Shaan Patel, 26, an entrepreneur from Las Vegas, Nevada, has never quite followed the expected path.
He spent his formative years growing up in the Sky Ranch Motel, a self-proclaimed budget motel that his family owned and operated as well as called their family home.
“At a young age I saw, like, drug deals and prostitutes,” Patel told Business Insider.
The motel is a source of embarrassment for his mother, but Patel says he embraces it and doesn’t try and downplay its existence in his life.
“It’s kinda like that’s where I grew up and people should know,” he said.
With a backstory like that, some people may be surprised to find out just how impressive Patel’s high school accomplishments actually are.
He was the valedictorian of his class, was crowned homecoming king, and even shook President George W. Bush’s hand in 2007 as a White House Presidential Scholar, a program that recognises two academically gifted students from each state.
He also scored a perfect 2400 on his SAT in high school, an accomplishment he has since parlayed into a thriving SAT test prep company.
Ivy League rejections
Buoyed by perfect test scores and numerous extracurricular activities, Patel applied to colleges seeking out some of the top programs in the country. He was rejected from every Ivy League school to which he applied — Harvard, Princeton, and Brown. He also got rejected from Stanford.
“I do think that Asian Americans have a disadvantage applying to college,” Patel said.
Patel is Indian-American and made the comment in reference to both his own rejections as well as recent news stories citing Asian Americans who say they face discrimination in college applications.
But not one to dwell on disappointments, Patel explained that he got into the University of Southern California on a full scholarship.
At USC, he pursued the joint BA/MD program that had always piqued his interest. In high school, Patel had volunteered in the emergency department of a hospital, and that developed into a passion with medicine and the desire to become a doctor.
The joint degree program at USC offered a way into medical school and the security that he would be able to realise his dream of becoming a practicing physician.
More disappointment before finding success
Patel has always been the type of person who embraces having a full plate. “I like being busy,” Patel said. “Busy” seems to be a bit of an understatement.
Halfway through medical school Patel tried to launch an SAT prep book to help students prepare for taking the exam using the methods he did. His attempts were unsuccessful. One editor even went as far as to give him the brutal feedback that he didn’t have an engaging personality and was not a great writer no mater how well he scored on the SAT.
Undaunted, he used the last of his scholarship money — just $US900 — to launch an SAT prep company website called 2400 Expert. He advertised it as the only SAT prep course taught by a student who got a perfect score in high school.
The very first course ran during the summer when he had a break from med school, and it took off from there. Word caught on after his pilot course showed an average improvement per student of 376. Patel says this kind of score improvement is unheard of in the test-prep industry.
Once the summer was over, Patel trained qualified instructors and managed the company remotely from California. And more satisfying, McGraw-Hill, one of the major education publishing giants, saw the success Shaan was gaining and offered him a book deal after all. Shaan’s book “SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps” was published in July 2012.
More College Aspirations
Patel was juggling a growing SAT prep business with studying for medical licensing board exams and doing 36-hour surgical rotation shifts at the hospital. He still loved the medical profession, but was also highly interested in learning how to scale and grow his business.
He decided to take a two-year leave of absence from USC to pursue business school, where he has just completed his first year working towards his MBA at Yale’s School of Management.
This summer, rather than working in an internship like most of his classmates, Patel is focusing his attention on 2400 Expert. Since he launched his company in 2011, he says he has grossed over $US4 million in sales.
His goal is to expand to a dozen new cities by 2016, expand the online portion of his company, and include ACT prep material going forward.
Those are pretty lofty goals for someone who still has a year of medical school and residency to complete. So the logical question for Patel is whether he’s planning on continuing on with the medical field, and how he aims to make it all fit together.
Patel says his decision to go to business school was not solely driven by the desire to grow his company. He’s also very interested in the management of healthcare.
His plan once he graduates from Yale next spring is to go back to USC and finish his last year of medical school.
And he aims to chose a specialty that allows him enough flexibility where he can practice medicine and run his own clinic, as well as leaving time to pursue his other entrepreneurial interests as well.
As someone who has struggled and succeeded in launching a business, Patel is particularly qualified to answer what it takes to start your own company. His biggest advice is not to let rejection get you down. “Rejection is the necessary evil of entrepreneurship,” he said.
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