Elad Shoushan is the Founder & CEO of Ready4. Elad brought his vision of mobile learning to life while balancing the demands of starting a company with the coursework of MIT Sloan School of Management. This same grit drove his success as a standout basketball player in his native country of Israel, where he played professionally.
Before he got bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, Elad spent 5 years as an engineer and manager for leading high-tech companies such as GE and Intel. Elad holds an MBA from MIT Sloan, a BSc in Information Systems Engineering from the Technion, and is a passionate snowboarder.
In this interview, Elad shares his early frustrations in passing GMAT's readiness test and what made him decide to build a platform that could prepare students in qualifying tests and even succeed at life after school. He admits he failed many times but believes that success comes from a journey of failures.
His advice for entrepreneurs starting a business in Massachusetts:
Talk with as many people as you can to validate that your idea solves a true pain-point and that the market for your idea has room for growth. Get yourself out there, pitch your idea, share your idea with as many people as you can.
What ignited the spark in you to start a business? Where did the idea for Ready4 come from?
The catalyst for creating Ready4 GMAT was my weak performance on the GMAT the first 4 times I took the test. Even though I spent money on expensive guides and courses, my GMAT score didn’t improve. It became clear to me that there was a major gap in the test prep industry for a solution that provides students with an adaptive, convenient, and entirely mobile study experience.
In 2012, I applied to MIT Sloan, quit my job at General Electric, and spent six months coding a test prep app that would eventually become Ready4 GMAT. The first GMAT app went live in the Apple App Store during my first day at Sloan, and has since evolved into Ready4, a leading mobile education company with cutting-edge learning technology packaged in mobile apps for the GMAT, GRE, SAT, ACT, PSAT, and MCAT.
In your experience, what's the best way to find your ideal customer? Are there any mistakes that our readers can learn from?
We find our ideal customers primarily through the iOS and Android app stores. Building a best-in-class mobile app brings customers directly to us because a great product leads to high rankings, positive reviews, long session times, and word of mouth advertising from existing users. You can’t find good customers without a great product.
A major pitfall of startups and larger companies alike is investing too heavily in paid advertising/acquisition efforts without building a product or service that solves a huge pain point. Paid acquisition offers a short-term solution to increase your user base, but it typically results in low engagement levels from users and lower overall conversion rate. Because of this, we work relentlessly to ensure that the product fits everyone’s needs.
As a business owner, what's your greatest fear and how do you keep it under control or harness it?
My greatest fear is disappointing the people that trust me to lead, i.e. everyone involved in the company, including employees, investors, board members, and advisors. I channel this fear into my motivation to work hard, but I also do my best to maintain a positive outlook.
Ultimately, I want everyone to do their best to build a great company. Even if things don’t always go as planned, we can learn from our mistakes and move forward to improve upon ourselves.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape Ready4?
I cannot name one person, as there were many along the way. Entrepreneurship is so tough that it can’t be done by one person alone. I’ve received support from many amazing people who've influenced me in one way or another. Roi Kraus, CTO of Ready4, has helped me in the creation of the apps, my advisors have given me great advice as a startup CEO, and my wife has offered me reassurance whenever I needed it (I love you, Shelly!).
Have you faced any failures with Ready4? How did you overcome it?
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve failed many times with Ready4, but the secret of success is that it comes from a journey of failures. The best entrepreneurs are the ones who fail fast and learn fast. One aspect that has been a constant challenge in my journey is hiring. Each individual plays a critical role in a startup, so hiring must be done quickly and strategically.
In the past, we’ve hired people in key roles who didn’t fully understand our vision, didn’t have the necessary skills to get the job done, or were not a good cultural fit. I’ve learned that I hire by impulse and make the mistake of not thoughtfully examining the fit of our candidates.
To combat this issue, I’ve completely revamped our hiring strategy by creating standards that involve key stakeholders in the interview process. I’ve also strategically mapped out hiring decisions for both short and long-term needs, while focusing on past performance metrics.
What do you consider the biggest milestone that you've hit with your business? What was the biggest thing you did to get there?
In 2016, surpassed a million downloads of our test prep apps. This milestone paved the way for rebranding our company from LTG Exam Prep Platform to Ready4. It’s not just a new name but also a new experience for our users—moving them beyond test prep to readiness for school and life beyond school.
Ready4 works with universities and other partners to offer students relevant opportunities to give them an edge over their competition.
How do you stay focused on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a key motivator that keeps you going and fighting the good fight?
I’ve eliminated many distractions to allow me to focus on the two things that matter the most in this phase of my life – the company and my family. For example: even though I love basketball, I decided to eliminate it completely from my life to avoid injuries that can prevent me from being available for the company.
In the past, I used to “over-work” and spend time on things that didn’t matter. Nowadays, I know when my body needs time off, when I need to go to run and clear my head, and how to balance my commitments.
I want my family - my wife, my son, my relatives - to be proud and to see me succeed. I also don’t want students to go through what I did to get into business school. I want to provide them access to the tools that will help them achieve their educational dreams. It’s amazing that over quarter of a million students use our apps monthly.
Our mobile learning apps have helped over 1.2 million students reach the scores they need to get into the schools they desire. My vision is to democratize learning by allowing everyone to have access to our best-in-class mobile learning solutions, regardless of geographic location, economic situation, or learning style.
What was the best piece of advice you've ever gotten from another business owner or someone you admired?
One of my good friends who is also a professor gave me this advice: It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
What are your visions for your business? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?
Ready4 seeks to create a world in which every student develops the skills, confidence, and preparation they need to master all of life’s tests while being connected to opportunities based on big data analytics.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in Massachusetts who have a business idea but don’t know where to get started?
Talk with as many people as you can to validate that your idea solves a true pain point and that the market for your idea has room for growth. There are numerous free entrepreneurship events, hackathons, and meetups in Massachusetts.
Get yourself out there, pitch your idea, share your idea with as many people as you can, and get feedback early on. This will help you form your idea, revise your story and vision, and be 100% sure of your dream before you embark on the difficult, but rewarding, path of starting your own company.