How we bootstrapped an interview prep business to $35,000/month
Ace Your Tech Interview
Who are you & What business did you start?
I’m Stephen Cognetta, a former Google PM. Together with Jacob Simon (former SWE @ Dropbox), we co-founded Exponent. Exponent helps you land your dream tech career with our courses and community for software engineering, data science, and product management interview prep.
How did you come up with the idea?
I struggled a lot with finding effective and valuable resources to help me prepare for my PM interviews. I knew that it would be a huge value to create something that could help people in my position, and to demystify the PM interview process. I started off writing blog posts about product management interviewing, and then got some initial traction and knew there was value here.
Describe the process of launching the business
We started our business by selling coaching services. I would do 1:1 calls with clients to help them with their interviews. After a while, I realized that there were so many common mistakes and tactics that I sometimes noticed that I was repeating myself in coaching sessions. After the coaching sessions, I wrote down key insights and tips, and then built a course around it. We paywalled the content, and slowly increased the price as we’ve added more and more value. Now, we’re at a state where we have fully fleshed out PM course + coaching services, and we’ve added software engineering interview and data science interview courses.
Since launch what has worked to attract customers?
Our principle to attract customers has been clear: provide value.
One of our most effective channels for attracting customers has been our YouTube Channel. We post full-length mock interviews with product managers answering interview questions, which has been very in-line our objective to demystify the PM interview process. We recently broke 5,000 subscribers on our channel and we’re growing rapidly - this has also been an awesome way to connect directly with our users.
We’re now launching a new, extremely exciting product that aggregates interview questions from top-tier tech companies. We hope that this will be of huge value to folks in our community. For early access, you can sign up here.
Describe a moment where you had to overcome a challenge – before or after launch
One of our biggest challenges before launching our course was getting the motivation to actually write all that content. It wasn’t easy! There are over 60 lessons in our course now, and about 30 or so of them include written content that I wrote myself. Sometimes, I felt discouraged, because I wasn’t sure if the content would be valuable to anyone. One thing that helped us was testing out the content early and often with a group of initial beta users, so that I could get some positive feedback to encourage me to keep going.
What platforms/tools do you use for your business?
We like to say the most effective tool we’ve used to grow our business is caffeine.
But in all seriousness, Jacob built the business from scratch using Node and React. Some tools we’ve found to be useful have been:
- Fullstory for tracking user engagement
- Convertkit for mailing list management
- GitHub for task management
- Slack for team and customer communication
Advice for other entrepreneurs who are just starting out
Ask for advice often. Something that normally might require 40+ hours of work to complete could be literally just 1 hour if you ask for advice and get the right mentorship. Find communities of hackers who are building similar products and regularly share updates as a way to foster a support community. I’ve also sometimes cold-emailed folks and they’ve been kind enough to spend 30 minutes helping us out with some of our challenges.
Where can we go to learn more about your company?