Emrecan Dogan is founder and CEO of ScoreBeyond, an app that helps students prepare for standardized tests. While many software-based learning tools aim to automate the process, ScoreBeyond also helps connect students to live tutors. The company is venture backed and has 15 full-time employees. ScoreBeyond serves one-third of the 3 million students who currently take the SAT and ACT in the United States each year. In time, Dogan, who received his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2010, plans to expand beyond these two tests. He talks with us today about living in the modern-day Renaissance, getting new ideas from art museums, and appreciating the gift of freedom inherent in entrepreneurship.
In 10 words or fewer, what is the big idea behind your business?
Democratizing one-to-one learning and making it 10 times better via mobile.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A professor of organizational behavior at Stanford said, “You don’t change the world by taking a nap.” Even with a strong sense of purpose, a lot of people do not execute because they are waiting for the right time or a grand plan. It’s a very powerful idea. It encourages you to get up and start.
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?
Focus is hard to master but helps you achieve so much more in a shorter timeframe. It goes for relationship building as well as day-to-day business. When I was fundraising, a fourth investor verbally agreed to invest. It would have given us the final amount we set out to raise. All I needed to do was send him the final documents and wire details for the bank. Instead, I was feeling good about the interest we were getting and decided to raise my target and reach out to five new investors. A week went by and the fourth investor emailed me to say he found something else and he was bailing out.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?
Every success story seems very straightforward, as if it was an overnight result. But most success stories are the product of constant reiteration and change and reflection on the part of the founders. I have so many ups and downs every day. I try to teach myself to overwhelmingly overplay the positive things and underplay the negative things. We need to rewire our brains to do this.
If there was one thing that has enabled you to be successful as an entrepreneur, what is it?
Resilience and willpower. I am from a small town in Turkey. I had several health weaknesses. I was not able to run because I had some breathing issues. Within the first few weeks of being away at college, I had my first visit to urgent care. My family was very far away, and I needed to deal with it alone. It turned out not to be as big a deal as I thought. Those types of situations help you build confidence.
What inspires you? How do you come up with your best ideas?
A few years ago I went through a period when I could not produce any ideas. My wife suggested I get out and go to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. The art space was so stimulating, and I had a rush of ideas. I ended up sitting in the cafe for the rest of the day and wrote pages and pages of designs. I go there whenever I have a challenge.
What is your greatest achievement?
My wife and I are living halfway around the world from our hometown in an area that I believe people in the future will reference like Florence during the Renaissance. I am blessed with the opportunity to build my company from scratch in a country where we are not citizens. I don’t have a huge bank account, and my company is not worth billions of dollars, but I have many friends and the freedom to pursue what I want. It seems like a dream.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
Education is the key to social mobility — even better than giving them money. If we do our job right, we can provide the highest quality education to anyone in the world in the cheapest way possible.
Why are you an entrepreneur?
I love the stress and the infinite freedom in decision-making.
What was your first paying job?
When I was in the fifth grade, all the girls I knew collected paper napkins with designs on them. I had two aunts living in Germany, and I paid them $2 for each pack of 100 napkins with German stamps on them that I would sell to the girls in my class.
What is the best business book you have read?
Richard Branson’s Losing My Virginity.
What businessperson do you most admire?
Richard Branson. He seems to have so much fun with the ups and downs of business.
What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?
The 10 close friends my wife and I made there, as well as the other 800 we don’t see every year but feel we can reach out to at any time if we ever needed them.
What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?
Tesla’s battery technology.