Want to Build a Great Culture? Start By Leaving Your Ego at the Door

As a leader, you need to make dozens of decisions a day, inspire confidence in your team, and always be — or seem — right. Is it ever possible to put aside your ego?

The last part is incredibly important. When you’re building a startup, what matters is achieving results: Creating great products, providing great service, generating sales and revenue and results. That’s what matters.

At LogoMix, we went from $0 to $15 million in revenue and eventually sold to a Fortune 1000 company. Our egos didn’t matter. My ego definitely didn’t matter. What mattered, what we celebrated, were results.

So how do you keep the focus on the mission and on company goals? The process starts with you: the leader of the company.

An employee may disagree with you. An employee may say they would have done something differently. An employee may even talk down to you, even though you’re the CEO.

As a founder, those moments are never fun. You have a choice: You can get defensive, snap back, or rest on your laurels as the founder.

Or you can take a step back, listen, think about what you hear, and create a culture where your team can share their feelings with you. Even if their feelings hurt your feelings.

Why swallowing your pride is crucially important

Do that and you can accomplish a lot more than you might think. If you can make sure your team feels free to challenge and even criticize you — to your face — you’ll naturally create a culture where employees feel free to suggest new ideas and different ways of doing things.

They’ll feel comfortable raising issues, giving feedback, and proposing changes. After all, when people feel comfortable saying something negative to the person in charge, they will definitely feel comfortable saying something they think will generate a positive outcome for the company.

That’s why swallowing your pride is so important. You build better and more trusting relationships with your team, and an environment where the best ideas win. Where the best results win. Where taking the right steps, working on the right projects, and focusing on outcomes — not egos or agendas — wins.

Don’t stop there. Help your employees learn to check their own egos at the door. Too many organizations — or people in organizations — lose focus on the mission and how to best work together to achieve that mission by letting their egos get involved. When that happens, it’s your job to help them circle back to the real goal you’re trying to achieve.

How to encourage the same behavior in every leader

Too many managers and supervisors also forget to check their egos at the door. Instead of rolling over a junior employee who criticizes a decision and putting him in his place, help them understand how to talk through the issue without letting their egos get the best of them.

The best way to do that? Share a few stories of times when you’ve been criticized and handled it poorly. Explain what happened. Explain how your ego kept you from handling the situation the best way it could be handled. Show a little vulnerability. Be the cautionary tale.

The supervisor or manager will appreciate your honesty, because we typically learn best from stories, and he or she will definitely remember the takeaway. The goal is to walk the fine line between maintaining yourself as a great leader and maintaining a healthy ego without letting your ego enter into the way you interact with and lead people.

Accept criticism with grace, let the best ideas win (even if they aren’t your ideas), and set an example for how other leaders in the company should act. If you do those things, your team will stay focused on results.

Which, at any company, are what truly matter.

This Shark Tank Startup Wants to Help You Crush the GMAT and Get Into a Top B-School

I checked in with Shaan to find out how he’s expanded his company — and what happens when your startup partners with Mark Cuban. 

Adam Grant recently said, “Those who can, don’t teach.” Yet clearly that’s not the case for you.

Prep Expert is a test-prep company I started in college after I raised my own SAT score from average to perfect.

My perfect SAT score changed my life. I was accepted into elite universities, won a half million dollars in scholarships, and even got the meet the President of the United States!

The goal was — and is — to help other students change their lives by improving their own test scores. After closing a deal with Mark Cuban on Shark Tank we have helped tens of thousands of students do exactly that: Improve their SAT and ACT scores and gain admission into the nation’s top universities… and many earn scholarships as well.  

So why a GMAT course? That’s a much smaller market.

Just like I launched an SAT course after my experience raising my own SAT score, I decided to launch a GMAT course after raising my own GMAT score 100 points.

Although I didn’t get a perfect GMAT score, my 98th percentile score helped me gain admission to the Yale School of Management, with scholarships. So I want to help other graduate business school hopefuls achieve their own MBA dreams.  

Let’s take a step back. Is going to business school worth it, especially for entrepreneurs? 

