Having spent hours raising his SAT score from average to perfect – a feat achieved by only 0.02% of all high school students (all while at the worst school in the Las Vegas district he lived in as a child), Shaan Patel created Prep Expert to help high school students achieve their own dreams. Whilst this is an incredible achievement in its own right, he also recently appeared on ABC's Shark Tank and closed a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban for an investment in the company. Shaan was also named on INC Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in 2019.
Today, Prep Expert generates $6 million per year — $500,000 per month, with 10 employees and a range of useful tools at the company’s disposal to achieve this success. Shaan’s also published his own book, Self-Made Success – Ivy League Shark Tank Entrepreneur Reveals 48 Secret Strategies to Live Happier, Healthier, and Wealthier. So, how exactly did Shaan become a self-made entrepreneur and what great advice does he have for you? We find out.
Who are you and what brand did you start?
My name is Shaan Patel and I’m the founder of Prep Expert. I grew up in Las Vegas in my parents’ budget motel, attended inner-city public schools in the worst school district in the nation with a 40% dropout rate, and was clueless about standardized tests. After spending hundreds of hours studying for the SAT, I was able to raise my score from average to perfect — a feat achieved by only 0.02% of all high school students. My life completely changed because of my perfect SAT score! After this, I was admitted into prestigious universities, received a quarter-million dollars in scholarships, and even got to meet the President.
I created Prep Expert to help high school students achieve their own dreams. Prep Expert is the nation’s fastest growing test preparation provider. The company offers 6-week SAT & ACT preparation classes in multiple cities around the country and online. Thousands of Prep Expert students have improved their SAT and ACT scores, gotten into the Ivy League, won millions in scholarships, and some have even gotten perfect SAT/ACT scores themselves.
I completed my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Biology (BA) at the University of Southern California, Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Yale University, and Medical Degree (MD) at the University of Southern California. I’ve published 10+ books in SAT & ACT prep, entrepreneurship, and self-improvement, and am currently completing a medical residency to specialize in dermatology. In addition to my academic endeavors, I continue to act as the Founder & President of Prep Expert. I recently appeared on ABC's Shark Tank and closed a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban for an investment in the company. I was also honored to be named on INC Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in 2019.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Prep Expert?
People often wonder why I decided to become a doctor since I seem to be a good entrepreneur. They ask, “Why did you start an SAT prep company if you’re in medical school?” Actually, I never planned to start an SAT prep company. In college, I wanted to write an SAT prep book to help students prepare for the SATs the way that I did. Unfortunately, my book proposal was rejected by 106 literary agents and publishers who said the SAT prep market was too competitive. But instead of giving up, I decided to use the material I had written to launch Prep Expert - the only prep course by a student who got a perfect score in high school.
It was originally supposed to be a one-time summer course I taught to help pay for upcoming $80,000/year med school education. However, the classes were super successful: the 376-point average score improvement in the pilot class confirmed my “easy-to-read” text actually resonated quite well with students. So I hired qualified instructors and have continued to manage the company remotely from medical school in LA. So I sort of fell into this entrepreneurship gig by accident. Luckily, we’ve done very well and Prep Expert is now one of the nation’s largest test prep companies!
Of note, when McGraw-Hill, a company that had previously rejected my book proposal, saw what I was building with 2400 Expert, they offered me a book deal after all. Ironically, what I had originally wanted didn't happen until I proved my expertise elsewhere.
Describe the process of launching Prep Expert.
When I first wanted to start Prep Expert in college, I ran into a chicken and egg problem. I needed to have a location to run classes to advertise on the website, but I didn’t want to lease a location until I had a few student enrollments to cover my costs of leasing a location.
What do you think most people would have done in my situation? They might have taken out a business loan to secure a short-term lease on a retail location, rent temporary furniture such as classroom desks, and hire a receptionist to staff the location in case parents wanted to drop in.
But I was a college student who had $900 left over from my scholarships to start this business. And I’ve never taken a loan in my life — I wasn’t about to take one to start my business. So I found another way.
I came across executive office co-working spaces. These locations typically have conference rooms that seat ten to fifteen people, which are equipped with whiteboards and large LCD TVs. In addition, they have receptionists staffed at the location during business hours to help any parents that may drop in to look at the location.
The best part was that I could rent the conference room only for the hours that I needed it. This meant that I didn’t have the overhead costs of leasing, furnishing, and staffing my own location. This allowed me to save thousands of dollars that other test prep companies waste.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
Implement automated webinars. Webinars are the perfect way to sell to your potential customers because you get an hour of their undivided attention. But did you know that your webinar can be completely automated? We use a platform called Everwebinar, and I highly recommend it to entrepreneurs. Our automated webinar at Prep Expert has generated over a $1 million in revenue alone.
