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Fridays from the Frontline: Yale SOM MBA Student Tests His Mettle on Shark Tank

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This week in Fridays from the Frontline we’re featuring an exclusive interview with Shaan Patel, a 26-year-old, second-year MBA student at Yale School of Management (SOM) who tonight will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank. Patel, who is taking a two-year leave of absence from medical school to get his MBA, also runs a company on the side that helps high school students prepare for the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. The Las Vegas native launched the company—called 2400 Expert SAT Prep—to teach others the strategies that helped him achieve his own perfect 2400 SAT score.

In the interview that follows, he shares how business school prepared him for Shark Tank and why he thinks the MBA is a valuable path for entrepreneurs. He also offers tips for business school students who want to try their hand at getting on the show. (Even thought he had to wait in line for nine hours for the casting call—missing a pitch competition taking place back on campus as a result—he thinks it was worth it.)

Though his Shark Tank episode taped in June, he’s contractually prohibited from sharing how things went when he pitched to the panel of formidable business tycoons. Will he get the venture capital he needs to transform a small business into something big, or will he have to keep bootstrapping? If you’re curious, tune in tonight at 9 p.m. EST to find out…

Clear Admit: Tell us about your business. What does it do and how did it get started?

Shaan Patel: I founded a test prep company that runs six-week SAT and ACT prep courses in 20 cities across the country and online. The way it started was actually a really circuitous path. I never planned to start a test prep company. Back when I was in high school I studied quite a bit for the SAT myself after initially getting an average score. I ended up getting a perfect score—a feat achieved by only .02 percent of students. It really changed my life—I got into great schools, was offered scholarship money and even got to meet the President.

Yale SOM MBA student on Shark TankInitially I set out to write a book. I pitched 100 publishers with a book proposal but was turned down. I had all this material and was wondering what to do with it, and so I decided to teach a course. The courses ended up being very successful—resulting in an average score improvement of 330 points. That’s pretty unheard of and can really change someone’s life.

I think it was so successful in part because I know some of the roadblocks, challenges and thought processes students have when approaching the test inappropriately. I was in their shoes. I have also learned some tricks along the way. Here’s an example of a strategy that I teach that I have never seen taught anywhere else: If you see the word “being” in an SAT answer choice, it’s probably an incorrect response. I instruct my students to just get rid of answers that have the word “being” in them.

I have also developed a template for students to follow so they can prepare in advance for the writing portion of the test. Without knowing the topic, they can practice this template and be prepared to tackle the written portion.

We really just make things really simple for them to understand. That’s why our courses work for students starting at any level. Honestly, I have spent more time developing the material—thousands of hours—than I did even studying myself. And I was the perfect score SAT student who studied in the library all the time.

CA: Describe your path to business school.

SP: My path to business school is probably different than most. I have already completed three years of medical school at USC. I then took a two-year leave of absence to complete business school at Yale School of Management (SOM). I am almost done with business school, and then I’ll return and finish my last year of med school at USC.

There was a dual purpose to my decision to take a leave of access from med school. First, my business was growing organically in Vegas, and I was in med school and so didn’t have a lot of time to focus on it or think about expanding. Also, I was a bio/premed major in college, not a business major. I thought business school would help me learn how to scale my business. Second, as a medical student, I wanted to learn more about healthcare management.

Yale SOM has been great for me. There is a great entrepreneurship community that is really growing there. The new building—Evans Hall—is also magnificent. It’s really a great place to be. And there are also a lot of cool healthcare opportunities and chances to collaborate with the Yale School of Medicine.

CA: How did business school prepare you for Shark Tank?

SP: I am very involved in entrepreneurship classes and in the startup community at Yale. One of the great things about business school is that students interested in entrepreneurship pitch a lot. I have had tons of practice pitching ideas and learning how to make them as succinct as possible.

One really tangible way business school helped me prepare for Shark Tank was perfecting my 60-second pitch. You have only 60 seconds to impress the casting call director in order to get a call back. I spent hours with my fellow business school students practicing my pitch, and it paid off. Something like 50,000 people a year audition for Shark Tank and only 100 end up getting on.

CA: How did Yale SOM in particular prepare you for Shark Tank?

SP: One of the most significant classes that I have taken at SOM was a management software development course taught by Kyle Jensen. It taught me the importance of lean methodolgy as it applies to agile development of software. As a result of that class, I decided it was important to have a web developer on our staff, which helped create a better user experience both for visitors to our website and for people who enroll and take our classes. This will also be particularly important when Shark Tank airs. We expect at least 100,000 hits after seven million people watch me on the show.