“Improving the educational system.” With Penny Bauder & Shaan Patel

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 […]

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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.

As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Shaan Patel.

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation, a #1 bestselling SAT & ACT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC’s Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect using 100 strategies that are now taught in Prep Expert’s SAT and ACT courses.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career path?

Like all entrepreneurs, it all started with an idea. In high school, I studied hundreds of hours for the SAT and raised my score from average to perfect — an accomplishment achieved by approximately 0.02% of all students. This resulted in admission to top universities, hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarships, and opportunities such as meeting the President of The United States.

I couldn’t believe how much my life had changed because of one test score. When I got to college, I wanted to help other high school students improve their own test scores. My original idea was to write the first SAT prep book authored by a perfect-score student. However, 100+ literary agents and publishers turned my book proposal down citing that the SAT prep market was too competitive and that I didn’t have a platform to write such a book.

This is when I took my destiny into my own hands. I decided to teach an SAT class based on the curriculum I had been writing for the book in my hometown of Las Vegas. While it was very difficult to get students to enroll in the beginning, after news spread that the average SAT score improvement in my classes was 300–400 points (equivalent to going from the 50th percentile to the 90th percentile), I had parents knocking down the door for more classes.

Prep Expert was a success in Las Vegas! That’s when I decided to pitch the company on Shark Tank to expand it to more cities and scale our online reach. Ironically, after McGraw-Hill, the world’s largest education publisher, saw what I was building with Prep Expert, they offered me a book deal after all even after they had originally turning my book proposal down. The book ended up going #1 on Amazon for SAT Prep and selling tens of thousands of copies. My dream of becoming a bestselling author did come true! I just had to take a different path to get there — an important lesson for all entrepreneurs.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Getting on Shark Tank is almost as hard as getting a perfect SAT score. Of the 1.4 million students who take the SAT every year, approximately 400 will get a perfect SAT score — about 0.02%. Of the 50,000 entrepreneurs who audition for Shark Tank every year, approximately 100 will air on television — about 0.02%. The chances of doing both? 1 in 25 million! I consider myself very lucky.

The first step to getting on Shark Tank is attending one of their open call auditions. This is where casting call producers watch 1-minute pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs about why their businesses should appear on the show. I spent dozens of hours crafting the perfect 1-minute Shark Tank audition pitch. I was nearly the last person in a line of 500 people at the Shark Tank open call audition in New York and had to wait over 8 hours before I got to pitch a casting call producer. However, it was well worth it because my pitch advanced to the next round a few weeks later: a 5–10 minute video audition! All of the Shark Tank producers watch this video audition to make sure that your product or business is right for the show. I spent nearly 50 hours working on my video audition to make sure that I would appear interesting and entertaining enough for television. You can view my video audition here.

Once I got the call from Shark Tank that they were going to fly me out to Los Angeles to pitch the Sharks, I was ecstatic! I spent nearly 100 hours preparing for questions that Kevin, Lori, Daymond, Mark, Barbara, and Robert could potentially throw at me. Preparation is key to anything you do in life whether it’s getting a perfect SAT score or landing a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on Shark Tank.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Online SAT & ACT prep courses are huge at Prep Expert now. We now have about 80% of all students enrolling in our online courses. While we can offer in-person classes in 5 cities across the United States, we can’t offer classes in 1000 cities. But with online courses, we can offer classes to students in every city around the globe! We even have students enrolling in our classes who live in Europe, India, Singapore, Dubai, etc.

In addition, online virtual classrooms are getting a lot better in terms of quality. And Gen Z students are accustomed to taking classes online. Therefore, online SAT and ACT prep is our biggest area of focus now at Prep Expert!

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

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.

In college when I was thinking of starting a business, I had to ask myself, “What is something that I know how to do really well?” The answer to that question was “not much.” There weren’t a lot of things that I knew extraordinarily well. But there was one thing: the SAT.

I got a perfect score on the SAT and I could leverage that. In addition, what was special about my perfect SAT score is that I didn’t start out with a very high SAT score — I was just barely above average. I then spent 1,000 hours (not 10,000 hours) preparing for the SAT. And it paid off with college acceptances, scholarships, and academic awards.

I was now willing to put in another thousand hours to build massive value for other students — to develop curriculum to help other students prepare the exact way that I did in high school. This is the part that most entrepreneurs would skip. Many people would have been inclined to just use books from other companies because they don’t want to put in the effort themselves.

In total, I have now put in over 10,000 hours studying for the SAT, preparing curriculum and books for SAT prep courses, and working on my SAT prep business. The willingness to put in an incredible amount of sweat equity to build massive value is what separates real authorities from those that are posing as authorities. Not only should you do what you know, but you should build massive value what you know in order to have highest likelihood of succeeding as an authority.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

The US Education system is failing when it comes to higher education because of cost. I believe student debt is a national crisis with it now being over $1.6 trillion. It simply is not sustainable. We must figure out a way for higher education to be affordable to the masses.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

(1) Online Education
(2) International Collaboration
(3) Charter School
(4) Primary Education
(5) Professional Development

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

(1) STEM Education — the future is technology, and we must compete with the rest of the world.

(2) Technology Distraction — social media apps today are distracting students from learning.

(3) Uninvolved Parents — parents aren’t involved enough in their children’s education.

(4) Lack of Innovation — U.S. Education needs to innovate with technology, and is currently lacking.

(5) Higher Education — The cost of U.S. higher education is too high.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

We are lagging behind countries like China and India in terms of engaging people in STEM.

(1) Apps — Educate students through social media apps about STEM

(2) Artificial Intelligence — Artificial intelligence will transform industries and needs to be stressed.

(3) Medicine — It is not unlikely that the biggest advances in medicine will occur over the next 20 years, including curing many cancers, and students need to be excited about these prospects.

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

Girls and women provide a different, important perspective to tackling challenging problems. We need to have more women involved in STEM if we are going to solve the world’s biggest issues (i.e. global warming).

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

I am not sure I have the answer to this.

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

I believe that STEM is more important because in order to stay the #1 country in the world, we need to have the most advanced science, technology, engineering, and maths. If we don’t do this, countries such as China may soon surpass us.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Require parental involvement in their children’s education
  2. Find new innovations from other industries to implement into education
  3. Ban smartphones from classrooms
  4. Have a free community college option for all students (i.e. force other universities to compete on cost)
  5. Require students to “major” or “minor” in one of the STEM topics to graduate from high school

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it away from you.” Mark Cuban

This quote from my business partner and investor, Mark Cuban, reminds me everyday not to take success for granted and that there is no substitute for hard work.

We are blessed that 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, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Warren Buffet. I am learning more about investing, and would love to learn from his wealth of knowledge.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@shaanpatel on Instagram

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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