Today I had the opportunity to talk with Jessica Brondo, CEO & Founder of The Edge In College Prep, an education consultant company specializing in test preparation for students. Jessica has created a platform that builds and customizes programs to meet student’s specific needs. Jessica and The Edge have been featured on Forbes, and also appeared on MSNBC (Your Business edition) where she spoke about expanding her business. Although she never thought she would be working in the education industry, she hopes with this platform she can help students get accepted into the school of their choice.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background and the start-up story behind The Edge in College Prep.
Jessica Brondo: If you told me in high school that I would be dealing with the SAT on a daily basis, I probably would have told you you were crazy. Like most high school students, I hated the SAT, and prepped tirelessly for it. Luckily I was eventually able to get a perfect score on the exam, so it was somewhat of a natural fit to do a bit of private tutoring while I was at Princeton. By my senior year, I was coming into NY on weekends to teach SAT classes for another company.
I actually turned down quite a few management consulting jobs to continue to work for that SAT prep company as a Director after graduating. I worked there for a year and then decided to start my own company, The Edge in College Prep. I embarked on a 4 month journey of writing the 560-page manual, The SAT/ACT Edge, and then all of a sudden things started to take off.
Q: What are some of the projects you are working on right now?
Jessica Brondo: Right now, I’m actually in the middle of totally revamping our website. Frontend. Backend. UI. You name it, it’s getting a major overhaul, which I’m really excited about. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback this past year from our users and can’t wait to unveil the new features and look/feel towards the end of 2012. I’m also working tirelessly to build the original algorithm for admitted.ly, which we’re hoping to launch in 2013.
Q: Do you or have you owned any other businesses in the past, if so what happen to them?
Jessica Brondo: The Edge was my first company and I started it just a year after graduating from Princeton. I’m in the process of founding my second company, Admitted.ly, an ed tech company focused on gamifying the college admissions process through Klout-like Admittability scores. Stay tuned!
Q: How many people are currently using this platform and how do you plan to keep growing?
Jessica Brondo: We have over 1000 students using the platform and we plan to quadruple that number this year through a strategic partnership with a company that will begin to sell The SAT/ACT Edge, our online course in over 1500 high schools throughout the country.
Q: Please share a few tips and advice for first time entrepreneurs.
Jessica Brondo: The biggest piece of advice I have is (in the words of Winston Churchill) “Never never never never give up!” If you believe in what you’re doing, just push on and DO IT! Especially as a young entrepreneur, confidence has been my key to success. I’ve never doubted my ability to accomplish any of my goals, and when there have been bumps in the road, I’ve always had the confidence to push through. The other thing that I think is really useful is to stay focused on your product/company rather than looking at all the things you’re competitors are doing. I totally think that it’s important to KNOW what they’re doing, but don’t spend too much time focusing on what they’re doing. Like in yoga when you focus on what’s going on on YOUR mat, do the same with your business.
Q: What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew before starting your company?
Jessica Brondo: I wish I had had the foresight to go online sooner than I did. I had the idea for our online SAT/ACT prep course back in 2007, but waited until 2010 to actually pursue it with a technical partner and wish I had started sooner.
Q: Starting out what the worst mistake you made as an entrepreneur, and what did you learn from it?
Jessica Brondo: Not trusting my gut. I remember hiring a marketing consultant to help me enter the Westchester market in NY for test prep back in 2008. He created a comprehensive marketing platform with train station ads, radio spot, newspaper ads, etc etc, and I KNEW that was the wrong way of approaching it. I KNEW in my gut that parents don’t decide about test prep from a radio ad, but I went along with it and spent tens of thousands of dollars on the campaign with little to no ROI. At the end of the day, I’m not a marketing expert, but I AM expert on my product, so it’s important to trust your instinct and speak up!
Q: What is one thing that you on a daily basis to grow as an entrepreneur?
Jessica Brondo: Read and network! I try to meet as many successful entrepreneurs I can to learn from their mistakes and their successes. I also love reading biographies of successful entrepreneurs from sources of inspiration.
Q: How is running a tech company different than what you thought it would be?
Jessica Brondo: It was a lot lonelier in the beginning than I thought. When you’re in product building mode, there’s really no meetings, no get-togethers. It’s just a race to build the MVP to the point where you’re ready to start doing the marketing/presenting/etc. I wish I had been more prepared for that phase of the company.
Q: What was the best entrepreneurial advice you have ever been given and by whom?
Jessica Brondo: Enjoy the Journey! No one said it specifically, but it’s definitely been a consistent message from a lot of people. And it’s totally true. There’s really no end goal because the startup world is definitely a long strange trip and you’ll never be sure where you’ll end up; you just have to enjoy the journey. When you stop doing that, then you just have to reassess and change it up.
Q: What 3 advice would you offer prospective founders about knowing when they have an idea worth making a leap for?
- If you can’t stop thinking about it—you’re dreaming about it, writing copious notes whenever you can about the idea
- When you start telling people about it and everyone (not just friends/family) thinks it’s a brilliant idea
- When you have the right team in place to make you’re dream a reality.
THAT’S WHEN YOU’RE READY!
Q: What is your definition of success?
Jessica Brondo: I think my definition of success is all about the pursuit of happiness. Success to me is waking up every morning excited about working. About having the time and means to pursue all of the non-work activities that make me truly happy (golf, travel, good food and great wine, yoga….) with the people who I love. And just having a joie de vivre
Q: What is your favorite success quote?
Jessica Brondo: “To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson