We come up with ideas, create experiments around them that are as simple as possible, and then look at the results.
Bhavin is the co-founder and CEO at Magoosh, a company that creates web and mobile apps to help students prepare for standardized tests like the GRE, GMAT, SAT, and TOEFL. He received his BS in Economics and Computer Science from Duke University and his MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. Bhavin loves advising startups on growing their ideas and setting their product and marketing strategy. He can also often be found playing puzzles, games, and ultimate frisbee.
Magoosh has a 25-person company founded on the idea that all students should have access to high-quality test prep. The product offers access to hundreds of short lesson videos that cover every topic on a given exam and hundreds of practice questions that help student prepare. Founded in 2009, Magoosh has now served more than 2 million students.
Where did the idea for Magoosh come from?
We created Magoosh because of our own frustration and the frustration of those around us. Prior to applying to business schools, I had to take the GMAT, which meant I also had to find a way to prepare for the test. It didn’t take long to realize that classes and tutors were way too expensive. And, on top of that, books were pretty much ineffective without personalized support. I remember when I began prepping, I walked into a bookstore and bought something off the shelf. When I eventually took my first real practice exam from the makers of the GMAT, I realized the book hadn’t prepared me well at all.
My co-founders and I met while studying at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. They all had similarly frustrating experiences with the GMAT, so we decided to create a new test prep product — one that was just as effective as traditional test prep, but one that was accessible to students regardless of their socioeconomic and geographic conditions. That’s how Magoosh was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up around 6:30am and spend some time with my 1-year-old. Then I usually schedule a call in the morning, so I can take it on my walk to work and before I start working on tasks. When I get in, usually around 9am, I start tackling email or anything internal that needs a response. Afterwards, I often have in-office meetings throughout much of the day, helping others get unblocked. As the company has grown, I’ve realized that my individual productivity is less important than helping others increase their own productivity. The more I help others the larger impact I can have on the company. I still take on too much individual contributor work (because I enjoy it), but I’m pushing myself—and some of my team is pushing me—to give up more projects.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As a company, we subscribe to the Lean Startup approach. We come up with ideas, create experiments around them that are as simple as possible, and then look at the results.
We try to encourage ideas from everywhere. We keep an open project in Asana, our project management system, in which people can contribute any type of idea regardless of impact, function, or supporting data. Most of these ideas sit there indefinitely, but some get prioritized during quarterly planning and get moved forward.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
As a profitable, sustainable company, I’m really excited to see the recent shift in focus where entrepreneurs are thinking about building real business with real profit. Ultimately, I think these businesses can last longer and better serve their customers, rather than trying to hit the growth metric for the next round of funding.
At Magoosh, we’ve raised less than $1M, and have been generally cash flow positive and profitable since 2012, growing off revenues. Today, we have a growth rate that rivals many companies that have raised much more in funding.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I love podcasts. I listen to 6+ hours of startup-related podcasts every week including Mixergy, This Week in Startups, The Startup Podcast, and more. Having listened to these for 5+ years now, I’ve learned so many things from many different stories. This constant focus on learning from others as helped me be more impactful in our business.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I haven’t hated any job I’ve had, but one that I found tedious was a data entry internship working for the CFO at a small company. I learned two things: (1) when doing tedious work over a long period of time, I can now get in a “zone” and make it very mechanical, usually while listening to a podcast; and (2) there’s often a better way to approach tedious problems at scale. In this job, once I fully understood the problem, I built an MS Access database with some macros to automate much of the work.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. All of the experiences I’ve had have helped shape our company as it is today — a company that I love. We’ve certainly made mistakes, such as not focusing on building an audience before working on the product, but these mistakes have helped me internalize the learnings.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take time to reflect. I spend much of my time on evenings and weekends specifically asking myself if we’re focused on the right problems. We’ve accomplished a lot with a small team, and it’s not because everyone works themselves until their burnt out. It’s because we focus on the most important problems.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
We’ve been very successful with content marketing. When we first created our product, we had fewer than 100 visitors per month. Within 5 months, we were able to get to 20,000 visitors per month with a maniacal focus on content marketing — writing daily blog posts published by an expert on the topic (the GRE test). We’ve continued to use content marketing to this day and are now getting over 500K visitors/month.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When we first started Magoosh, we spent a lot of time building a product that was centered around peer learning. When we “launched” we found that students hated the product because they want to learn from experts, not students. We should have been getting feedback along the way rather than building the product behind closed doors. We internalized this learning, started asking for feedback and now have built feedback into our process for all new features and products.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Now that I have a baby, I take many more pictures than I used to. It would be great if there were a way to store these pictures in one place and have them automatically emailed to close friends/family, who could choose if they want emails for every picture, a digest, or no notifications. I’ve currently hacked together a solution using Dropbox, IFTTT, and Google Groups, but I’d love something a little more seamless.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently bought a pair of Allbirds shoes. I don’t have them yet, but I’m excited to: (1) be able to sometimes wear shoes without socks; and (2) have very comfortable shoes. I suppose you could say I’m hoping it will be the best $100 I recently spent. 🙂
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I have several: Inbox by Gmail because of the snooze feature. I can have an email return to me after a set period of time or in a specific location and it works seamlessly on mobile. Asana for company-wide communication and task management. Everyone in the company can see what others are working on and participate in conversations, making our culture much more inclusive than it would be otherwise. Intercom for communicating with our students/customers. We have a lot of different messages that go out to students to help them find the best way to use our product based on past usage behavior.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. As an introvert, I had a hard time pitching out company to investors. This book gave me the tools I needed to do it well. It helps you understand the power dynamic and how to use it to your advantage.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Ian McAllister, formerly of Amazon, and now Director of Product at AirBNB, has influenced how I approach product management. I’d recommend reading all of his answers on Quora.
Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, has influenced how I approach company culture and content marketing.