Nick Standlea earned a perfect score on the SAT. The experience informed his decision to found Test Prep Gurus, which he now runs as the president. As a graduate of Pitzer College and Claremont Graduate University, he worked for five years as a research associate at Claremont’s Quality of Life Research Center. At the Center, he began research on “growth mindset, intrinsic motivation, flow, and education.”
During his research and his application of his findings to test preparations, Nick Standlea found that “it was possible to transform the process into an enriching experience that was empowering to students.” Also, he discovered that this process would also still enable students to get great results on the SAT and ACT. His findings have shown tremendous results, and he trains all instructors at Test Prep Gurus using the same unique methodology.
By revamping the standard model and methodology of test prep, Nick Standlea found that students could still get fantastic results on the SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, and “other standardized exams” while feeling less pressure to succeed. He has proven this success for more than 12 years. His methods have even brought more success to his students compared to students who underwent the conventional test prep process.
With Nick Standlea’s method, students can still succeed while maintaining their health and happiness and getting results “above and beyond what otherwise would have been possible.”
Check out more interviews with innovative founders here. You can also check out some of Nick Standlea’s tips on doing better on the SAT and ACT here.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Nick Standlea: Ironically, Test Prep Gurus began with a research project that aimed to prove that America’s top colleges should not use the SAT to make their admissions decisions.
At that time, the College Board claimed that it was virtually impossible to improve your SAT score, and I wanted to expose that as false. So, I found several old SATs and studied them until various patterns emerged. It became a game to see how high I could push my score — and after a year of studying — I earned a perfect 1600. Along the way, I had inadvertently created a system for how to study for the SAT.
But the interesting thing was that when I spoke to high school students about their experiences studying for the SAT and ACT, I discovered that they were anxious, burnt out, and miserable because of the pressure society put on them to perform.
I started Test Prep Gurus with a mission to flip that dynamic on its head. Prepping for the SAT and ACT might be a necessary burden in students’ lives, but that did not mean the experience had to be painful. On the contrary, we found that by turning the prep process into a game, we could boost students’ scores by hundreds of points, lower their anxiety, and teach them critical skills to help them succeed in college and beyond.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Nick Standlea: The beginning stage of any new project is always challenging. If it wasn’t, someone else would have already created whatever it is you’re trying to bring into the world.
Earning a massive score improvement on the ACT or SAT is a great metaphor for starting a new business because they both require the same ingredients for success –
- Have clear goals for success — make sure the metrics for success are within your control
- Seek expert advice for creating a plan to reach your goals- if you think it is expensive to hire an expert, wait until you hire an amateur
- Turn preparation into a game- if you are going to spend hours of your life working at something it might as well be fun
- Track your results to see if your preparation is working- be scientific in pursuit of the most effective route to reach your goals
- Focus on the process — If you dedicate yourself to developing real expertise, results will follow
As far as giving up goes, I never really considered it with Test Prep Guru because of the students we worked with. From day one, they were very vocal about how much more they enjoyed our process versus what they had done before. Their feedback let me know that I was on to something special and ultimately gave me the motivation to push through the obstacles I faced to bring that new system to as many students as possible.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Nick Standlea: There were so many mistakes in the beginning it is hard to know which one to choose!
This isn’t a funny story, but it is a critical lesson for all budding entrepreneurs. The worst mistake I made in the early days of the firm was hiring a relative of one of our biggest clients. The problem was that this person wasn’t someone who I would have hired if they weren’t related to the aforementioned client, but I felt obligated to after the client suggested it.
Then, when the new hire couldn’t hack it, I found myself in a very bad spot because I knew that if I let them go, it might damage the relationship with the client. In the end, I did what I had to do, and let the new hire go. The client wasn’t happy at first, but he understood once I explained the specific performance issues I had seen.
The takeaway is this — if a client “suggests” you hire their son or daughter, it’s not really a suggestion, and you will only make a tricky situation worse by going against your gut and hiring the person.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Nick Standlea: Let’s be honest, in this context, “good” really means “mediocre.”
I think the biggest mistake a mediocre company makes is that it tries to make money. My dad was a banker, and he once told me that no organization makes money except the federal reserve. It took me a long time to get that joke, but now I understand its wisdom —
Great companies don’t focus on making money, they focus obsessively on being better than anyone at that one unique thing that they do or make.
This leads to real expertise. From there, money and profitability just naturally flow to the business.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Nick Standlea: Purpose-driven businesses are more successful than other businesses because they are more interesting.
A business with a purpose bigger than itself is an organization that will attract talent. It will develop a devoted tribe of users. It won’t need to “market itself” because its story will naturally spread on its own.
In the future, the only businesses that will still exist will be purpose-driven ones.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Nick Standlea: I try to leave conversion to religious institutions. Instead, I focus my energy on becoming better than anyone ever has been at fulfilling the unique need or want that my organization serves.
Do that, and future clients convert themselves.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Nick Standlea: I believe there are three principles to becoming a trusted and beloved brand
- Be fair, honest, and upfront with everyone who comes into contact with your business.
- Set reasonable expectations, and then blow those expectations away.
- Remember that brand is just another way to say long-term reputation.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Nick Standlea: You can find me on the Test Prep Gurus website.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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