How I Created A $30K/Month Mindfulness-Based Test Prep Software

$30K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Granite Test Prep
from Nashville, Tennessee, USA
started
$30,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
120
followers
78
subs
market size
$279B
avg revenue (monthly)
$30K
starting costs
$15K
gross margin
90%
time to build
7 months
growth channels
Word of mouth
business model
Brick & Mortar
best tools
Instagram, YouTube, Wix
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
39 Pros & Cons
tips
2 Tips
Discover what tools Grantly reccommends to grow your business!
platform
shipping
social media
payments
crm
other
Discover what books Grantly reccommends to grow your business!
Become A Test Prep Coach

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Grantly Neely and I am the founder of GRANITE®,an education technology, and learning center. I am a longtime ed-tech enthusiast, certified KORU mindfulness instructor, and certified Mindfulness-Based Educator.

At GRANITE® we offer mindfulness-based test prep software to individuals (B2C) and schools (B2B). Currently, our most popular product is The ACT®Everything Course: a mindfulness-based online prep course for the ACT®. On top of our software, we also offer personalized test prep, academic tutoring, and college planning to families through Zoom (and at our brick-and-mortar office in Nashville, TN).

Thanks to a bootstrap funding approach, a virtually non-existent capital requirement, and almost immediate cash flow, Granite’s average revenue is $30K/month and I have been able to retain 100% equity in the business!

how-i-created-a-30k-month-mindfulness-based-test-prep-software

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

In my junior year of high school, I was introduced to the concept of mindfulness after reading Emotional Awareness by Paul Eckman and the Dalai Lama. This cursory introduction didn’t lead me to formal mindfulness practice; however, it set the seeds of curiosity which would subsequently sprout in my freshman year of undergrad at Dartmouth College. In (what was often) a stressful academic environment, I became fascinated by the idea that one could simply “watch” emotions instead of being “tossed around” by them. My fascination with mindfulness led me to books like The Miracle of Mindfulness by Tich Nhat Hanh and interviews with former monks like Andy Pudicomb of Headspace.

The advantage of starting in a service business and slowly migrating to software (as opposed to starting with an app) is that you can gain incredibly rich insight into your customers and build up savings.

My curiosity in mindfulness, as an intervention to academic stress and augmentation to academic performance, solidified in my senior year of undergrad; specifically, I was involved in research formally exploring mindfulness as an intervention for academic stress and binge drinking. It was around this time that I knew I wanted to find a way of bringing mindfulness into the public sector; I knew I wanted to bring mindfulness to people who might not otherwise be exposed to it. Despite that, however, I wasn’t yet sure how to begin. So, like many people, my uncertainty led me to a finance job.

As a newly minted college graduate, I began my job in real estate finance. I spent my lunch breaks dreaming of the company I would start. I kept telling myself that I would spend nights and weekends building it. My unfortunate reality, however, was that after long days of navigating excel, I found my focus was shot, making it rather challenging to craft business plans, write code, design logos, etc. With fairly limited savings, I created (by necessity) very specific criterion for my hypothetical business: mindfulness-based, no capital requirements, fast cash-flow.

One day a friend was texting me at work; he was playfully mocking me, pointing out how he was making more money than me with his part-time SAT prep business. At that moment, it all clicked for me; I needed to create a mindfulness-based methodology for standardized tests preparation: a tool that would empower students to learn not only the critical academic skills of a test, but also how to skillfully navigate things like test-taking anxiety, difficulty focusing, and even boredom. With that, I quit my finance job.

I was off to the races, building my company, and (of course) life through an additional curveball at me. As I was trying to build a list of potential clients, write my curriculum, and build my website, my father was arrested (and subsequently charged with three felonies). My mindfulness practice would now be tested as I would hop between mocking up websites and being subpoenaed by a federal grand jury to testify against my father. Still, this adversity taught me how to live with uncertainty and find beauty in what I had. After a year, my role in my father’s legal troubles would pass and then Granite® started to really grow!

Granite has now existed for 3 years. I have the amazing fortune of employing eight other wonderful educators at my brick and mortar learning-center. Furthermore, my team and I have created 3 digital products available both to schools and individuals. The ACT Everything Course - A mindfulness-based ACT prep platform, Mindfulness for Academic Achievement ® - A general-purpose mindfulness course, and The Mindfulness-Based Educator (certificate program) - an online course empowering educators to become “Mindfulness-Based Educators™”.

how-i-created-a-30k-month-mindfulness-based-test-prep-software

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I knew, from my lived-experience, that mindfulness could be an extremely powerful tool for students. That said, I knew it would be important to see how the idea of “Mindfulness for Academic Achievement®” would be received by students and academic institutions. I began by simply tutoring students in just about every subject; these subject lessons would always also include a short mindfulness lesson. Over and over again, I heard students saying things like “I get so anxious when I take tests, what do I do?” or “On long tests, I read passages but lose concentration and have no idea what I’m even reading!” It was at this point that I felt I had obtained at least preliminary validation of my hypothesis that students might embrace (and subsequently benefit from) mindfulness.

Next, I went to local area high schools to see how my idea of “Mindfulness for Academic Achievement®” might be received. For the most part, schools embraced the idea. However, I do remember the occasional conversation where an educator would say something like “students will hate this, it’ll never work!”. Hearing feedback like this, in the early days of the company, was certainly a bit demoralizing. Ultimately, however, I found this type of “non-constructive negative feedback” was unfounded and likely rooted in the critic’s complex interpersonal dynamics with mindfulness.

It was not long before I had vastly more students than I could personally work with, so I began hiring other educators who were enthusiastic about mindfulness and we opened a brick-and-mortar location in our headquarter city: Nashville, TN. Still, it was my goal to reach an even broader audience (at a lower cost). I have been a longtime hobby-software-developer; accordingly, I decided that creating a mindfulness-centric education web app for students would be the next logical step.

I launched an MVP of my software and used it locally (at our education center) for a year. After a year of students at our center enthusiastically using the software, I decided it was time to reach out to the broader world and begin selling the software both direct to consumer and institutionally (to schools and other education centers). I also worked with my lawyers to build a portfolio of intellectual property that represented some of our fundamental ideas; we registered “Granite®”, “Mindfulness for Academic Achievement®” and “Test Taking Intangibles®”.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Thanks to a bootstrap funding approach, a virtually non-existent capital requirement, and almost immediate cash flow, I have been able to retain 100% equity in the business (no need for costly venture capital).

The advantage of starting in a service business and slowly migrating to software (as opposed to starting with an app) is that you can gain incredibly rich insight into your customers and build up savings.

The biggest advice I would give to anyone starting a business is, “don’t stop unless you have no other choice”. Time is the most powerful asset you have to build a client base and following. Accordingly, I believe it is incredibly important (especially when starting), to pace yourself. Too many entrepreneurs talk about, pulling all-nighters, not eating, and social isolation as techniques for increasing the amount of time they have to work. The reality is none of these choices will be good for your business.

Business growth is dictated far more by good decision-making than by pure hours spent; you need sleep to make good decisions. Business growth is also dictated by community enthusiasm around your product; spending time with friends is a great place to begin building an enthusiastic base. This is certainly not to dismiss the role of hard work in creating a business! Building a business takes A LOT of hours, but you must find balance.

Therefore, when launching a company, I would recommend that (even if you plan for a quick exit: venture capital, IPO, etc.) you build your lifestyle in a way that (should it be needed) you could continue running your company indefinitely.

how-i-created-a-30k-month-mindfulness-based-test-prep-software

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

My team and I have explored just about every marketing platform. Here is our preference breakdown:

Institutional Partnerships: BEST!

Word of Mouth: Great

Email List: Great

Events: Great

Billboard/Sign Campaigns: Great

Google SEO: Ok

Facebook Ads: Weak

Nextdoor Ads: Trash

Institutional Partnerships: I think few things are more powerful than institutional partnerships. Again, this is why it is SO IMPORTANT not to hide behind your computer for 16-hour days! It is critical to get out into the world and make friends. The goal should not be to “go into the world and pitch your business”, you will not make friends this way! The goal is simply to make friends; with time, you can share what you are working on with them. If you have tried creating institutional partnerships, but struggle, email me: [email protected] I often mentor people on this because I see it as one of my real fortes in business.

Email List: Having an email list is a must. We drive so many sales through our email list; it is amazing.

Events: If you have a brick-and-mortar space, having live events is an amazing option. If you do not have a brick-and-mortar space, try webinars!

Google SEO: My team and I write lots of articles to boost our SEO, this brings in a lot of traffic.

Facebook Ads: Facebook ads generate a lot of traffic, but (even with a fairly complex funnel) typically don’t lead to many conversions.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

As I mentioned earlier, thanks to a bootstrap funding approach, a virtually non-existent capital requirement, and almost immediate cash flow, I have been able to retain 100% equity in the business (no need for costly venture capital), and we are profitable!

When starting, I think it is incredibly empowering to find a way to start engaging with real people and making real money as soon as possible. When you start, it can be tempting to spend all day “hiding behind dashboards” making no money.

Our growth so far has been pretty precisely exponential: we have doubled our revenue every year since our inception.

Our growth plans right now include bringing our mindfulness-based education software to more schools and universities and franchising our brick-and-mortar presence in multiple U.S. cities. Our long-term goal is to have a global brick and mortar franchise presence and be the unequivocal leader in institutional mindfulness-based education software.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

As I mentioned earlier, I firmly believe that business growth is dictated far more by good decision-making than by pure hours spent. It can be tempting (especially when you are just starting) to think you can “muscle” your way into having a business; however, from my experience, the process is far more delicate than that. You certainly need to be prepared to work hard (otherwise you will miss opportunities), but you also need to be clear-headed.

Early on, I would spend hours “hitting my head against a wall” with some specific technology issue, only to find a FAR BETTER idea pop in my head (often it was very easy to implement) as soon as I stepped away, relaxed, exercised, or hung-out with friends.

