Eric Allen co-founded Admit Advantage, an admissions consulting company and Admit.me, a social network for college admissions. His previous commercial experience includes working for GE Capital, where he was a Senior Vice President. Eric also worked in consulting at Accenture, and co-founded and successfully sold a pharmaceutical software company, New World Science & Technology, Inc.
Eric received his Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Brown University and his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated with honors and was a Robert Toigo fellow.
At Wharton, Eric was a student admissions officer, where he reviewed applications of prospective MBA students. In addition to his role in admissions, Eric was a leadership fellow and held leadership roles in several on-campus clubs. Eric is a former alumni interviewer for The Wharton School and Brown University.
In this interview, Eric shares about this new social platform that connects mentors and students for free. He also talks a bit about his mission to help the masses get admitted to their favorite schools, as well as his largest business mistake and how we can avoid it.
His advice for entrepreneurs starting a business in Washington:
Washington is a great place to start a business. There are a lot of startup resources in the area and a growing financial support system. If you’re starting a business here, know your audience.
How did you get the idea for Admit.me? Is there something you wanted to do different or better than your competitors?
We built an admissions consulting business, Admit Advantage, helping our clients with the application process for highly competitive high schools, colleges and grad schools around the world. As we built the business, we realized that many more people needed our services than could afford it, so we had to think of a way to scale our offering for free. My co-founder, Kofi, actually came up with the concept of Admit.me and I like to think I made it better. LOL!
What makes Admit.me unique from others? How did you find your competitive advantage?
Our trained admissions staff from top global schools provides customized profile feedback and answers questions for free. No one else does that. Some do it for free, but no one knows the quality of the advice. Others provide quality service (like Admit Advantage), but it’s at a significant cost.
We’ve been able to leverage the power of the social network and our for-profit model to bring these resources to the masses.
What are your visions for your business? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?
We want to be the social network for school admissions from high school through graduate school. We will leverage technology to further simplify the admissions process, take advantage of our business model to entice quality advisors to the platform, and provide an opportunity for schools and other admissions partners to engage with prospective students all in one free social platform.
What attitude/habits helped make you successful while starting Admit.me?
Relentless belief in the mission that we can level the college admissions playing field. That’s it.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape Admit.me?
I think it takes a village. My parents were entrepreneurs, so they really gave me the “entrepreneurial bug” and continue to serve as a source of inspiration and advice. My wife is a former guidance counselor and often has brilliant suggestions for the company. Frank Bonsal at the Towson Incubator and Aaron Walker from Camelback Ventures have served as sounding boards throughout the process.
What was your biggest business mistake and how did you come out stronger at the end of the day?
We built too many features of Admit.me too fast. We should’ve built a more basic product, gotten feedback and made improvements after that. It left us in a more challenging situation, but we learned from it. It seems obvious and easy to execute, but it actually takes quite a bit of discipline because you are constantly comparing your product to more established products from more established companies. Don’t do that.
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?
Failure of losing. When I get down, I talk to applicants or visit schools and try to give back. When you see the impact you're making, you can’t help but keep fighting. #instantmotivation
How do you balance life and work to remain connected and available for your loved ones?
Understand that there is no balance—you will be constantly out of balance, but you need to be aware of when things swing too far in one direction. I am constantly battling family, work, and health and I try to be very aware of where I am in the moment. Awareness is very important.
You need to be honest with your loved ones and vice versa. My wife (and children) is very good about telling me when I’m failing at home and it pushes me to take a step back. My body tells me when I’m pushing a bit too hard or need to reset to a more active lifestyle.
Finally, be present in whatever you’re doing. If it’s family or personal time, try to shut things down for that short period of time, otherwise, it’s somewhat of a waste. I don’t look at my phone in the morning until I’ve gone through my routine including helping with my kids, working out, and/or prayer. It keeps me sane.
We strongly believe in reading. Do you have a book that you highly recommended to Startup Savant readers?
The Bible. Seriously, this process is challenging on so many levels, I wouldn't be able to make it through without a strong faith and regular bible reading.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in Washington? Where should they start?
Washington is a great place to start a business. There are a lot of startup resources in the area and a growing financial support system. If you’re starting a business here, know your audience. This isn't Silicon Valley, so the type of investment deals being done here tend to be a little different.
Stay in your job as long as you can and leverage startup resources (i.e. incubators) to keep overhead low while you’re building the company. Finally, spend the most time testing your business model (not developing product). If the offering is compelling, people will by a sub-par product even if things are done manually on the back-end.