Shaan Patel grew up in a rugged neighborhood infested with drugs and crime in Las Vegas. He felt ashamed that the tiny budget motel his parents owned and rented by the hour doubled as their home. He attended Clark High School, where a majority of students are disadvantaged and only half of them meet U.S. educational standards in reading and math. Some 40% of students in the district drop out. Patel has come to embrace his upbringing as a “unique part of his childhood.”
The 26-year-old’s humble past only makes his phenomenal success as a student, entrepreneur and Shark Tank contestant all the more inspiring, not to mention impressive.
Patel appeared in a January 2016 episode of the ABC hit reality show. He sought a $250,000 investment for 10% of his company, 2400 Expert https://2400expert.com/, an SAT and ACT preparation school. To celebrate his appearance, Patel offered to give away $100,000 in SAT classes. He also offered free SAT books to students for hosting viewing parties in their city. He hoped to break Shark Tank’s viewership record by putting up a two-minute video on Facebook and asking users to make it go viral.
From the get-go, the Sharks questioned Patel’s ability to dedicate himself fully to the business, considering he was enrolled in business school at Yale and due to return to medical school in the fall.
Fashion mogul Daymond John was the first to declare “I’m out,” because of the business’s inability to scale. QVC queen Lori Greiner and computer security impresario Robert Herjavec both passed owing to Patel’s “lack of direction” between being an entrepreneur and a doctor.
Kevin O’Leary was the most knowledgeable Shark about education technology, having sold The Learning Company to Mattel for $4.2 billion and also invested in test prep companies that competed with 2400 Expert. O’Leary liked the “recession proof” business but didn’t believe Patel was committed enough. He bowed out.
Mark Cuban, the multi-billionaire whale among the Sharks, offered $250,000 for 20% of the company on the expectation that Patel would “pivot” to other businesses in which he would become the “godfather to all of those children.” Patel asked to meet Cuban halfway by offering $300,000 for 20% of the company, triggering consternation among the other Sharks.
The Dallas Mavericks owner refused. Without hesitation, Patel accepted Cuban’s offer.
From Living in a Motel to the Ivy League
Patel’s business spawned from his own need to improve his score on the infamous standardized test, the most mentally brutal right of passage to college. Owing to “focused preparation,” Patel catapulted from an initially average score to a perfect 2,400 — a rare feat accomplished by only 0.02% of students who take the test.
Reigning over his high school as National Merit Scholar, valedictorian and homecoming king, Patel won 20 scholarships totaling an eye-popping $250,000. He earned awards from Coca-Cola (KO), Toyota (TM), and McDonald’s (MCD) in addition to meeting President George W. Bush as a White House Presidential Scholar.
He was accepted to the University of Southern California’s eight-year, combined undergraduate and medical school program on a full-ride scholarship. Three years into med school, he took a break to get an MBA from Yale School of Management. He’s set to finish this May and then return to USC in the fall for the last year of med school.
Patel initially didn’t have his sights on starting a test-prep business. Patel sent proposals to write an SAT prep book to almost 100 publishers and agents. Every single one rejected it, contending the market was too competitive and that he didn’t have the credibility to write a book.
“I decided I wasn’t going to waste all of the material I had spent thousands of hours writing,” Patel said. “I started 2400 Expert to teach an SAT prep class based on the material I had written. After my first class had an average SAT score improvement of 376 points (equivalent to going from the 50th to the 90th percentile), the courses took off.”
Patel kicked off 2400 Expert with $900 dollars he had leftover from college scholarships. He taught SAT prep classes in Las Vegas and online in summer 2011 before med school.
“Originally, I had planned for it to be a one-time summer gig,” Patel said. “But after parents heard about the score improvements we were getting, I had many parents calling for more classes.”
“I decided to train qualified instructors to teach my material and keep the courses going. 2400 Expert was officially born.”
Soon after 2400 Expert’s birth, McGraw-Hill, the world’s largest educational publisher, offered him a book deal. “SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps” hit the shelves in July 2012. It’s become a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon (AMZN) for SAT Prep and sold more than 20,000 copies.
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Patel’s six-week SAT and ACT prep courses are now available in 20 cities across the U.S. as well as online. A 60-hour, in-person SAT prep course sets parents back $999. It comes out to about $17 per hour of instruction — a bargain compared to competitors that typically charge $599 for an 18-hour course, or $33 per hour.
2400 Expert offers more hours of instruction in addition to being taught by someone who has applied the strategies himself as well has taken the same classes while juggling sports and extracurricular activities, Patel says.
“Most test prep material is written by older tutors, who either learned how to do well on the test later on in life or who are naturally good at test-taking,” Patel said. “Because I struggled to improve my own SAT score in high school, I am able to relate to the difficulties that many students have with standardized tests.”
He added: “Everyday that I sit down to write new SAT prep material, I think how can I make this material the most simple and effective strategy that a student has ever seen?”
2400 Expert scores about $500,000 in sales annually, with an A+ profit margin of 40% and about 10 full-time staff.
A+ Test Results
2400 Expert teaches 100 strategies that Patel developed to conquer every section of the test: math, vocabulary and essay.
“When I was in high school, I realized that many of my essays began to look the same after a while because the SAT essay topics were so general,” he said. “So I developed an essay template that students in our courses use to ‘pre-prepare’ their essay before test day. It allows them to write an amazing SAT essay before ever seeing the topic.”
His methods can also be applied to other standardized tests such as the GRE, LSAT, GMAT, or even professional exams like the bar exam.
“In fact, I didn’t study for the verbal sections of the MCAT or the GMAT,” Patel said. “I just used my SAT reading sections to ace the verbal portions of both the MCAT and GMAT.”
He added: “Many of our students come back to us raving about how our SAT course helped them on AP exams, SAT subject exams, the PSAT, the ACT, high school proficiency exams and just general high school coursework.”
Patel claims that 99% of the thousands of students who have taken his SAT prep class have improved their scores. On average, they increase by 368 points. A few scored a perfect 2,400. Patel boasts his students have won millions in scholarships and admissions to Ivy League schools.
This story originally appeared in Forbes.com in January 2016.
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