Tyler York is founder and CEO of Achievable, and oversees a business that makes test prep easy for the millions of people that take high-stakes, opportunity-gating exams. The Achievable platform leverages technology and advanced learning science-backed methodologies like spaced repetition to guarantee that their customers pass their most important exams.
We recently sat down with Tyler York to talk about his journey with entrepreneurship, and the challenges of starting one’s own business.
To start, tell us about your background and how you got into this line of work?
I’m a marketing professional and entrepreneur with over 12 years of experience in early stage startups, the mobile game industry, and education technology. I’ve brought products and services to market that generated over one hundred million per year in revenue at firms like Electronic Arts and Anaplan. I’m now the co-founder and CEO of Achievable.
I got into marketing because I found myself enjoying watching the ads on TV as a kid, and wanted to learn more about how they worked. I love connecting customers with products that they love and that help them. I see marketing as the messenger, and communication between a brand / company and its audience and customers. Communication is incredibly important, especially today, and I think marketing is just as important as a function of the business.
Tell us about your current company, Achievable.
Achievable exam preparation guides learners through a personalized learning experience, reinforcing what they’ve learned as they study and giving people certainty that they’re ready to ace their exam. Our platform uses advanced learning science methodologies and an advanced personalization engine to automatically optimize the learning experience for optimal results. Achievable currently offers a GRE exam course, FINRA exam courses, ACT exam course, USMLE Step 1 exam course, and AMC exam courses. We are most prominent in the finance industry, where employees need to pass FINRA licensing exams like the FINRA SIE exam in order to get jobs and expand the scope of their role.
What inspired you to take the entrepreneurship route and build this business?
I was always passionate about being an entrepreneur from a young age. It started in my teens when I was growing up in Silicon Valley through the dot-com bubble, and continued as I graduated college into the thick of startup hype in 2010. Starting a company seemed like such an ambitious and glamorous thing to do. Of course, it is actually a lot of work, and most moments are far from glamorous – but I was hooked and wanted to prove myself to the world.
Justin and I had a shared goal to become entrepreneurs and wanted to do it together. We started a few small companies together before we went our separate ways and embarked on our careers. Through his time working in education technology, Justin experienced the power of adaptive learning first hand, specifically a method called spaced rehearsal that leverages memory science to help you remember things longer. He saw how this method, integrated properly into a learning experience, dramatically improved outcomes for students. Spaced rehearsal is popular in the language learning community and used ad hoc in the classroom, but has not been widely applied to test preparation. We saw the opportunity to build a vertically integrated solution that gave total control over the learning experience for maximum benefit to the student. That’s why we started Achievable and brought that vision to life.
What does your business do? What problem are you solving?
Millions of people take high stakes exams each year. They range from general exams for college admissions like the ACT, to industry-specific licensing exams like the FINRA Series 7. All of these exams are a barrier between the learner and a goal that they have, whether it’s getting into a better college or increasing their scope in their job in the finance industry. The test prep materials for these exams did not live up to this reality – learners got a generalized, outdated experience that did not have their outcome in mind.
Achievable’s platform is built from the ground up to help the user reach their goal. Our platform guides people through a personalized learning experience, reinforces what they’ve learned through spaced repetition, and gives them certainty that they’re ready to pass their exam. Achievable reinforces what they know and trains them on what they don’t – until they’re ready to hit their goal.
Tell us about the biggest setback or challenge you’ve had to face. How did you overcome it?
The biggest setback that we had to overcome was in 2018, when a major change to the test that we were focused on ended all of our FINRA corporate deals and brought our revenue to zero. We were crestfallen, but also recognized that the change presented a new opportunity if we pivoted our focus to B2C individual customers. We worked tirelessly to update the platform and value proposition for six months, and relaunched with our new B2C-focused course in early 2019. Since then, we’ve been off to the races, as our new approach has been a huge hit with customers, and enabled us to create courses for 8 other exams in multiple verticals.
Wow, that’s quite a turnaround. What do you think the next five years will bring?
Our goal is to become the most popular way that people use to prepare for the most important exams of their lives. In order to achieve this, we will need to expand our exam catalog to cover all major exams, improve our platform to become even more effective, and get the word out about us through marketing, sales, and word-of-mouth referrals. We’re just starting on our journey and have a lot to do!
To close, what piece of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs or people looking to follow your path?
I think the best advice I could give would be to put more time and effort into research and trying new things.
Ever heard the old phrase “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? As an entrepreneur, I like to say that an ounce of research is worth a pound of work. As an entrepreneur, you’re learning all the time – when, where, how does a customer buy? Which markets should we enter? Which customer segment has the best market fit with our product? While there is no substitute for actually going out and selling the thing, research can be a huge help in accelerating your learning curve. You can often learn more from a survey or customer interview than you can from a month of running marketing split tests. I always thought of user research as ancillary to marketing, but I was wrong – it can save you a ton of time and accelerate your journey to product-market fit.
Similarly, when you’re in the marketing phase, you should be trying new channels, tactics, and more all the time. In the last 7 months, Achievable has tried a ton of new channels and methods for our business, and in many cases I am asking myself “why didn’t I try this sooner?” It’s easy to get wrapped up in what you’re already doing – oftentimes what you’re already doing would be one or more full-time jobs at a bigger company. But that will only limit your growth to what it is today, and will prevent you from finding a new acquisition channel that is actually twice as effective as any you had found before. You should always make time for new experiments – they give you more ‘shots on goal’ as you try to accelerate from growth to hypergrowth.