How failing the GMAT 4 times turned Elad Shoushan onto a winning business idea

Elad Shoushan

Elad Shoushan

By Tina Irgang

Elad Shoushan was playing basketball professionally in his native Israel when an injury forced him to switch tracks to a career in software engineering. He knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur and decided to pursue an MBA, but kept failing the GMAT. His struggle with standardized testing inspired him to create an app that turned test prep into a more personalized experience. Now a graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Shoushan is the CEO of Ready4, a company he believes can become a global go-to solution for learners.

You started out as a professional basketball player in Israel. Did your career as a professional athlete teach you anything that you’re still applying today?

Shoushan: I played basketball since I was five, all the way to age 22. The position that I played was point guard, so effectively I was the manager on the court, the eyes and the ears of the head coach. I was executing strategies, offensively and defensively, and we had to make real-time decisions under a lot of pressure. That’s still with me today as the CEO of a company, which means seeing the high-level picture strategically, but also being able to execute it all the way to the details and making sure you have a team that follows you and is successful in their position. So that experience on the court in basketball … has taught me, whatever you want to do or want to become, just try to be the best. … There’s a lot of work, persistence and perseverance associated with it. Today, in the business world, as well as in the past when I played basketball, the most talented, successful players are the ones who are working the hardest.

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A view of Ready4’s Boston offices

How did you get from playing basketball to becoming a software engineer?

Shoushan: Even as a kid, I always loved computers. I got my first computer when I was 13, for my Bar Mitzvah. I learned how to code when I was in high school, and then sort of kept my passion for the computer and software industry. But when I quit basketball — I was forced to because I had an injury — I decided I would try to find my passion in another thing that would satisfy me and where I could build a decent career in the world. I really loved computers and software and was a very analytical guy. … So I went to study computer science and engineering in Israel, and after that, I got hired by GE Healthcare and started my career as a software engineer.

How did you hit on the idea to launch an app for test prep?

Shoushan: So the company was founded out of my personal experience. In my second and third year at GE Healthcare, I decided that I wanted to become an entrepreneur. I thought I was ready in terms of understanding how to build a large-scale product, how to build technology, but I was always missing the business side. … So the second year [at GE], I decided to take the GMAT exam so I could apply to business schools in the U.S. I struggled with the GMAT and took it multiple times. At that point, when I was a full-time employee at GE, I didn’t have a lot of extra time and wanted to have quick access to a great solution on my phone to study on the go. That’s when I started. I thought I had a good idea, and I just decided to go and build it for myself, and that was the beginning of the company. … I wrote the code for the first app and it was a lot of fun.

Once you actually got going with your business, why was Boston a good place to do that?

Shoushan: The Boston area is a great place for education. There are many universities around, and it’s a very diverse community. … I

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The Ready4 team celebrates 1 million downloads.

thought that the best place to build an education technology company was the Boston area. The second [reason was that] two events happened at the same time: The company got started and I got accepted to MIT Sloan. I felt very comfortable on the technology side, but I lacked the experience on the business side, and I think that MIT Sloan is a phenomenal program for that. I spent two years there to complete my MBA, which focused mainly on entrepreneurship and innovation. I applied my company to many of the courses. Sloan is good about allowing students to bring in outside companies they’re working on and apply them to courses. … [For example,] when I took s a strategy course, I did the strategy for the company. It was really two years of iterations, of applying really high-level learning and academics and the latest research to the company.

In addition to Boston, Ready4 also has a location in Israel. How do you keep employees at your two offices connected?

Shoushan: First of all, there is a very strong leadership team in both sites that is communicating on a daily basis. I’m heading the company from here, but we have a very talented leader in Israel, our CTO, who manages the entire site. We trust each other and we talk on a daily basis. As leaders in the company, and especially because of all the time differences between the two countries, we have only four days of overlap. On Fridays, we work and Israelis don’t, and on Sunday they work and we don’t. But our leadership team takes a lot of effort to make sure we make the best use of that. Usually, on Sunday morning, I make myself available to the Israel team. The CTO makes himself available on Friday morning. … Once in a while, we also do an all-hands conference meeting between the two teams to talk about what we’ve achieved, what is our status and where we’re going.

What’s been the most challenging part of running a startup?

LTG BostonShoushan: So much stuff. I would say that it depends on the phase, but if I would take an example from the last few months, I would say it’s really to find the right people who are committed to the company, the product and the vision, and who have a good attitude. … But now, we have a phenomenal team on both sides of the ocean. The American team is really good — we’ve found ourselves the right people to achieve our mission. And on the Israeli side, there’s a lot of excitement, a lot of great engineering talent that wants to do something good in the world and help students achieve their educational training.

What are your plans for the future of Ready4?

Shoushan: We believe that Ready4 is going to become the leading company in mobile learning, basically in any area in the world. We have developed a sophisticated, advanced mobile learning tool that can be applied to everything you think you might want to study. And afterwards, we will help students get connected to an opportunity based on their learning experience. If we help students study for the GMAT, we help them later get connected to the MBA program they want to go to. We want to help them write their application and really be part of their life as lifelong learners on mobile. So starting from the app for the PSAT, all the way through graduate-level exams and later on as adults for certificate programs, we want to be the go-to program in mobile that people come to to study something. That’s where I see the biggest opportunity for the company. We’re definitely on the way to achieving that. Every app we’ve launched has been more successful than the previous one, in terms of number of users, in terms of engagement and in terms of revenue.

About Human Element:

Human Element is a regular, web-exclusive column that aims to get to know the leaders behind great companies. Rather than talking about business models and growth strategies, CEOs open up about what motivates and guides them in their professional and personal lives. To be considered for The Human Element, email ahurst@smartceo.com.