Collegewise is under new—and old—ownership

In December 2012, I sold Collegewise to The Princeton Review. Two years later (almost to the day), I bought Collegewise back with two business partners who are also my old friends and Collegewise colleagues, Paul Kanarek and Arun Ponnusamy.

Back story
The last few years have been an exciting ride for me and for Collegewise. As part of The Princeton Review, we’ve opened offices across the country. We’ve recruited an extraordinary crew of smart, driven, highly skilled and appropriately irreverent counselors to join our family. The Princeton Review folks have been great to us and to our business. In fact, my friends and family would attest to the fact that I have never been happier at work than I have been in the last two years.

Moving towards integration
The past two years, we had been running Collegewise as a separate division of The Princeton Review. Most of our counselors had separate and distinct office spaces. They reported to people on the Collegewise side, they did their own marketing and outreach and basically ran their local office. None of us at either The Princeton Review or Collegewise believed that separation was a good long-term strategy. We all agreed that the best way for Collegewise to be successful as part of the larger company was for our counselors to be fully integrated into The Princeton Review—not run like a separate division. And we were steamrolling ahead to finish that integration by early 2015.

Trading distraction for focus
But at one point last month, those in charge in both camps had an honest talk and asked a tough question—“Is this the right time for us to fully blend together?” Integration of this kind isn’t easy. It added a huge project to already heaping plates in both camps. The Princeton Review itself is under new ownership, and preparing for big changes to both the SAT and the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Rapidly integrating this many counselors into so many offices would risk distracting everyone involved from the important work they all needed to do. We worried that driving towards that long-term goal would come at too high a short-term price.

Seeing an opportunity
In mid-December, Paul came to Arun and me with the offer that none of us could ultimately refuse. We could invest our own money to take ownership of Collegewise. We could take all the growth and knowledge that we’d gained in the last two years with The Princeton Review and focus on the one thing that matters most to us—running a great business with happy employees and even happier students.

What about The Princeton Review?
The Princeton Review and Collegewise remain on great terms. In fact, The Princeton Review is the largest external shareholder in our new Collegewise entity, and we’ll continue to help each other in marketing, outreach, content and even sharing physical space. We don’t just plan to work closely together—we’re also going to keep our opportunistic eyes open for when circumstances change and we should again consider working under one roof. We’ve moved from being a part of Princeton Review to being a true sister company.

Will anything change at Collegewise?
We now have 23 offices in ten states, and we don’t have immediate plans to open additional locations. Instead, we’re going to focus on the offices, counselors, and kids that we already have. And while we’ll still relentlessly look at ways we can get better, we have no plans to fundamentally change what Collegewise does or how we do it. This is about taking charge of Collegewise, not overhauling it.

What’s next?
Next week, we’re having a company meet-up in Austin with all the Collegewisers. In between socializing and barbecuing, we’ll spend our time talking about three things:

1. How can we all get even better at what we do?
2. How can we find and help even more families enjoy a successful ride to college and be able to afford to go there?
3. How can we make Collegewise an even better place to work for the people who are here?

Right partners, right time
Collegewise is a better company today than we were two years ago. We don’t just have more counselors and offices—we’ve gotten smarter about the way we counsel families and how we run our business. We’ve gotten even better at what we do well, and we’ve learned from the mistakes we made as we grew the company. Selling Collegewise to The Princeton Review was the right thing to do two years ago. And buying it back is the right thing to do now.

And as for me, I’m still running the company I founded out of my tiny apartment back in 1999. But now I get to do it with two of my closest friends, Paul—one of the savviest businessmen I’ve ever known—and Arun—one of the best private counselors in the world. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, and like most things worth doing, it’s a little scary. But I’ve learned that’s a sign for me that I’m doing the right thing.

Thanks for reading and for cheering us on.