There is definitely a cost to going to business school. Not only is graduate business school tuition at at an all-time high, the opportunity cost of going to business school should also be calculated before any potential applicant considers going for an MBA.

I get that. But what about for entrepreneurs? 

I know: Every internet marketer says you don’t have to go to business school in order to become a successful entrepreneur.

While that is true, business school does help. As an entrepreneur who went to business school, I found business school offered three main advantages. First, the formal business education of operations, finance, economics, marketing, accounting and management helped me transform Prep Expert from an unorganized small business into one of the top test prep providers in the country — and into a company a guy like Mark Cuban wanted to invest in. Two, the network of like-minded entrepreneurs and mentors that business school offers is unmatched.

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And three, graduate business school can serve as a great launchpad to work on any business, with excellent advisors and feedback to help take your business to the next level.   

So let’s talk about the GMAT, a test I plan to never take. How similar is the GMAT to the SAT?

The SAT and GMAT are so similar that I used many of the SAT strategies I developed for Prep Expert to crush the GMAT. Unlike content-based exams like the ACT or MCAT, the SAT and GMAT are problem-solving based exams, and that allows students to use critical thinking to arrive at the correct answer.

What does that look like in practice?

Let’s start with the GMAT Quantitative section. It essentially tests math questions.

One GMAT Quant strategy we teach at Prep Expert is “Substitute Abstracts with Tangibles” or “SAT”. Using this strategy, we can avoid doing any algebra at all on many GMAT algebra problems. You simply plug in a tangible number (such as 2) for an abstract variable (such as x). Then, you determine which answer choice matches your tangible answer. 

Here’s an example. Imagine you’re given this question:

The expression (3x+2)/(x-4) is equivalent to which of the following?

A. (3+2)/(-4)

B. (3) – (2/4)

C. (3) + (2)/(x-4)

D. (3) + (14)/(x-4)

How can we solve this problem without using any algebra?

Start by picking a tangible number for x. You can pick any number you want because the whole point of algebra is to create expressions that are valid for all numbers. I like to start by making x equal 2 because it’s an easy number to work with.

So what happens to the original expression when x = 2?

(3x+2)/(x-4)

(3(2)+2)/((2)-4)

(6+2)/(-2)

Okay, so now we know that the original expression is equal to -4 when x is equal to 2. The next step is simply to find the answer choice that also equals -4 when x is equal to 2.

A. (3+2)/(-4), (5)/(-4), -1.25

B. (3) – (2/4), (3) – (½), 2.5

C. (3) + (2)/(x-4), (3) + (2)/(2-4), 2

D. (3) + (14)/(x-4), (3) + (14)/(2-4), -4

There you go! D is equal to -4 when x is equal to 2. So D is the answer.

What looks like a really complex problem becomes simple once you plug in x = 2.

Substitute Abstracts with Tangibles can be used on all kinds of problems beyond just algebra. And it works extremely well on the GMAT because with all the stress on test day, it’s great to have a simple strategy you can use when your brain can’t do the complex algebra, even if you normally know how to do the algebra. 

We train students in our Prep Expert GMAT Courses to think in terms of tangible numbers rather than abstract algebra, and their GMAT Quant scores skyrocket.

Even though math is not my friend, I get that. What about the Verbal section?

The GMAT Verbal section essentially tests reading. One GMAT Verbal strategy that will unlock this section for you is called “Build (Your) Own Simple Solution” or “BOSS”. BOSS will not only help you answer questions more accurately, but it will also save you a tremendous amount of time on the GMAT Verbal section, which is the section that many students struggle to finish on time.

When I took the GMAT, I always scored lowest on Verbal. I got a lot of questions wrong and failed to finish on time. Once I started using BOSS, I got a near-perfect GMAT Verbal score.

Build (Your) Own Simple Solution means writing down your answer to a verbal question before you look at the answer choices given to you by the GMAT. It’s a powerful technique because it ensures you won’t get distracted by the enticing — and incorrect — answer choices the GMAT test question writers use to try to trick you.

Think about it this way: There are five answer choices for every multiple-choice GMAT problem, and four out of those five answer choices are incorrect. That means every answer choice on the GMAT has an 80% chance of being wrong. If you believe a GMAT answer choice is correct then you are probably wrong, just based on statistics. 

