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TRAILBLAZER, Episode 6: How an Innocent Hobby Became a Profession

August 31, 2017

trail·blaz·er: a person who blazes a trail for others to follow through unsettled territory


GSVlabs is a global innovation platform based in the heart of Silicon Valley. We accelerate startups and connect corporations to exponential technologies, business models, and ideas. GSVlabs creates powerful network effects by catalyzing the innovation ecosystem and connecting Silicon Valley to the World and the World to Silicon Valley.

Above all else, we believe the “one-size-fits-all” mold is not what shapes entrepreneurs. We believe each person has his or her own path to entrepreneurship. Their own trail to blaze.

This week, we sat down with Ishan Puri, founder and CEO of Synocate, to learn about his journey of self discovery from passion to career.


Youthful Ambition

From an early age, Ishan has always been a goal orientated thinker. While most kids were busy spending time with friends and cutting class, Ishan was figuring out who he wanted to be 8 years from now.

“I decided in 5th grade I wanted to go to a great college. Before that I wasn’t a very good student, I was just kind of doing a lot of things. But then I realized that going to a good college could open a lot of doors for me.”

And like that, a switch was flipped. Ishan got serious at school and spent countless hours studying and preparing for the science fair each year. Yet, he always came up short.

“I lost every year for 6 years in the science fair. And then in 11th grade, I finally got to the state level. The very next year I went to the national and the international level. But it took 8 years. So that’s one piece of advice I give to students now is start early and find what you like to do. That way you have room to fail.”

Ishan definitely started early, and his hard work paid off–being accepted into Stanford University for undergrad. And as time progressed, he also discovered his passion for helping people. Slowly, this passion evolved into Synocate.

An Early Calling

In 2009, when Ishan was just a freshman at Stanford, his brother was also going through the college application process.

“I was just emailing my brother tips because he asked me what’s the secret to get into these top schools, and I told him that there’s a lot you can do to improve your chances.”

While Ishan didn’t realize it at the time, these emails were the first indications of a need for his eventual company, Synocate. After helping out his brother, Ishan converted these emails into a book titled “The Applicant”–intended at helping others who wish to “crack the college application process.” The book became an instant success and bestseller on Amazon. During all of this, Ishan was still just a sophomore in college. Even so, people contacted him left and right on all social media platforms.

The cover of Ishan’s book

Ishan slowly realized there was a need for the service he provided to his brother. He began taking calls from parents and helping students through the process with Skype video sessions.

“It started becoming second nature; I didn’t even have to prepare for these meetings.”

Despite the success he had in helping mentor students, families, and friends, Ishan didn’t seriously consider starting his own company based on his experiences.

It was a very part time, fun thing I did. It wasn’t a company.”

And after graduating with a degree in Economics and Public Policy, Ishan joined Silver Lake Ventures, a 39 billion dollar venture capital fund, as an analyst in Menlo Park.

A Quick Venture into VC

While at Silver Lake, Ishan learned to think long term. It was an atmosphere of doers. People thinking about how to convert one million to a hundred million. It was more than just thinking about where the company would go in months or years. It was focused on where the company could go in twenty to thirty years.

“This was the type of thinking I hadn’t done over and over in college. The number one thing I liked about Silver Lake was the quality of the people. Everyone there was motivated to do their work and they loved technology, investment, and business. I got exposed to a very high level of all of this straight out of college which was really good.”

Ishan learned a lot about what it takes to be a successful company at Silver Lake–along with all the logistical challenges to consider. He stayed with Silver Lake for two years before beginning to seriously think about his earlier experiences at Stanford. Synocate was ready to be born.

Founding Synocate

Even while he was working at Silver Lake, people kept repeatedly asking about his book and expertise. There were so many families around him looking for any advice he could provide.

“At some point I decided I wanted to try this. I just took the jump. I left Silver Lake and founded Synocate.”

Synocate is an education startup that takes a holistic approach to college admissions–using data insights and counsellors to highlight the strengths of applicants.

Starting a company is hard. Ishan drew on the insight he gained at Silver Lake to help overcome early roadblocks. Scope, scale, feasibility were all difficult questions Ishan tackled initially.

“One of the biggest challenges is customer acquisition–convincing parents an online service is the best option out there while simultaneously have the service be for the student. Once they use our product, they’re convinced. Our retention rate is incredibly high.”

Additionally, there are a lot existing players, a lot of localized markets trying to accomplish similar goals. People who want a service like Synocate are already paying for it locally. However, Ishan comments that these alternative solutions aren’t the most optimal, and that the most important factor to success is making people aware of Synocate. Once this happens, people will naturally gravitate towards Synocate.

Even with so many challenges, Ishan doesn’t regret a thing.

“The journey has been great. It’s been one year. It feels like two weeks–time flies. There’s so much to do, and we’ve done a lot and accomplished a lot. A lot of people want to help us out. We have so many interns from top colleges. I’ve hired a few people full time. We’ve got this online network of counselors, editors, and researchers. They all believe in the same mission. People from all over the world–different backgrounds. That’s how you know you’ve hit on something that everyone believes in.”

It hasn’t been a singular journey. Ishan has leveraged the networks around him to their full potential, like GSVlabs, and benefited from the connections made.

“I’m at GSVlabs, and I love it. Being around other people that are also figuring out startups has been tremendously helpful.”

Ishan pitching Synocate to a group of students and school administrators in July

Going Forward

For Ishan, Synocate is more than just a company. It’s about changing, helping, and improving the lives of students for the better. It’s about creating a whole new system of thinking and placing students at the forefront–giving them the tools to succeed in their lives.

Ishan sees Synocate as more than just a tool for students to get into the colleges of their dreams.

“Our long term vision is to help people through different parts of the journey. Finding a job. Having a mentor. Getting into college. These are all important journeys that we usually mess up. It takes time to figure it all out. What if we could change these things? What if we could use the data of past students to inform people like you, of your personality, background, grades, and interests, what they generally do. That’s very important.”

The Synocate team and their interns at GSVlabs.

Ishan has taken the first step towards realizing that larger dream.

To find out more about GSVlabs, Synocate, and Ishan, please connect and follow us on Medium, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also find Synocate on Twitter and Facebook.

This piece was written by Michael Guo.

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