"We don't sleep," PrepMe CEO Karan Goel's says when asked about their competitive advantages in the burgeoning test prep market.
Launched in 2005 by Goel and co-founder Avichal Garg, and seeded with $20,000 in prize money from winning the University of Chicago's New Venture Challenge as well as $35,000 from a first place finish in the Fortune Small Business B-Plan Contest, the Chicago-based startup has prepped over 38,000 students for the SAT, PSAT and ACT.
In a nutshell, PrepMe uses the web to deliver an adaptive online course ($299 or $499) that "learns where students are weak and delivers customized materials to focus on each student’s individual weaknesses." The course is supplemented by continuous online testing and personal tutoring (in the $499 platinum course) from top-scoring college students who are experts in the test.
What struck me first about this company is how committed they are to building a long-term and respected business, not just barreling full-speed to the nearest exit. I think it starts at the top, with Karan being a perfect example of a next-gen CEO: actively engaged with the market. And that means listening and responding to the feedback from its customers, employees, advisors, the media and yes, even the bloggers. This is crucial when a company is first starting to grow, since that's when a company builds the framework and systems that will be with them for years.
Take for example, a May 2006 Consumer Reports review of ten online-only SAT prep options. PrepMe, quite new at this point, made the review. The review was less than rosy, mostly citing technical issues related to the platform they were using at the time. Karan responded to the report with a letter pointing out their quick resolution of the platform issues along with the move "onto our own adaptive learning technology which is far more robust than the ASP we were using in the past." He made available his email and phone in the letter, welcoming anyone who experienced any issues with the early version to continue prep for free.
To be sure, the pre-college standardized tests (SAT, ACT, PSAT) are some of the most challenging to manage from a customer service perspective. You have a transient test-taking population (customer) who takes the test on average about two times, who is under intense pressure in the highly selective college admissions process, and isn't exactly what you would call "loyal." Often it's parents making the buying decision but the student who ultimately must consume the prep course and tutoring. PrepMe bridges this gap by partnering with over 110 schools (so far) to offer prep services on an institutional level to enrolled students. This allows for longer-term relationships with educators who in turn have relationships with students and their parents.
I had a chance to ask Karan what lies ahead for PrepMe and he was excited about the upcoming addition of GMAT and LSAT prep, which currently in development. Also in the works, podcast versions of its classes that are viewable on iPods and other mobile devices. "We're trying to be the test-prep company for a new generation," says Goel. They sure seem on the right track.