The problem is worse on the GMAT Verbal section because most of the answer choices sound right. The only way you can eliminate the wrong ones is to have an idea of what the correct answer should be. You can do this by creating your own answer before looking at the distracting answer choices. By using BOSS you essentially create a picture of the right answer so you can select the answer choice that is most similar to your solution. 

Always write your BOSS solution in the scratch booklet. And keep in mind it doesn’t need to be long or complex. Your BOSS solution can be as simple as “good” or “bad.” The point is to write down a BOSS solution before you look at the distracting answer choices.

And don’t think it will slow you down. It will actually speed you up. Most of the time students spent on the GMAT Verbal section is not spent reading passages or writing notes. Instead, most of the time spent is wasted debating between answer choices. Does the following describe what goes on in your mind when you read answer choices?

A. “This sounds like the right answer…”

B. “Definitely not”

C. “This sounds good too…”

D. “Probably not.”

E. “Hmm. Maybe…”

So you spend a lot of time debating between answer choices A and C. Ultimately, you decide to go with answer choice C because it provides an insight that you had not thought of. Then when you get your test back you find out that the answer was A. You should have stuck to your gut in the first place and not wasted so much time debating between answer choices only to get the question wrong.

BOSS solves that problem. You don’t have to debate between A or C. Instead, if A is most similar to the solution you created, then A is the answer you choose. No time wasted.

That’s a useful tip when you’re preparing for a meeting, for a negotiation, etc. Knowing the “answer” ahead of time is really helpful.

So let’s talk about the Analytical Writing Assessment, which tends to be everyone’s least favorite section.

The GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment essentially tests your ability to write a well-reasoned essay.

Let’s say you don’t think you’re a good writer. No problem. We give students a GMAT AWA template that is basically a fill-in-the-blank skeleton for each paragraph you need to write for GMAT AWA Essay. 

How can a one-size-fits-all template work for every GMAT AWA section when the passage you have to analyze is different on every administration of the GMAT exam? The passage you have to analyze will always be argumentative. And there are only so many argumentative techniques an author can use in order to support their argument. So we’ve identified the most common problems with those arguments and incorporated them into the template.

For example, here’s our Introduction template for the GMAT AWA Essay:

The article’s conclusion that [conclusion] may or may not be accurate; what is certain, however, is that the argument offered in support of this conclusion is ill-considered and unpersuasive. One of the primary pieces of evidence offered in support of the article’s conclusion that [conclusion] is the fact that [first major piece of evidence]. This evidence, however, does little to support the article’s conclusion; it relies on several unjustified assumptions and ignores plausible alternative causes for the [evidence] cited. 

Say you’re asked to analyze a passage about gyms, and whether people care about physical strength. Here’s what the Introduction paragraph of your GMAT AWA Essay would like if you used our template:

The article’s conclusion that people care less about their physical strength than they have in the past may or may not be accurate; what is certain, however, is that the argument offered in support of this conclusion is ill-considered and unpersuasive. One of the primary pieces of evidence offered in support of the article’s conclusion that people are less concerned with developing physical strength is the fact that free weight sales are stagnant while profits on other types of exercise equipment – bicycles, treadmills, and rock climbing equipment, for instance – are increasing. This evidence, however, does little to support the article’s conclusion; it relies on several unjustified assumptions and ignores plausible alternative causes for the sales figures cited. 

With enough practice even people who think they are terrible writers can write essays like the one above. After all, thousands of students have used our essay templates to get perfect scores on their SAT Essays. Our approach works. And it will work just as well  on the GMAT. 

One thing I’m sure Shark Tank fans want to know: What’s it been like to partner with Mark Cuban? 

Not only do I email with Mark weekly, I also have access to the whole Mark Cuban Companies team. They have helped us revamp our website, create business development partnerships with companies like Amazon, and clean up some essential parts of the business, like accounting and finance.

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In addition, Mark has personally set up some big PR hits for the company. And he helped us double our licensing fees by negotiating on our behalf.