Achievable Update: How We Tripled Revenue Last Year With Zero Paid Marketing

Tyler York
Founder, Achievable
from San Francisco
started April 2016
alexa rank
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Start A Test Prep Business

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Hi, my name is Tyler York and I’m one of the founders of Achievable. We help people reach their target score on their most important exams.

Our platform offers rich textbook content, reviews backed by a memory science algorithm, and full practice exams that mimic the real test. Our flagship product lines are our FINRA courses for the FINRA SIE, Series 7, Series 63, and Series 66; and our GRE exam course. We have also recently launched a USMLE Step 1 course, as well as AMC-8 and AMC-10/12 courses.

We’ve more than tripled our revenue YoY in 2021! Our new GRE course was very successful and we saw continued strong growth and adoption in our FINRA business. We’re aiming even higher for 2022 and beyond.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

This year, we saw breakout growth across our FINRA and GRE courses. This growth came with zero paid marketing spend, so how did we do it?

First and foremost, we benefit from having an incredibly strong product. The adoption stories are pretty fun and keep piling up. For instance, I gave my father’s friend a promo code for six free FINRA licenses for his small firm, though he told me that his students were most of the way through studying via a competitor. After a week, he called me to tell me that not only did all six students switch to Achievable, their primary question to him was “why didn’t you give this to us in the first place?” When people like the product, word gets around - especially for a painful problem like studying for these exams. This is reinforced by the fact that the majority of our traffic this year was organic, driven by some combination of word-of-mouth and our SEO efforts.

Second, we saw the fruits of our strong SEO efforts to date. We spent much of 2019 and 2020 focused on building great content that served as the foundation for our SEO strategy. While it was time consuming to build this content and then work to build out relevant, high quality backlinks, the payoff is clear in the consistent, high quality organic traffic that it brings in. One of my favorite things about this is that we’re now the #1 search term for the word “Achievable” - even above the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition for the word. Incredible!


As a pair to this SEO content marketing strategy, we also put out a GRE podcast called GRE Snacks. What started as a humble experiment quickly became the #1 GRE podcast on Apple, Google, and Spotify with over 40,000 downloads in its first year.

Of course, not everything worked as planned, but we made sure to learn from our experiments at each step. One we were hopeful for was our @achievable.gre Instagram channel that contains daily high-quality vocab posts. It reached almost 700 followers, but that pales in comparison to thousands of followers on Magooshgrad or other social media accounts. In general, we’ve struggled to make social work but will continue to build out a social media presence that aligns with our mission and provides quality content for viewers.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

One of the key lessons we learned this past year was the power of consistency in content marketing. Our GRE Snacks podcast is just that - small, snackable episodes. We cover important topics but they’re not hour-long deep dives, they’re about 15 minutes each. Even so, we grew a cult following within the first 3-4 months, and have had viewers reach out to say that they’ve listened to every episode - some even after they finished the GRE! It’s hard (if not impossible) to build that brand loyalty with intermittent posting. For content marketing, people need to make you a part of their routine to build that consistent viewership, and following that starts to stack views. We’re striving to bring this level of consistency to the rest of our content next year.

We also learned about the power of setting quantified, measurable goals and then reviewing our progress towards those goals each week. This wasn’t totally new to us, but we incorporated these goals more into our process and the results were noticeable. People are motivated to reach their goals, and checking in consistently means that you always have a sense of urgency for hitting your weekly targets.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

In the upcoming year, our focus is on growing our existing courses’ revenue as much as possible. Rather than spread ourselves thin by adding a bunch of new courses, we want to double down on the ones that we have and focus on scaling up their market size over time. To do this, we’ll be focusing on both expanding the channels that are working for us and trying new growth avenues. One such avenue is paid to advertise, which we did not have the capital to pursue properly this year. Now that we have more capital available, we want to invest in making paid marketing work for us. The second major avenue will be driving adoption in FINRA within institutions. Wealth management firms and banks buy the majority of their FINRA test prep for their employees and do so through salespeople rather than websites. We need to work hard to understand and unlock this opportunity for us as well - once students try Achievable, they love it, but they can’t try it if their employer hasn’t heard of us yet.

If you’re struggling to grow your business across all of your channels or finding traction anywhere, I recommend taking a step b

In five years, we want to be the place that people go to when they want to unlock opportunities in their lives and careers. We want to connect our students with potential employers, help them learn the soft skills they need to succeed in their new role, and, of course, help them ace any exam that stands in their way. We want to build a great brand that conveys this message and is recognizable to anyone in the world. We have a lot of work to do to get there, but we’re excited by the opportunity in front of us.

Have you read any good books in the last year?

This year, I listened to the audiobook The Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How To Get It by Scott Kapor at Andreessen Horowitz.

For those who are new to fundraising or venture capital, it is a complete blueprint that includes not just tactics but also key context. How VCs raise money themselves, get paid, and are motivated is important and relevant to you as a founder, but I have yet to see it covered so well in other books. Even as someone with some experience in startup land and with fundraising, I found the book to be very insightful with multiple nuggets of wisdom I hadn’t come across before.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

If you’re struggling to grow your business across all of your channels or finding traction anywhere, I recommend taking a step back and starting over from the first principles. Who is your customer? What is important to them? What are they buying? An anecdote I heard recently is that someone who buys a drill is not buying the drill itself - they’re buying a hole in the wall. You might have the best, most impressive drill on the market - but if you’re targeting regular Home Depot customers, that might not be what matters to them. They’re buying the outcome - the hole - and likely just want that outcome as cheaply and reliably as possible. We fell into a similar trap initially - our test prep course was the most effective and technologically advanced on the market, and that led to better outcomes (aka scores). Surely that’s what people want, right? Well, it turns out that the “how” doesn’t sell. Our fortunes turned significantly when we started selling the “what” - the outcome - and doing so in the language that spoke to the customer’s true goals, which were to get the outcome as quickly and cheaply as possible.

The second thing I’d look for is how your competitors have gotten traction - and then copy them when appropriate. Marketing and sales are not about first-mover advantage anymore in most cases, in part because most channels have matured by now. You might be able to achieve breakout growth by being the first drill company to successfully market on TikTok, but that uncertainty comes with a risk - there may not be channel/market fit. Believe it or not, your job as a new company founder is to mitigate and remove risk so that you can learn. TikTok might not be the best place to learn when all of your competitors are using Google Ads and SEO. Instead, try to beat them at their own game - chances are, you’ll learn more about what your customers want and what messaging works from doing so than you would by taking shots in the dark.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re currently looking for candidates for sales development, growth marketing, and engineering roles. If you want to get into a new business on the ground floor and have a big impact, we’d be excited to meet you. We are fully remote and trust our employees to get their work done on their schedule, and otherwise are fun and laid back. If you are interested in Achievable and our mission to unlock opportunities in people’s lives, please contact us.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Tyler York, Founder of Achievable

Achievable has provided an update on their business!

2 months ago, we followed up with Achievable to see how they've been doing since we published this article.

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