I had the pleasure of interviewing Eduard Suleymanov, managing partner at Einstein Daycare and Chief Financial Officer at ArgoPrep, one of the leading providers of supplemental educational products and test prep services.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
If you’ve ever seen pictures of the Westminster Cathedral, you’ll be a little familiar with where I earned my MBA — from The University of Westminster. My parents sacrificed to give me an education, and their dedication motivated me to dream about a life in the States where I could positively impact society. Shortly after arriving to the States, I started working for an education company. There, I met Anayet Chowdhury, a young and ambitious leader who later became my business partner. Fast forward one year, Vladislav Suleymanov (my brother), Anayet Chowdhury and I decided to open up our own education company with the goal of providing top-flight tutoring and prep courses to students who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to them. Have you ever noticed that the tutoring and test prep companies are ridiculously expensive and cater to the wealthy? We started ArgoPrep with a vision to reach underserved students with cutting-edge education resources. The rest is pretty much history. We started off providing tutoring services to schools and private clients and then eventually created our first workbook. A year later, we had over 20+ workbooks that were being used nationwide. Watching our education company succeed only made our vision expand. We were able to invest invest and open a brick-and-mortar private daycare/pre-school (Einstein Daycare), that shares our test prep mission of access and affordability to excellent pedagogy. Today, we have a state-of-the-art online learning platform that provides test prep courses for various standardized exams, workbooks that offer supplemental practice to K-12 and higher education, and we educate and prepare over 100+ infants and toddlers in our facility.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Would you believe I made a rookie mistake with hiring? I did what any good business school grad with no experience does…and there were some pitfalls in hiring — and firing — that I made. This isn’t unique. You launch out of business school, ready to hire the best people on paper and you don’t realize…you don’t have the experience to realize… that what you hire for is culture. I love our team, our team is everything to this business, but when we first started this company, I didn’t realize that the candidates that look good on paper might not be the best fit for the company culture. Let’s face it — it’s tough to change a culture, so when I tried to let some people go that weren’t a good fit, other problems popped up with other staff on my team. They were insecure, and they really let me know it. Rather than listening, I fell back to my education instead of letting experience help me apply my education. I had to separate myself from the environment at work for three days, and used that time to think about culture building, and my role in failing to communicate who we were as a team. During that break, I did some workshop development of my own, and figured out that I was responsible — solely — for the culture in the company. It might be easy to change a climate based on who you bring in and who leaves, but the changes required in the company culture were all on me. Those three development days really are the reason we are where we are. I took ownership of the culture of the team, from feelings to action, from perception of the brand to productivity. If my employees didn’t have the resources to succeed, it was because I didn’t give it to them. So, there was some initial chagrin, but we are better for it, and our culture can’t be beat.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are passionate about education — lots of folks are. But, we take a team-based approach to everything we do. We’re a small cast of brothers and friends that had an idea to bring a team-based approach to pedagogy and test prep that empowers our teachers, tutors, and tech team. The only people we hire for any of our ventures have to share our vision of education access and collaborative excellence. Some might think our approach takes away autonomy, but instead our team-built products (whether in the classroom or online) fuel pedagogical innovation, and the results stand on their own. Our teachers are zealous in their care for our children, our test prep tutors are worldwide experts, and our tech team creates best practices for other companies to follow. Our team goal — of providing the best learning environment for all of our kids (whether in-person or online) — helps us be excellent every single day. Whether our students leave us at age 6, or stay with us through their high school journey, their parents still remain connected with us as they study and prepare for their next step and beyond.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! I am the Chief Financial Officer at ArgoPrep, one of the leading providers of supplemental educational products and test prep services. We have launched an industry-model online learning delivery platform and we continue to build full online content for exams and tutoring services to reach a diverse student population at all levels — starting with Kindergarten and moving all the way through higher ed. We’re excited to announce our next layer of grad-level prep, for the LSAT, GRE, GMAT, and MCAT. To secure the infrastructure for these, we’ve also recently started an investment company, and are partnering with companies that share our vision for team-built excellence. This new venture is insanely scary, intensely interesting, but also a great learning experience. We’re literally putting our money into our shared vision of teams — teams that will operate without our 100% oversight into them. As entrepreneurs, we are so used to controlling and (in some cases even micromanaging!) every product or service, but when you invest, you have to let that go and put your trust behind the team you believe in.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
We have five “power points” — all focused on improving our brand by empowering our team that other founders can use to help their employees thrive:
1. Invest in Empowering People. It’s really easy to judge people from your own point of view. I’ve learned that what your team wants is to use their strengths in their own way. Given a choice between a little bit extra on their paycheck or time to hear their ideas, people will always choose to be heard. Saying thank you, spending time listening, and being open to their good ideas increases team buy-in and on-the-spot productivity.
