This week’s entrepreneur spotlight we take a look at how a game-changing learning platform was built by entrepreneur Ashish Rangnekar. His founder’s story is similar to many successful businesses. He created BenchPrep because of a problem he encountered when studying for the GMAT. He solved his own problem with BenchPrep and has since grown the business to 35 employees strong.
We got a chance to ask Ashish some questions about his business and how he got started. Let’s take a look at how he has built BenchPrep into the business it is today!
How Did The Business Start?
In 2008, I was living in New York and studying for the GMAT. I had to lug around these heavy test prep books everywhere I went so I could study during my free time. The first iPhone had just debuted and that technology led me to a revelation: “Why isn’t there a way to study on the go?” That idea of having an omni-channel platform to help improve learning and accelerate success is the very concept on which BenchPrep was founded.
How Did You Finance the Business?
My co-founder Ujjwal Gupta and I combined to self-finance and bootstrap all initial funding.
How Many Hours Did You Spend Working In Your Business Then? How Many Now?
I was working a full-time job initially, so I would work roughly five hours per day on the weeknights and then could devote another seven hours per day on the weekends. Now I devote 12 hours per day, Monday through Saturday to my work at BenchPrep.
What Unexpected Challenges Have You Faced as an Entrepreneur?
Understanding how to build upon early wins and properly evaluate if that success would then scale. Everyone also wants to find the right people to build their team with, but knowing where to begin is not as simple as you’d think. Do you hire top down (higher organizational costs but likely better infrastructure and more expertise) vs. bottom up (Less costly, less experience, higher risk)?
That was always a difficult balancing act. Lastly, burrowing into education, but really any industry is a massive challenge because inevitably, you come up against competitors that have more established brands. Getting that first customer, and then the next few is never easy.
Today, scaling the organization while balancing the short-term goals and long-term strategy is our biggest struggle.
How Long Did it Take For The Business to Be ‘Successful’?
There are so many different ways to view success. Startups don’t just instantly progress from having a great idea and incorporating to becoming a $100 mm company. There are several checkpoints along the journey that need to be hit.
At BenchPrep, it took us five years to hit what I would term our first tier and milestone of success; we had evolved enough for me to know the business was too established to fail. I attribute that success and our subsequent progress to constantly working to find the right formula with product and market fit while building the right team.
When plans inevitably change, adapting and embracing the pivot with enthusiasm is critical for the whole company. Everyone needs to grab an oar and help row if you expect to arrive at the promised land.
What’s The Best Advice You’ve Heard For Entrepreneurs?
Jeff Bezos: Be Strategically Patient, Tactically Impatient. What makes a founder special is the vision, and that’s the part they should be stubborn about. Have strong conviction about long-term vision, but be flexible and impatient about how to get there. Speed matters in execution.
Where Do You Look for Motivation and Inspiration?
Other founders that have experienced similar challenges and achieved great success. I’m also a big sports fan and draw upon how coaches manage their teams, both strategically and interpersonally. I find it interesting how star players are now given more rest throughout the season by management in efforts to not have them wear down.
I see a direct correlation there with making sure my team is not asked to put in long hours on a regular basis so that they are fresher, more productive and sharper when they are working.
What’s Your Best Advice for New Entrepreneurs?
Don’t try to solve every problem and take on every challenge yourself. You hired a team for a reason, empower them to do their jobs and take some of the burden off your shoulders. It’s so difficult to let go and trust someone else to take good care of your “baby”, but without delegating, your business will never mature and reach its full potential.
What Else Can You Share About BenchPrep?
Education is a hard problem to solve. BenchPrep strongly believes in the need for diversity and inclusion to deliver education properly, which is why we have worked hard to build a diverse team and foster an open culture. 37% of our team is female; 33% are immigrants.
In fact, both co-founders (Ujjwal and I) were fortunate enough to go through two different education systems (India and US), while our CTO was raised in the Russian system of education. All of this contributes to the product design, instructional models, general approach, and strategic vision that BenchPrep has.
The Smart Hack
As we learn from almost every Entrepreneur out there, you can’t shortcut success. And you can’t force a business if there’s no demand. Most great small businesses are created out of a problem that needs to be solved, and BenchPrep is no different.
BenchPrep continues to grow and gain in marketshare, and we look forward to seeing what they’re able to do in the next 5 years, where they aim to be one of the biggest players in the learning and development space.
For another great Entrepreneur story, check out Debbe Simmons from Bicycle Warehouse.