Editor’s Note: In honor of 10 years of the IDS program at the iSchool, Alexandra Archambault will be leading you through a 10-episode podcast series. Each episode highlights a different successful startup company from the program.
Talking to Brandon Eng of ExPrep
Alexandra: This week I called up Brandon Eng ’15 to learn more about his company ExPrep, here’s what he had to say:
Brandon: ExPrep is an interactive Microsoft Excel training application. Basically it’s an app that teaches people how to use Microsoft Excel. Most recently, we just realized a new product that automates the grading and reporting for any professors that use Excel as a tool for their classes. For that piece there, what we do is we work with a lot of different type of professors mostly from business schools. Whether it be accounting or finance, or any others that use Excel just as a tool for their content. We automate any of their grading or reporting. We do Excel training but now we also have an automated grading report platform as well.
Solving His Own Problem
Alexandra: Like many good ideas, Brandon said the idea for ExPrep came about when he was looking for a product that did not exist.
Brandon: This actually came about when I was at Syracuse University at the Whitman School of Management. I was an Entrepreneurship and Marketing major. At the time and now at Whitman, you’re using Excel for almost every class. But even back when I was there, they were using it a ton.
At the time they didn’t have a required Excel training program. Right now Whitman has a required Excel training program that they put all the freshman through. During my time, they didn’t.
So one thing I realized was that myself and my peers were not very good at Excel. We constantly heard from our professors and others as well that it was one of the most important skills you needed to learn by the time you graduate from college.
No matter what you’re doing, those skill sets are going to be relevant to anything you do after you graduate. After I realized that everyone wasn’t so great at Excel, we kind of were looking into different options into how to get better, but there wasn’t really anything good. So we created our own way in teaching students Excel and that’s how ExPrep came to be.
A Whitman Entrepreneur
Alexandra: Brandon was a student at Whitman but found his way to the Syracuse Student Sandbox during his senior year due to the connections with other student entrepreneurs on campus. He said after working on the idea at school, he and his partner were able to launch the company in the middle of 2015. Today they are still growing.
Brandon: There’s about 4 or 5 of us. Most of us work remote but we still have office space up in the Syracuse area. Our company works with a lot of different universities and colleges, as well as high schools.
We kind of work around the entire country in terms of universities and colleges. We have clients out in California, to clients here in New York, and clients down South. We’re kind of all around, and really have been trying to expand our foot print.
In regards to my area, that usually changes depending on what’s needed to get done. Right now, usually end of August, September, and October is a really busy time for us. Mostly because universities, colleges, and high schools start right around then.
For us, a lot of that time is spent integrating our software or getting people set up. We work with thousands of students and they may need help getting set up, the instructors are usually ok though. A lot of time is spent there, and another really busy time for us is the spring semester.
It just comes back to taking care of our clients, current and new, making sure everything is set up, and no one is having any issues. One of our products is a platform our clients will use to integrate their own content. So we assist the professors and instructors to make sure that they have no problems.
Loving What You Do Doesn’t Mean It’s Easy
Alexandra: When it comes to being an entrepreneur, Brandon said that there was no way he would trade, but that doesn’t exactly mean it was easy.
Brandon: Definitely not an easy ride. As I mentioned, we didn’t even launch until mid-2016. Once I graduated, kind of going from graduating right to ExPrep full time was a really tough decision. Especially when you have a ton of job offers and thinking “I could be doing this and making a ton of money, or I could be doing this and be making no money.” That was definitely a really tough decision. Especially when you start to launch and getting off the ground, that can be really tough. You’re working a crazy amount of hours as an investment so you can see the company succeed. Not really knowing what’s going to happen the next day.
Honestly, it’s been an awesome journey.You learn more than you ever would in a corporate world. I love the entrepreneurship lifestyle (just ask John Liddy!). I went through a whole period where I slept on the couch for a year, only eating ramen noodles and pasta every day. That was really tough because it was right after I graduated and my cofounder was still at Syracuse, so I stayed in Syracuse for a year. I basically just slept on his couch and just worked 7 days a week for an entire year.
Looking back on it, seeing where we started to where we are now, we’ve just learned so much. I’ve had a great time doing it and a lot of fun. But there are definitely a lot of challenges. If you’ve only heard this once you’ll definitely hear this more: entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. You’re constantly on the ups and downs. Persevering through that is definitely a struggle, but once again, you learn so much – it’s something I would never change.
Brandon’s Advice for Young Entrepreneurs
Alexandra: And of course, I wanted to know what Brandon’s advice was for other entrepreneurs. For him, it’s all about the people he’s surrounded himself with.
Brandon: Out of the things I’ve learned, the most important things are building a really strong team, and having a lot of support. Having a really good team makes your life so much easier. As an entrepreneur, you’re wearing so many hats. So having people that are smarter than you and are able to work really well together are super important.
I also say having a strong support system because no matter what you do or what business you’re in, it can be really tough. Having that really strong support system can really help you can through some of the rough times and it’s really helpful. Entrepreneurship may not be physically draining, but it is mentally draining.