2. Teach the Team to Coach. Disconnects are easy — connecting can also be. I ask employees (from teachers to tech support) to coach for the day, to bring fresh eyes to the administration of the company. This helps foster ownership in what each employee brings to team, an idea for shared vision, and is a fun way to foster new thinking about our mission that I can’t come up with on my own.
3. Everyone Wears the Jersey. On our team, everyone is on the team. That means, from the custodian to the admin assistants, from the tutors to the content editors, everyone wears the jersey and is a team player. We train every single position about our mission, and we only hire people who are as excited to contribute to the team and further then brand as I am.
4. Shoot Your Own Horse. Look, sometimes things don’t break our way. That’s the nature of business, it’s the nature of investing, and guess what? It’s the nature of educating kids. The flip side is that every instance of things not breaking our way is an opportunity for the team to step up, and show leadership in each of our positions. “Shooting your own horse” means taking responsibility for our team. It never is someone else’s fault, it’s never individual blame. We push each other to be the best for our students. Period. The result is that we own the good stuff, and we own the bad stuff.
5. Party LIke It’s 1999. No, seriously. We shoot our own horses around here, but we celebrate our successes, and we have a lot to celebrate. We are dedicated to generationally changing students’ lives. That is the best gig around, and we take time to do parties, to be there with our team during their individual successes, and each one benefits when our team flourishes.
When you invest in empowering people, teach coaching, commit to the team, own your mistakes, and celebrate your wins — your people stay, they stay productive, and you succeed in your mission.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There are many individuals that have impacted my life and business — it’s nearly impossible for me to select one particular person. It really isn’t hyperbole to say that our continued success is due to our amazing team. Without the team the partners can’t do their jobs. And without each of the other partners, I really can’t do what I do. We’re in this together. Our managers, software engineers, and teachers are some of the brightest individuals that I have the pleasure of working with. I am forever grateful to our team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Part of what makes the American dream such a continued, vibrant ideal for the entire world is its belief that access to opportunity and hard work will bring prosperity and well-being. I came here to participate in that dream. What is thrilling to me is being able to bring excellence to our company every day so that others can gain an access to excellent pedagogy that will launch them success. The type of success our students can look forward to through their education and hard work is generationally progressive. Their success will be felt for generations. That might not seem like a big deal to those who are already wealthy, but for a diverse group of students — many of whom will be the first in their families to graduate — what my company does is offer the chance for families to change the trajectories of their futures. And I can’t think of a better good to bring.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line?
1. Model Role Diversity. I’ve already mentioned that we train all of our employees to coach. Our philosophy is that fostering an understanding of diverse roles produces self-governance and shared responsibility. When our team envisions the end pedagogical results, based on common goals, they are more efficient, productive, and motivated.
2. Market Our Goals. If our team doesn’t know from Day One our mission and vision, the only feedback they will receive is from their own unit. A team-built approach uses our goals as a marketing device — since we want to make excellence in education accessible, we market our diversity goals. When our employees receive positive daily feedback based on meeting our team goals, they are motivated to participate in those daily wins.
3. Make Individual Stories the Team’s. We incorporate diversity in our “everyone wears the jersey” idea, but for diversity, we recognize that what makes our model work is that we don’t have a shared history. We have shared values and a shared mission, but we come from different places. We value that and make everyone’s story part of the team’s.
4. Mold Diverse Partnerships. Our brand has been built through partnering with global partners and experts, and those partnerships are part of what connect us to a diverse group of students. Especially for our ArgoPrep brand, we rely on collaboration across diverse spheres in tech, academia, and business for content, communication, the culture of the brand.
5. Message Co-creation. Our entire creative process is a joint venture. Our students rely on our promise to make excellence accessible, and our parents invest in our ability to represent unique pedagogy and educational care. When we send the message that we are all co-creators in the digital educational marketplace, we make leaders out of our workers. Good people bring their best, and when we collaborate (sometime across contents), we reinforce the brand’s commitment to diversity, shared values, and a common purpose. That is the culture of our brand.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
A Winner Never Quits, a Quitter Never Wins! It’s on my wall and I read it every day!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Richard Branson, without hesitation. Not only does Richard have an amazing, compelling personal story as an entrepreneur, he is very relatable.
Originally published at medium.com