Today is my last day at the startup I created.
Nine years ago this month, I was in my dorm room at Stanford with a laptop on my lap and a credit card in my hand. I was about to make a $4 purchase for a domain name that would change my life: beatthegmat.com.
At the time, I had no intention of building Beat The GMAT into a business. All I wanted to do was blog about my experiences studying for the GMAT test as a broke college student.
That blog would later turn into a discussion forum, then a niche MBA news network, then an online community, then a social media platform, then a recruiting platform for MBA service companies and MBA institutions, then a highly profitable bootstrapped business, then an acquisition by an incredible education company.
It was the best $4 I’ve ever spent.
When I told friends this week that I would be leaving my startup after 9 years, they asked whether it is a bittersweet feeling. It doesn’t feel bittersweet at all. The business, the community, and our clients are all in great shape. It was simply time for me to let go and move on.
Rather, the primary feeling I have right now is gratitude.
I’m grateful to have worked on a project with a deep social stewardship mission, helping millions of people achieve their dreams with higher education;
I’m grateful to have collaborated with amazing team members who sacrificed blood (literally), sweat, and tears to make this venture succeed;
I’m grateful that Beat The GMAT could find a home with such an amazing parent company, who has done so much to further invest in the growth and potential of my startup;
And, I’m most grateful that I could share this journey with my wife, who quit her job and joined my startup right after our honeymoon.
Now that I am at the end of the road, I find myself reflecting a lot on Beat The GMAT’s long history. Here are a few moments that come to mind:
Launching Beat The GMAT from my dorm room (2005)
In stereotypical Silicon Valley fashion, Beat The GMAT started in a dorm room. Here’s the actual picture of my desk at Roble Hall at Stanford University where I launched the blog. As you can see, I had laughable interior decorating sense back then.
Forming as an LLC (2007)
David Park (at the time my boss at Intuit) and I became business partners and officially formed a corporate entity around Beat The GMAT. To celebrate, we took our wives out to dinner at Alexander’s Steakhouse. The bill was $1,500.
Getting the first paycheck (2007)
Beat The GMAT was profitable from day one because the software running it was free and the server costs were practically zero. We were displaying Google Ads, which paid us $100/month to cover expenses. But in September 2007, we struck our first marketing partnership with a major company in our industry. Our first check was for $2,228.46. I thought it was a fortune.
Getting acquired (2012)
After bootstrapping for seven years we found a great company, Hobsons, who believed in our vision and made us an offer that we couldn’t refuse. Hobsons has been a wonderful fit for Beat The GMAT and the business is still thriving there.
Moving out of our office (2013)
For three and a half years, Beat The GMAT had an office space above a Chipotle and a Peet’s coffee house. The place smelled like shit, but I miss it every day.
Receiving our escrow payment (2014)
When you sell your company, a portion of your payout is held in escrow as a contingency in case something bad happens post-deal. Beat The GMAT’s integration into Hobsons was executed flawlessly and we received our full escrow payment. To celebrate, the Beat The GMAT team got together one last time at Alexander’s Steakhouse. The bill was far more reasonable this time.
Looking forward to the future
Now that I am done with my startup, I look forward to enjoying life after liquidity and traveling around the world with my wife for a while. I’ll likely start considering new projects this Fall.
I’d like to extend a huge thank you to the Beat The GMAT community members, fellow team members, advisors, and clients for giving me 9 years of joy. This experience has changed my life and I’ll forever remain grateful.
To my readers thinking about starting their own venture, I hope you can take heart in my story. I have no tech skills (Sociology major) and never took funding, yet I was still able to start, run, scale, and sell a startup. If I can do it, so can you.