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Ujjwal Gupta is the Co-Founder of BenchPrep, world’s only cross-device exam prep and assessment platform. As the co-founder of BenchPrep, Ujjwal manages product, design and marketing. He has successfully raised more than $8MM in venture funding and built a team of 20+ professionals across Chicago, NY and India.
He, along with BenchPrep, has been featured in Forbes, Wall Street Journal, NY Times, TechCrunch, Publishers Weekly and Fast Company as a leading education innovator. He has spoken at various conferences in Washington D.C, Chicago, NY and Phoenix on topics including education technology, entrepreneurship, nanotechnology and mobile apps.
Besides BenchPrep, Ujjwal started an event management company facilitating funding sources for rural technology research. At 22, he started India’s first nanotechnology manufacturing plant. He holds a PhD degree from Penn State University, an M.S. and B.S. in Chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai.
MO: Where did your idea for BenchPrep come from? How does it work?
Ujjwal: The core idea came in 2008 when my co-founder Ashish Rangnekar was studying for GMAT. He realized that the options available to him were heavy, static books or antiquated & expensive online classes. He decided to use the book and although the experience was terrible, the actual content was really good and he managed to score an excellent score. At the same time, Apple opened up their iPhone platform for development and I saw people spending disproportionate amount of time on their phones, playing with apps. And I realized that combining the book content and iPhone’s engagement would have been a great tool for Ashish and millions more. And that’s how it all started. Within two months, we designed the product, hired people and built the first test prep engine for iPhone and released a GMAT prep app. The app soon became one the best selling education apps in the AppStore in ~Q1 2009. In the next 2 years, we scaled the product, expanded to all devices and refined the business model but the core philosophy has remained the same.
Today, we license educational content (books, study guides, question banks, flashcards, audio/video lectures) from best in class publishers and create interactive and engaging courses that students can use on web, iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets. BenchPrep is the only cross-platform learning solution and has already become the biggest library of interactive courses for web+mobile platforms.
MO: Can you talk about your intuitive interface and cross- platform approach of BenchPrep? What inspired or influenced the development process and the design?
Ujjwal: Students and their preferences are the cornerstone of our product design philosophy. Everything we do at BenchPrep starts with a question: what does today’s students want? We are not targeting teachers, administrators or parents. Students and their experience is the key. We have created the entire course design with an 18 year old student in mind.
More than 66% of young adults in the age group of 16-30 have a smart phone; almost 100% of them use social networking tools like facebook, twitter, pinterest; and every aspect of their life is touched by gamification.
But then when they switch to learning mode, everything changes. We wanted to align the BenchPrep experience to their lifestyle. Cross-platform access, beautiful interface, snappy experience and playful tone are all integral part of this philosophy.
MO: Where does your clear entrepreneurial spirit come from?
Ujjwal: I believe I am a very non-traditional entrepreneur. Growing up, the focus in my family was not towards entrepreneurship at all. However, I was always encouraged to go for the best; and nothing less than the best. So my upbringing inculcated the competitive spirit and ambition in me. And then when I went to college, I looked for ways to channel that spirit. I found entrepreneurship was the perfect way to challenge myself, aim higher and hustle my way to the best possible solution. I started my first company when I was 20. And then there was no turning back.
The second part of my entrepreneurial spirit can be attributed to my doctoral education. My PhD research turned me into a super curious mind who wanted to question all the notions.
I guess entrepreneurship becomes an obvious choice when you are competitive, curious and ambitious.
MO: What are some of your favorite features that BenchPrep has to offer?
Ujjwal: Ability to study seamlessly across any device is my favorite feature. I am surprised that it has been two years and there is no other learning platform that has been able to achieve this. We see more than ⅔ rd of our users study on multiple devices.
Besides that we just launched a new feature called OpenPrep. OpenPrep is an automated tool that mines the open educational resources like Youtube, Wikipedia, Khan Academy to pick the best and most relevant resources for the students. If the student is reading a lesson on Geometry, OpenPrep can go out and fetch all these useful resources and show it to the student thereby saving hours and hours of research time.
MO: On a lighter note, who would your fantasy football team consist of?
Ujjwal: Tom Brady, LeSean McCoy, Andre Johnson, Rob Gronowski, Steve Smith and Bears defense
MO: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Ujjwal: It might sound surprising but starting BenchPrep was the biggest risk I have taken. Back in 2008 when we started working on it, I was on a academic track working towards my PhD with opportunity to work for large, well-funded research labs. These were low-risk and high reward career options. Giving up on these lucrative options and writing off the ten years of education in Chemistry in a tough job market of 2009 was a very risky move. “You invested last 10 years of your life working towards becoming a scientist and now you want to be an entrepreneur,” my mom said in a mocking and surprising tone.
My irrational passion for entrepreneurship and intellectual curiosity took over and here I am.
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