, things didn’t go well. Both had other ideas of where the company should go,” Scheller said. “I fired one partner and bought the other one out.”
In the 20 months that the business has existed, Scheller has invested more than $120,000 of his own money, grossed $200,000, bought two more ambulances and an off-road vehicle, upgraded the company equipment and expanded his employee base to 35 people, all certified as technicians, specialists or paramedics.
And he has done it on his own.
“The hardest part is not having the support staff,” Scheller said. “At a larger company …. they have people they can delegate stuff down to.”
Though he does a lot of things on his own, Scheller ensures that he hires quality employees and diligently runs his business with set goals.
“Great business practices are dependent on the nature of the business,” said Marcel Schaerer, directer of Southern Nevada Operations at the Business Success Center, a section of the Nevada Small Business Development Center. “You have to start with an end in mind and then work backwards, because then you have something solid.”
Although 80 percent of businesses fail within the first five years, having a good idea and a solid business plan, formalized and on paper, are keys to having a successful business, said Schaerer, who has never worked with Scheller.
Scheller’s plan includes being flexible for clients, and providing a wide variety of medical services, expertise and training in a multitude of situations.
“I’m originally from Silicon Valley. I’m very much a dotcom kid,” GEMS employee David Sidle said. “I kind of get a lot of that feel from GEMS. We’re able to be custom to what the customer needs. We can be a little army of one, if needed. We’re able to do that with training, too.”
Scheller, who has a degree in emergency medical services, teaches it at the College of Southern Nevada. He had the idea of starting his own ambulance services company from his desire to help people, his prior job and experience.
“Wanting to be a cop has helped me out with this, especially being a field paramedic,” he said.
He competes against two other ambulance companies and a handful of first aid training centers, but associates say Scheller has passion, experience and skills as an educator, things which give him a competitive advantage.
“He has tremendous credentials, and he is also a brilliant instructor,” said David Cummings, director and founder of Red Rock Search and Rescue. “You get people who can teach, and then there are people who were born to teach. … Sam has all of that talent.”
Scheller started volunteering with Red Rock Search and Rescue about a year ago. He has since been added to their board of directors as the youngest member and has been promoted to captain of the medical team.
He is heavily involved in training the search and rescue in first aid, automated external defibrillators and a newer program called wilderness first aid, a 20 hour course which is half classroom oriented and half intense field work.
Besides training Red Rock Search and Rescue, Scheller and his GEMS team have trained the Civil Air Patrol in wilderness first aid, responded to a broken femur at a Motocross event and acted as part of the consulting team at the Veterans Tribute Career and Technical Academy’s end-of-year exercise for high school students training as medics, police officers and dispatch to put their newly learned skills to use.
“The best part has been the life experiences that have come out of this,” Scheller said. “I could not have learned the stuff it takes to run a company” in an educational program.
It has not always been easy. Trying to find new work, marketing and staying competitive are all challenges that GEMS faces.
“Where we’re gonna end up going, events are going to keep us alive,” Scheller said. “I see us taking more of a role in training, and ultimately where I’d like to be is transport with a little bit of training. Right now, I’m working on expanding the company into other areas.”
Part of that expansion is finding new clients, which can be difficult, he said.
“A lot of marketing is through the website” at gemslv.com, Scheller said. “I keep an eye on what events are coming in and try to reach out to the event coordinators.”
Networking is key to a businesses success, and one of the best ways to get a new company’s name out there is using online resources, Shaerer said.
“There is tremendous potential right there when it comes to online exposure,” he said. “We all talk about the merits of social media. Online presence is humongous.”
Hard work, dedication and high standards of work ethic help Scheller get through the rough patches.
“It’s pretty much been trial by fire. It’s just go out there and try to figure it out,” he said. “The majority of my job is maintaining relationships. Just making people happy.”
Scheller’s advice for other fledgling business owners: “Choose your business partners like you would your marriage partner; a business partnership is like a marriage. And do plenty of research before starting the business.”
As for making a profit, “I hope it’s soon,” Scheller said with a laugh.
Contact reporter Rochel Leah Goldblatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0381.