I would also advise new founders to be a “jack of all trades” when possible. At Granite®, I have filled many roles: CEO, animator, software engineer, accountant, “lawyer”, office manager, tutor, etc. As the business grew, I (obviously) had to hire REAL lawyers, accountants, and other skilled individuals; however, having had the experience of bootstrapping these roles, empowered me with the field-specific knowledge to engage (at least somewhat skillfully) with these professionals.

So many entrepreneurs hire everyone to do everything for them, burn through tons of cash, and don’t know how their business is even running. I would not recommend this approach UNLESS you have started a couple of businesses and have a lot of funding/runway.

how-i-created-a-30k-month-mindfulness-based-test-prep-software

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I have had an amazing time exploring a host of technology tools for building my software and organizing my brick-and-mortar business. I have had to negotiate things like internal email accounts, social media management, newsletters, splash pages, web-app stack, etc.

The very first thing I did when I quit my job was to build a splash page. I started with WIX, despite having a long background in software and web-dev, I decided WIX might be a nice way to get something up quickly. I was astounded by how slow WIX was; their hosting was shockingly bad. For fear of a BAD SEO, I quickly left WIX. I created a splash page in a more traditional method (HTML, CSS, JS) using the WordPress CMS (on-premises) and HostGator. Keeping things “stripped-down” like this allowed quick TTL and generally better SEO. That said, HostGator was still a pretty bad host (my server response times were still really bad). Finally, I stumbled upon SiteGround! I am VERY impressed with SiteGround. After migrating all my files to their servers, my server response time improved dramatically (as did my SEO).

My splash-page TLDR; Don’t use a “SiteBuilder”. Use an on-premises CMS with Web-Languages (HTML, CSS, JS). SiteGround makes things incredibly easy! I would recommend working with them. They also have unusually good customer support.

I was fortunate enough (thanks to a recommendation from a fellow entrepreneur friend), to find a piece of technology that I’ve seen as the “secret sauce” to my business. This secret is ZOHO. When I began with ZOHO I simply explored their “5 Free Custom Emails” offer. In short, I was able to get five free custom emails {someone}@GraniteTestPrep.com for free! With this, it became incredibly easy to look incredibly professional right off the bat! So many businesses have “cringe” emails like [email protected] - this looks so bad! You want a custom email to match your domain.

We also use Zoho Social to manage our social media, their pricing is MUCH better than Hootsuite.

The team and I have also liked Zoho CRM a lot. If you send email campaigns, Zoho Campaigns has also been good!

Finally, I have some projects in development that are using Django (python web-framework) and Vue.Js both have been very nice to work with.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The miracle of Mindfulness - Thich Nhat Hanh. An absolutely amazing book, I think it is a must-read for everyone.

Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion - Dalai Lama, Paul Ekman. This is a really cool audiobook, with lots of interviews with Paul Eckman and the Dalai Lama.

Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life - Thich Nhat Hanh. A really good “Day to Day” practical guide to mindfulness.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

I firmly believe that maintaining a balanced lifestyle is critical for success as an entrepreneur. When I worked in a corporate setting and made a mistake, my superiors would say things like “that’s ok don’t worry you are learning”! Moreover, if I made mistakes I wasn’t instantly fired.

By contrast, as an entrepreneur, I found that making a mistake with a client would (most of the time) lead to them “instantly-firing” me and potentially even telling me how wholly inadequate I was. This negativity, while unpleasant, is certainly manageable; however, you need to maintain perspective. The best way to maintain the aforementioned perspective is to sleep enough, maintain a rich social network, eat healthy, exercise, etc.

I have heard entrepreneurs say “I am immune to criticism”, so I don’t need to worry about getting burnt out. This, however, is also not good. The reality is that criticism from your paying customers (while harsh to hear) is often incredibly valuable. If you do not get worried by criticism, you will almost certainly drive your business into the ground.

When starting, I think it is incredibly empowering to find a way to start engaging with real people and making real money as soon as possible. I LOVE dashboards, statistics, and automated systems. That said, when you start, it can be tempting to spend all day “hiding behind dashboards” making no money, speaking with no real humans, and ultimately wondering what (if any contribution) you are making. This, again, is a surefire way to “burn-out” very quickly!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for talented educators to join our team. We also offer entrepreneurial internships (both paid/unpaid - depending on the degree, etc.). Please feel free to reach out if either of these opportunities sounds exciting! Chat with us on our website to learn more.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Grantly Neely,   Founder of Granite Test Prep
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help you get started.

Interested in starting your own business? Join Starter Story Premium to get the greatest companion to starting and growing your business:

  • Connect + get advice from successful entrepreneurs
  • Step by step guides on how to start and grow
  • Exclusive and early access to the best case studies on the web
  • And much more!

Are you ready to boost your revenue?

Using Klaviyo will open up a massive, untapped sales channel and bring you closer to your customers!

We've interviewed many impressive businesses who swear by the results of the product, including Brumate, Beardbrand, and many more.

Level up your email marketing with Klaviyo!

Leave a comment
Your email address will not be published.

Want to become a test prep coach? Learn more ➜