Interview: Bhavin Parikh, MBA ’10, CEO and Founder, Magoosh

Parikh, MBA ’10, is CEO and Founder of Magoosh, an online education startup company creating web and mobile apps to help students prepare for standardized tests, such as the GRE and GMAT.

Bhavin Parikh, MBA ’10, (left) chats with a Magoosh team member

A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Parikh is on a mission to make high quality educational material accessible to all, and to change the way people learn.

Parikh has also made the Berkeley Founders’ Pledge, joining a community of startup executives who have tapped into Cal’s vast ecosystem of resources and pledged to support the University as their ventures mature.

Q. What have you carried from your Berkeley experience to your work in innovation/entrepreneurship?

My experience at Berkeley-Haas was incredible. I came away from it with a ton of new skills, from understanding market research to developing systems for organizational behavior and structure. However, the one thing I will continue to carry forward is defining and adhering to core values. Haas has 4 core values: confidence without attitude, question the status quo, beyond yourself, and student always. I didn’t fully appreciate these values until I graduated and began working on Magoosh full-time. I then realized that values can be a guiding compass. Well-defined values can help you choose between two seemingly good options. They equally define what you are and what you aren’t. We’ve adopted ten values at Magoosh that help our team make daily decisions aligned with our culture. My personal favorite is Communication > Efficiency, and you can see all of our core values here.

Q. Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently at Cal, or what programs, activities, etc. would you have taken advantage of to prepare for your career in innovation?

I made good use of the curriculum and resources at Cal while I was a student. I took a number of entrepreneurship classes. I also used Magoosh for group projects in other classes such as market research. I even took independent studies so I could get credit for working on the business. However, that doesn’t mean I did everything right — I didn’t. I was too heads down, trying to build the business. I later learned that building relationships with potential partners, investors, and really anyone that could be helpful is critical. I should have spent more time telling others about Magoosh and keeping them updated with a bi-monthly newsletter. Luckily, I had an amazing co-founder, Hansoo Lee, who used every opportunity he had to tell others about Magoosh. When we ultimately decided to raise money, the relationships he had built with a number of investors over the previous 2 years helped us close the round fairly quickly. My advice to others: find the balance between being heads down and heads up, and it’s never too early to start telling others about your company.

Q. Magoosh is a company that helps people prepare for the biggest exams in their lives. What have you learned about learning in building your product?

When we started Magoosh, we had a lot of preconceived notions about our customers. For instance, we thought they’d want to learn from each other (people-powered test prep). We were dead wrong. We’ve learned the following:

  • Students want to learn from experts. They want an authority on the topic to teach them not another student who is also studying for the exam.
  • Test prep is emotional. These are high-stakes tests that can change the trajectory of someone’s career. That means we not only need to teach, but we also need to provide emotional support.
  • Creating joy can be a differentiator. Our tagline is “Prep smart, go far. Enjoy the ride.” Students traditionally view test prep as a necessarily evil; we’ve been able to break into the market by crafting an enjoyable experience. In fact, some students continue using our products even after they’ve taken the test.
  • Students come from all walks life. We have students from over 150 countries, from various socioeconomic backgrounds, with different levels of English proficiency, and with different access to the internet. Our students also have different goals and aspirations: some want a perfect GMAT score for a top MBA program and others need a 50th percentile GRE score for a Master’s program. We’ve learned that anyone can be a student and we need to create a system that can support all of these students if we truly want to be accessible. We’re a constant work in progress.

Q. You have chosen to make the Berkeley Founders’ Pledge. What inspired you to do that?

Giving back to Berkeley was a no-brainer. Magoosh wouldn’t be where it is today without the support and infrastructure Berkeley provided. We’ve benefited from the relationships, the learnings, and more. In addition, I want to inspire and help future entrepreneurs at Berkeley, and we’re doing this through the UC Berkeley-administered Hansoo Lee Fellowship. We’ve kept Magoosh in Berkeley, and I plan to live here for quite some time. I’d love to see Berkeley thrive. Supporting the university is one of the best ways to do that.