Today we’d like to introduce you to Dan Koken.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Originally from Colorado, I graduated with honors from the University of Pennsylvania, where I was a starting player on the university rugby team and led a variety of youth oriented service projects with an educational focus. Upon graduation, I spent a year serving as a Coro Fellow in California and later was awarded an academic scholarship to attend the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Switzerland, where I obtained a Master of Arts in Development Economics. After teaching at a university in Ecuador through WorldTeach (Peace Corps type program) and working as a microfinance practitioner in Paraguay, I moved to New York to serve as the Director of NYC Business Solutions for the city of New York as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. In this role, I helped to lead the city’s effort to provide support services to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
I was initially drawn to the field of microfinance because it was a space where nonprofits were able to become financially self-sustainable and have a big impact on the people they served. I loved the idea of helping someone to develop their own business, therefore equipping them with a career they could be proud of and the financial means to take care of their family. When I moved to Manhattan, I quickly discovered that NYC was really expensive (shocker) and that if I wanted to be able to go out to a decent dinner from time to time it would be helpful to supplement income from my government job. I took a part-time tutoring job with a local company. While I had a pretty clear understanding of what tutoring wealthy kids in Manhattan would look like, the light bulb moment for me was when I was speaking with a friend that ran a nonprofit about her students’ struggles with the SAT. I asked if I could run a test prep program for them, the kids made big improvements, and it immediately became clear to me that there was an opportunity for me to form something akin to a self-sustaining nonprofit in the education space if I built a tutoring company that looked something like Tom’s Shoes. For every traditional private tutoring client I worked with, I wanted to serve a low-income student.I started NYC Test Prep, worked on building it late in the evening after my normal work hours, and after a few years had something that started to resemble a full-fledged tutoring company with a thriving nonprofit component.
In 2012 I was single, coming up on my 30th birthday, and decided to go all in on the tutoring concept. I quit my job, went on a two-month backpacking trip through Asia where I spent half of my days building the plan and website for Denver Test Prep and the other half exploring the world. Denver Test Prep launched in the spring of 2012. From day one we have had the goal of serving an equal number of low-income students and more traditional private tutoring clients each year. DTP has continuously achieved that goal through an extensive network of nonprofit partners and school-based programs. I now have the pleasure of running a company that is financially successful and still has a large impact in the nonprofit space.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
In the first year of Denver Test Prep when I was the only employee I spent a lot of time in the car! I remember one day in particular where my first client was in Boulder, the second was in Parker, the third was in Littleton, and the rest for the day were in Denver. My last student of the day was a night owl with a regular tutoring time of 9:30-11pm. Like a lot of business owners, the best way I knew to build the business was to make sure that I took on every client I could and then did anything needed to make sure that I delivered on the service. Fortunately, I was able to build a good reputation and hire some great instructors to help with additional students. While I work with a small group of students directly, I’m happy to no longer be doing a loop around the full Denver metro area with a mobile test prep library in the trunk of the car.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Denver Test Prep story. Tell us more about the business.
Denver Test Prep’s individual tutoring programs offer students the most efficient and effective way to prepare for standardized tests and academic exams. Our experienced tutors have all scored in the top 2% of test takers on any exam they teach and have all graduated from a highly selective college or university.
I strongly believe that the key to Denver Test Prep’s success is our ability to understand the specific needs of our students and to form a customized program that works best for them. As a result of this customized approach, students are able to focus all of their energy on the specific areas they need to work on at the pace that is right for them.
We offer customized individual and small group tutoring programs for students preparing to take standardized tests and academic exams, such as the SAT, ACT, LSAT, ISEE, HSPT, AP exams, K-12 courses and college courses. We offer students academic coaching, enrichment programs. We also provide Orton-Gillingham based reading intervention services for students with dyslexia and other learning differences.
How do you, personally, define success? What’s your criteria, the markers you’re looking out for, etc?
For me, success is building Denver Test Prep to be a company that has a positive impact on the four groups that are most important to me: my clients, my team, my community, and my family. An important component of this is to ensure that we move the needle for low-income students in the Denver area by giving them the same access to top quality educators that families with greater financial means use to maximize success for their students.
- Address: 7400 East Caley Avenue, Suite 100C
Centennial, CO 80111
- Website: www.denvertestprep.com
- Phone: (303) 551-0106
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org