[quote style=”boxed”]I would have definitely gone online much, much earlier. I think we waited a little too long to launch our online course because we wanted it to be perfect, but I think my new motto would be to get it out in a beta ASAP and then fix it as you go.[/quote]
Jessica Brondo is the Founder and CEO of The Edge in College Prep, an elite global educational consulting company that specializes in test prep and admissions counseling for students applying to U.S. universities. If you told her in high school that she’d be doing SATs every day for the rest of her life ,she would have never believed it. Despite achieving a perfect score on the test, she was not a huge standardized test fan.
She’s most passionate about helping people realize their full potential and, in turn, their dreams. Her enthusiasm for educating others began with her work as a private tutor while a student at New York’s Glen Cove High School, from which she graduated as Salutatorian. Once enrolled in Princeton University, Brondo continued advising students on the SAT throughout her college career.
After graduating from Princeton, where she received the Suzanne Huffman Thesis Prize and was named a “Woman with Wings” (one of the top 25 most influential women on campus), she began working as Site Director for one of the countryʼs top SAT preparation companies. Seeing how removed and antiquated their process was, Brondo realized that the test prep world was in dire need of a shakeup. In 2005, she founded The Edge in College Prep, becoming one of the only women to design, develop and launch a major global standardized test preparation company in a field cluttered by a corporate and male-dominated approach. Today, The Edge has worked with students from 13 countries and consistently operates throughout the New York Tri-State area, London and Buenos Aires and plans to continue a global expansion over the next several years. With a mantra of social good, an honest approach to test preparation and a sincere investment in the students it works with, The Edge in College Prep is changing the landscape of standardized test prep and admissions counseling.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently going full steam ahead with the launch of The SAT/ACT Edge, our newly revamped online video-based test prep course, along with its accompanying iPhone app. In addition to the tech side, we’re also working on publishing our SAT/ACT Edge guide for 2013. We’re also working on launching a summer boot camp for international students that will either combine test prep and college visits or application assistance and college visits.
Where did the idea for The Edge come from?
I had been teaching test prep classes for about four years and then took a job as director of another New-York-based SAT prep company after graduating from Princeton. All of the companies I had worked for were using outdated materials and fake tests that would give inaccurate diagnostic scores. I decided to leave the company and launch The Edge, which would take the honest, efficient approach to test prep. I spent three months creating my own “edgy” materials that would be super-efficient because they combine SAT and ACT prep in one book (and have since expanded upon those to launch an online course and iPhone app).
What does your typical day look like?
7:00 a.m. – Wake up/scan email for anything urgent/drink lemon tea.
7:30-9:30 a.m. – Workout/shower/drink green smoothie.
9:30-11:30 a.m. – Hubspot/marketing/blog/YouTube.
11:30 a.m. -1:00 p.m. – Email/lunch.
1:00 p.m. – New projects/product development/”Finance Fridays.”
3:45 p.m. – Meetings/calls/tutoring.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s all about collaboration with me. I’m a big idea person and have about eight notebooks filled with ideas, both for The Edge and future businesses, but I’ve gotten really good (over the past couple of years) at making my ideas true team efforts. Over the past seven years, we’ve built such an amazing team at The Edge, and everyone has very unique talents and abilities. I usually start by having a massive brainstorm session about the idea and at the end delegate who is going to take on what task to get it to completion.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I think robotics is really fascinating and we’re just on the cusp of starting to really see what we can do with it. I think that within the new few years, we will be seeing a lot of developments in the field that will be game-changing in terms of efficiency.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I ever had was as the Director of Business Development at a jewelry startup (I won’t name names) about seven years ago. I was extremely excited about the product and the market potential, and when I was hired, I was told to “hit the ground running” in terms of sales/business development. I really started to hit the ground and was signing on tons of interested retailers, only to find out that we wouldn’t be able to fill orders for six months. That was in September, so to fill September orders in May was totally unacceptable. I had to deal with a lot of angry customers and ended up leaving after a month. It definitely taught me not to put the cart before the horse. Don’t start selling/doing major press/etc. until you have the product ready to launch. It also taught me a lot about the feasibility of scaling a business and how hard it would be unless it involved some tech aspect.