Use Facebook Ads to advertise your media articles. If you are a business that has ever been featured in a news outlet, you should be advertising that article on Facebook. The reach will be much greater than when you share a media article about your business organically. In addition, the cost-per-click on these articles will be very low because users are more likely to click on them than a sales ad. It’s a great way to have new potential customers learn about your business. We had a Business Insider article written about a client that I advertised on Facebook that has generated nearly $1 million in revenue!
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
Here are some impressive milestones since Shark Tank:
- 10 full-time Prep Expert employees (compared to just 1 prior to Shark Tank).
- 20 instructors (compared to just 2 prior to Shark Tank).
- 50,000 students have taken our courses (compared to less than 5,000 prior to Shark Tank).
- 100,000 books have been sold (compared to less than 10,000 prior to Shark Tank).
- $6 million in annual revenue now (compared to $500,000 the year before I appeared on Shark Tank).
- $20 million in total sales since airing on Shark Tank (compared to $1 million prior to Shark Tank).
How is Prep Expert doing today and what does the future look like for the business?
We are looking to continue to develop new courses. In 2020, we are developing a GMAT course, a PSAT course, a test success course, and more. In addition, we are also expanding our admissions consulting division, which helps students with their college applications and essays.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
Billionaire Warren Buffet has said that he is a successful investor because he stays within the realms of what he knows. This could not be more true for entrepreneurs. The first rule of entrepreneurship is to “Do What You Know”.
When I was a junior in college, I attended a speaking with Timothy Ferris, the author of the 4-Hour Work Week. One of the attendees asked Ferris what kind of business the audience should think about starting. Ferris responded with, “do something you have expertise in.” He said that he knew a lot about bodybuilding, so he started a sports nutrition company. I remember being completely unsatisfied with this answer. I wanted Ferris to tell us exactly what kind of business we should start. He was the author of the 4-Hour Work Week. Shouldn’t he have the secret to success? It wasn’t until years later that I realized he did give us the secret to success.
One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs make is attempting to enter an industry that they are not familiar with. If you have no knowledge of an industry, you are shooting yourself in the foot before you even start the race. But if you have deep knowledge of a particular thing, you immediately have a competitive advantage.
The second biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make is not building massive value in the industry they plan to enter. There is no such thing as a get-rich-quick scheme. Most people are not willing to put in the time and effort necessary to build massive value.
Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour-rule from his famous book Outliers posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice in order to become a master at anything – sports, music, academics, etc. The same is true for business. Although it may not take 10,000 hours to build massive value, it will certainly take a significant amount of time and effort.
What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Prep Expert?
Google Docs is the most helpful, simple-to-use software for the business. You can use it not only to create documents, but also has a basic CRM and tracking software for many KPIs of any business.
*Find full list of tools/platforms at the bottom of the page.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?
Definitely check out my own book: Self-Made Success – Ivy League Shark Tank Entrepreneur Reveals 48 Secret Strategies to Live Happier, Healthier, and Wealthier. It is perfect for every entrepreneur looking to grow their business.
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
Mark Cuban – he has served as an excellent investor and adviser to the business.
Any advice you’d like to share for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Do not follow your passion. Instead, follow what you are good at it at the current moment.
I remember Steve Balmer, former CEO of Microsoft, energetically talking about how students should follow their passion at my graduation from USC in 2011. He’s not the only one espousing this “wisdom.” So many career and academic advisors will tell you to find your passion before choosing a career, otherwise you’ll be miserable at work. Perhaps that’s why so many students spend so many extra years in college trying to figure out what they should study.
I have news for you: it doesn’t matter. Your degree often has little bearing on the careers that you go into. I specifically say “careers” rather than “career” because you will have more than one kind of job in your life. Even if you plan to go into a highly specialized career, such as becoming a doctor or lawyer, you will likely also teach, write, conduct research, consult, and do many other activities beyond what may be traditional in your “career.”
Mark Cuban is famous for saying don’t “Follow your passion, follow your effort.” Essentially, do what you’re good at. I can have a passionate desire for painting, but if I don’t put the effort into becoming a great painter, I should not pursue that endeavor.
Millennial mindsets are too fluid to choose just one career for the rest of our lives. We often have multiple passions, so why choose one? Instead, focus on where you add the most value at the current point in time. The internet also makes it possible to do more than one thing at one time. Do not limit yourself by following one passion.'We often have multiple passions, so why choose one? Instead, focus on where you add the most value at the current point in time.'Click To Tweet
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
Not at the moment.