SAT-whiz Shaan Patel scored a $250,000 investment from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Shark Tank back in January 2016. With the multi-billionaire on board, Patel — the founder of Prep Expert (formerly 2400 Expert) — has benefited greatly from the Shark Tank effect.
To pay it forward, Patel wrote a book to teach children entrepreneurship: . Patel says he based his self-help book on a teaching method he developed for Las Vegas-based Prep Expert, which tutors high school students on taking college entrance exams.
Patel shares his formula for success, why he believes you should never follow your passion and what you should do instead.
What inspired you to write Self-Made Success?
Patel: “I see a young Tony Robbins.”
Billionaire Mark Cuban said the above to me during my pitch on ABC’s Shark Tank. Although the comment didn’t end up airing on television, it did serve as the inspiration for the book. If you’re not familiar with Tony Robbins, he is the most successful self-help guru in history. His work is inspiring, passionate, and downright life-changing.
For Mark Cuban to put me in the same bracket as Tony Robbins is immensely flattering. If Self-Made Success can be half as good as any of Tony’s books, I’d be elated. Although I didn’t originally have a goal of being a self-help expert like Tony Robbins, Mark Cuban inspired that vision. I then made it my goal to write this self-help book as the first step on my path to becoming like Tony Robbins.
Tony Robbins: If you’re reading this, I’m a huge fan. I hope you let me know what you think of Self-Made Success.
What is Self-Made Success about?
Patel: I put together eight categories of success strategies:
Self-Made Success teaches readers how to improve their general, day-to-day lives, financial status, entrepreneurial success, social acumen, productive capacity, mental state, marketing prowess and academic ability.
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Why do you think that people should not follow their passion?
Patel: One of the strategies in the book is to “Never Follow Your Passion.” Instead, people should follow what they are good at, at the current moment.
I remember Steve Balmer, former CEO of Microsoft, energetically talking at my graduation from USC in 2011 about how students should follow their passion. He’s not the only one espousing this “wisdom.” So many career and academic advisors will tell you to find your passion before choosing a career, otherwise you’ll be miserable at work. Perhaps that’s why so many students spend so many extra years in college trying to figure out what they should study.
I have news for you: it doesn’t matter. Your degree often has little bearing on the careers that you go into. I specifically say “careers” rather than “career” because you will have more than one kind of job in your life. Even if you plan to go into a highly specialized career, such as becoming a doctor or lawyer, you will likely also teach, write, conduct research, consult and do many other activities beyond what may be traditional in your “career.”
Mark Cuban is famous for saying, “Don’t follow your passion; follow your effort.” Essentially, do what you’re good at. I can have a passionate desire for painting. But if I don’t put the effort into becoming a great painter, I should not pursue that endeavor.
Millennial mindsets are too fluid to choose just one career for the rest of our lives. We often have multiple passions, so why choose one? Instead, focus on where you add the most value at the current point in time. The Internet also makes it possible to do more than one thing at one time. Do not limit yourself by following one passion.
What are you passionate about?
Patel: Am I passionate about test preparation, writing, teaching, entrepreneurship, medicine or business? My answer: I am passionate about all of them, but one does not outweigh the others. Instead, I have focused my attention on these different interests of mine at different points in my career. Specifically, I focus my career on one when I put a lot of time and effort into it.
I focused on test preparation when I was in high school studying for the SAT. I focused on writing when I was in college writing an SAT prep book. I focused on teaching after college when I taught my first Prep Expert courses. I focused on entrepreneurship when I was launching Prep Expert. I focused on medicine in medical school. I focused on business in business school.
Throughout my life, I have spread my time and effort across different disciplines. You do not need to be boxed into a single title. On Shark Tank, Lori Greiner asked me whether I wanted to be a doctor or an entrepreneur. She separated the careers into an “either/or” situation. Although I didn’t think of it at the time, my answer should have been “both.”
If people shouldn’t follow their passion, what should they pursue instead?
What is the difference between obsession and passion?
Patel: Obsession is different than passion. Obsession is a preoccupation, whereas passion is excitement. You don’t need to be passionate about what you are creating, but you do need to be obsessed with creating it. For example, I am not passionate about SAT prep material. But I am obsessed with developing the best SAT prep material on this planet.
Developing an obsession is important because as an entrepreneur you have to be the hardest working person in the room. Mark Cuban often says, “Work like there’s someone working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you.”
His Shark Tank co-star Lori Greiner says, “Entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week.” In order to work so hard, you will need to be obsessed with what you are creating. If you are not obsessed, burnout is inevitable.
Business school can actually make people hesitant to become entrepreneurs. The problem with business school is that it attempts to turn entrepreneurship into a science. But entrepreneurship is not a science; it is an art. If you listen to your economics professor, you would think there would be no way to start a successful business because you would get crushed by incumbent competition and all profits would eventually equal marginal cost.
But sometimes it’s better to ignore logic and reason, and follow your obsession. The successful entrepreneur has to be a naive, wide-eyed, optimistic maverick, who believes he or she can do what no one else can: succeed against all odds.
What are you obsessed with?
Patel: I was especially obsessed when I was first starting Prep Expert in college. I would think about creating Prep Expert in class. I would think about creating Prep Expert on vacation. I would think about creating Prep Expert at the gym. I would think about creating Prep Expert while I was eating. I was obsessed with Prep Expert all day, every day.
I remember skipping many social events because I was obsessed with developing Prep Expert. And I had no problem doing so because I was obsessed with building my business. In fact, I remember e-mailing proposals for an online course partnership to many major test prep companies on New Year’s Eve.
I did not care that I was not out with the rest of the world celebrating the New Year because I was obsessed with making sure I landed a partnership. One of those e-mails helped me land a partnership with Veritas Prep, in which we developed an online course that generated millions of dollars in revenue!
How can entrepreneurs develop an obsession?
Patel: To develop an obsession, I would not suggest listing your passions. As stated previously, there is a nuanced difference between an obsession and a passion. Of course, it is possible to be both passionate and obsessed with the same objective.
Instead, decide what you can do better than anyone else on this planet. If you really believe you have the knowledge, tools, and expertise to do something ten times better than the next guy, then you will likely develop an obsession to prove that.
Developing an unreasonable obsession might make others think you are crazy. You’ll have to walk the fine line between crazy and genius. When you are just starting your business, everyone will think that you are the former. But when you succeed, everyone will think you are the latter.
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