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have definitely gone online much, much earlier. I think we waited a little too long to launch our online course because we wanted it to be perfect, but I think my new motto would be to get it out in a beta ASAP and then fix it as you go. There really is a huge benefit to the first mover advantage.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I’m super-organized, so I’m constantly making tons of lists. I have so many thoughts going through my head that I always have a notebook (or Evernote) handy. I’m also a huge proponent of making a one-year plan (five-year plans are nice, but not as practical) and creating monthly targets that you can either post on a Google Doc you look at all the time or on a whiteboard. Each day, we reassess where we are in terms of the big picture, and it really helps us prioritize certain tasks.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I would say that my biggest failure has been with marketing. I had been running the business for about three years, and we were seeing pretty steady growth in the New York City/Long Island areas. We were approached by a marketing consultant to launch a marketing campaign in Westchester to get our brand in that market. He though we should do ads on the Metro North (train into New York City), ads in local papers, radio ads, etc., etc. and the entire time I knew that wasn’t what we needed, but I (unfortunately) didn’t listen to my gut and ended up spending tens of thousands of dollars with no real return on the investment. I learned that even though I don’t have a background in marketing, I’m an expert in my business and that definitely counts for a lot.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
NetJets for cars in New York City. Buy shares in having your own driver part-time.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I’d probably want to ensure that everyone in the world had access to clean drinking water. It’s such a basic need that so many of us take for granted. I’d probably go back to school to start learning more about/researching desalinization methods and would work to make a scalable, affordable option.
Tell us a secret.
When I really need to focus and get stuff done, I listen to really loud hard rock music (think Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, etc.). If you met me, you’d be shocked.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources/ and what do you love about them?
1. Hubspot – It’s totally game-changing with inbound marketing. It’s helping us learn so much about our website and our potential clients.
2. Instapaper – It’s so great to be able to save all the articles, sites, stories, etc. that I want to look at when I have time in one place. Great for when you have an unexpected 15 minutes sans book.
3. Soundhound – I’m a music junkie, so being able to know what sound is playing and then instantaneously download it wherever I am is genius.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Life by Keith Richards. For starters, I’m a huge music fan, but more importantly, I like to read books (biographies mainly) about people in a variety of fields. This book really showcases his/the Rolling Stones’ scrappiness when they were first getting started, and it’s really inspirational.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
1. Tim Ferriss – So many amazing resources for people starting businesses, and his travel recommendations are amazing.
2. Sean Carasso – Seriously the most badass person I’ve ever encountered. He founded Falling Whistles, a hybrid business/non-profit seeking to transform the DRC and end the violence there. Amazing person!
3. Gary Vaynerchuk – Super-entertaining, but amazingly useful info. And you gotta love a hustler. 😉
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Every day! My boyfriend and I have tons of inside jokes that literally crack me up all day. Most recently, though, I hit him with a tennis ball pretty hard (by accident, of course) and was literally dying laughing for a good five minutes.
Who is your hero?
On a personal level, it is definitely my parents. The amount of energy, love and resources they’ve devoted to me and my brother over the years is astounding, and our success makes them so incredibly happy that it just makes me even more motivated to succeed.
What is the hardest thing you’ve dealt with as an entrepreneur?
I think the one main struggle was the “solo-ness” of being an entrepreneur. I started the business in December 2005 in New York and didn’t hire my first employee until June 2006, so I remember that being a very cold, lonely winter, albeit an exciting one as I was on the precipice of something great. However, just as I was really ramping things up in New York, an opportunity came along in London in November 2007, and I ended up moving there alone to set up another office for my company. I really only knew two people in the entire city and worked from my tiny apartment or Whole Foods. It was really lonely at first, but I decided not to get cable and forced myself to go out and do things each night to get connected with the city, which I quickly fell in love with.
What is your favorite place to forget about work?
Montauk! I’ve been going there since the summer of 2001 (before anyone thought it was cool) and literally fell in love with it. I was pre-med at the time, and it was the summer after my freshman year at Princeton, and I just wanted one last “fun” summer, so I moved out there (alone) and became a lifeguard. I met so many great friends and fell in love with the place. Every time I’m out there, there’s a certain sense of calm that everything is where it needs to be.