Shark Tank has been a classic, almost a staple in American television, and a phenomenal way for students to develop an interest in business and entrepreneurship. Sometimes we feel a sense of anxiety waiting to learn if an entrepreneur pitching to Mark Cuban and others will end up securing an investment.
Shaan is the Founder and CEO of Prep Expert, a multi-million-dollar SAT/ACT Preparation company that received an investment from billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban. If there’s someone to learn time management from, it’ll be Shaan. While being at the helm of Prep Expert, Shaan was working towards an MD at USC and my MBA at Yale University, concurrently. Today, we take one step further and interview a Shaan Patel, an entrepreneur who pitched the sharks in 2017 to learn about his humble beginnings and growth to a successful businessman.
Steven: How did you get your start in entrepreneurship? Were you always interested in business growing up?
Shaan: My entrepreneurial experience was accidental. First of all, I had never thought of starting an SAT/ACT prep company. During my high school years I had raised my SAT score from average to perfect, and this one exam score completely changed my life; for it, I received over half a million dollars in scholarships, used a quarter million dollars to attend USC on a full ride, and got to meet the President of the United States. So one day I was sitting in college and thought about why my life changed and how I could help other students do the same.
Steven: What were the first steps in starting and growing Prep Expert to what it is today?
Shaan: I began writing a test prep book and pitched it to many agencies and publishers. I was flat out rejected by each one. So I resorted to using that material to start courses; our pilot course raised our students’ SAT scores by 300 points on average in 6 weeks. Later, McGraw Hill came back, and I learned that doors sometimes reopen with progress.
Steven: You went to medicine school – were you at any point interested in building a company in this subject area?
Shaan: One piece of advice I really go by is doing what you know. It comes from Warren Buffett – he stays in the realm of investing in what he knows. So by the same token, it is important to start companies in topics that you know really well. This often comes from spending hundreds or thousands of hours learning and understanding. That was SAT prep for me. In the same vein, right now I’m gaining knowledge to learn more about becoming a dermatologist. So honestly, I never really considered starting a company in the medical sector because I don’t yet consider myself an expert by any means.
Steven: How were you able to balance rigorous amounts of schooling while running your business?
Shaan: We fortunately hired great people to run the day-to-day operations. The approach we took was finding people who had similar experiences to ourselves in the way that they scored well on standardized tests, and recruited them to help our students do the same. I firmly believe that people make or break a company and for a company to be much greater than one’s self, effective hiring is pivotal.
Steven: Was there an event in your life or elements of your upbringing that molded your personality in a certain way to be more entrepreneurial and meticulous in your approach to business?
Shaan: Well, my mandate really comes from watching my dad work. My dad was a pharmacist and got up at 4:00 AM to get to work by 6:00 AM, owned a motel and gas station, working on operating those after work. He wouldn’t go to bed till 11pm, so this means he was working from 6am-10pm 6-7 days a week. This work ethic made me want to be the hardest-working person out there.
To conclude the interview, we asked Shaan for 3 tips he’d give to young entrepreneurs. Here’s what he told us:
- Do What You Know: Don’t start a company in an industry you have no knowledge of.
- Start a Service-Based Company: Products are hard to make profits on and therefore much harder to succeed with. Internet companies and other service-based companies have an easier time turning a profit.
- Be a Big Fish in a Small Pond: A young entrepreneur can make $10,000, then $1,000,000, etc. Everyone has the dream of being a billionaire but Mark Cuban started a company and sold it for a few million dollars before ever making the billions. Look for low-competition areas and have small successes in those areas, followed by scaling your successes to larger ones.
And with Shaan’s hardworking spirit, we definitely expect to hear more about his ventures in the future. He also just released his second book, co-authored with Mark Cuban, on how kids can start their own businesses. You can look into purchasing it here!
Steven is the founder of ProjectileX, Managing Editor of Youth Business Collective, Fellow at Stanford’s Designership Institute, and Member of the Youth Skills Initiative at Global Business Coalition for Education.