Testive co-founders Miro Kazakoff and Tom Rose
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Testive co-founders Miro Kazakoff and Tom Rose to talk to them about their experience attending MIT Sloan School of Management, how it led to the launch of Testive, and how what they learned parallels what our coaches teach our students prepping for the SAT & ACT.
Why did you choose MIT Sloan School of Management over other MBA programs?
Tom: MIT has a strong brand in two areas that interest me: (1) Technology and (2) Entrepreneurship. Tech and entrepreneurship are both at the heart of Testive, so that turned out to be a good bet. The algorithms that allow Testive to triple learning speed were developed at MIT while I was there, so that was tremendous serendipity.
Miro: I had been working in startups for years, but I really wanted to start a company. I knew I needed the structure of school to make the connections and learn the issues involved in starting a company. MIT has the best entrepreneurial program in the country.
Did attending MIT help you achieve your goals?
Miro: Yes, the most important thing that happened was that I met Tom. Tom was the very first person I met at MIT and the most profound relationship I made to help me achieve my entrepreneurial goals.
Tom: That’s funny. I often say exactly the same thing. Meeting Miro changed my life. I can’t imagine where I would be without him. He’s definitely the most important thing I took away from the program. One of the things that we believe very strongly in at Testive is the value of a human coach. Miro is my coach in so many areas. He has been transformative.
Miro: Awww, that’s really sweet. I feel the same way about you, Tom.
What stands out academically as the most important thing you learned that you applied when launching Testive?
Tom: I took a course in my first year called “Organizational Process” that broke down all organizations into three dimensions: cultural, organizational, and political. Before that class, when I thought of organizations, I only looked at them from one standpoint—organizational.
I understood the organizational chart, but I didn’t fully appreciate that the other dimensions are just as important. True power is not reflected in an organizational chart and all organizations with more than one person have politics, so you must understand politics to do well.
Also, norms (like whether people come to meetings on time), artifacts (the physical symbols of a company, like our mascot Sly the Fox), and traditions (like our Friday team meeting where we celebrate wins and analyze things we can do better as a team) are indispensable for building the culture of an organization. Many would argue that they are the MOST important part.
Looking back, I can’t believe how little I understood about organizations at the time. I really had no idea what I was doing.
Miro: A lot of people will tell you that you don’t learn much in an MBA program and that business is all about connections and experience. I disagree. I think you internalize the things you learn so deeply that you forget you’ve learned something. The biggest thing I came away from MIT with was a clearer perspective on how businesses worked and a vocabulary for talking about them. For better or worse, what I learned has seeped into my personality.
Business school also helped me develop the intuition to decide which business problems are most important based on the impact they’ll have on the business. Essentially, it helped me learn how to prioritize by importance and not get distracted by the urgent, but less important problems that come up everyday.
We use the same analogy in test prep. Students realize prep is important, but it’s not urgent so they procrastinate. All humans do this. Our coaches help them put it on the front burner and stay focused for the best outcome.
What life lessons did you learn through the MBA program?
Miro: I went to business school because I needed structure and discipline to start a company. It’s really hard to be disciplined without some sort of external support like school. This is essentially the premise behind Testive. We realized that it was virtually impossible for even the most focused students to stay motivated on SAT and ACT prep without some sort of support. Our software helps provide the content and learning materials students need. Our coaches keep students on track so they can reach their full potential.
Tom: It’s important that whatever you do, to be the best at it. One of the teaching methods used in business schools is the case method, where you look at specific stories of things that happened to real people. One of the things that the case method lets you do is see patterns. A huge pattern that I saw was the virtue of excellence in life. At the end of the day, the people who really feel like they have won are the people that did something spectacular.
What other ways did attending MIT help you when launching Testive?
Tom: The MIT startup world is a wide and deep ecosystem of support. Being able to tap into that network has saved me so many times. For example, one of my former classmates introduced me to our largest angel investor. In my graduating class of 396, there were 45 people who started companies immediately upon graduation. That’s more than 10%, which is huge. Because such a large percentage of people were starting companies, we were able to work together on many things.
Miro: Tom and I discovered the importance of accountability to others and discipline in our second year of school when producing a weekly show we created on campus called The MBA Show. We set rules on how long per week we should spend working on the show and kept each other accountable. That process showed me how powerful it can be to dedicate a little bit of time consistently to something. So that’s the approach we took when starting Testive and what we convey to our students—stressing the importance of consistency and small work increments over cramming.
What’s the biggest question you get from high school students today?
Tom: The question I get the most often is ‘what is the fastest way to raise my SAT/ACT score?’ Of course my entire life at Testive is dedicated to that answer. But I’ll boil it down to a simple truth. For anything important in life, you can apply this framework, (1) set a goal, (2) make a plan, (3) get support. Testive was created to deliver world class performance on all three.
Miro: The biggest question high school students ask me is, 'Should I study business as an undergraduate?' My answer: 'Emphatically, no!'
Some skills are really hard to learn outside of school like engineering or how to think about abstract problems. Most concepts in business are much easier to learn outside of school. If business is your passion, learn a related skill like engineering or computer science and know you’ll have time to go back and get an MBA later on.
After I tell students this, a follow up question I often get is, 'Should I study engineering If I know I’m going to get bad grades?'
Don’t let difficulty stop you from learning important skills that can be used to build a better future. Employers know that engineering degrees are difficult, so low grades in advanced math are looked at differently than low grades in humanities classes. If you have a true love for a certain field then you should pursue it, but if you’re not sure, focus on science, technology, engineering or math.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Miro: Getting a chance to go to a highly ranked school is a gift I’m deeply appreciative of. But you can get a good education anywhere if you take advantage of the opportunities available. So wherever you go to school, I encourage students to make connections with their professors and ask for opportunities. Be aggressive! You’ll be amazed at the doors that will be opened up when you apply a little motivation and grit...including on SAT & ACT test prep.
Tom: Applying to college is a high-anxiety game. As much as it may not seem like it right now, there are many places that could make you happy, and there is no one-right-answer for you. My advice is to focus on the human aspects of your life as much as possible. No matter where you go to school, you’ll be building lifetime relationships that you’ll cherish, and you’ll be growing into a better, more mature you. That much is guaranteed.