While watching his wife attempt to prepare for medical board exams, Amit Mathew had a thought: There has to be a better way to try and ace a test than spending hours designing study schedules by hand. So naturally, with a background in software development and a hunger for an interesting side project, he used his skills to build an app that could accelerate that process. Thus, he and his wife co-founded Cram Fighter in 2012 — which enabled students to create interactive and personalized study plans. At some point in 2012, Mathew realized that it was time to quit his day job and focus full-time on the company, which is now based at LearnLaunch in Back Bay.
And the ed tech startup has come a long way since then. With a team of just four, Cram Fighter has silently grown into a company that, as of now, serves over 20,000 paying customers and provides over 50,000 user-created study schedules. On top of that, Cram Fighter boasts one of the largest brand ambassador programs in the market (even though it just launched late last year), with representatives at about 50 U.S. medical schools — more than 25 percent of the medical schools in the country. All in all, users have read over 1 million pages, completed over 2 million test prep questions and watched more than 20,000 hours of lectures.
The team surveyed users last year and found that students who stuck to their Cram Fighter study plan performed a lot better on their exams than those who didn’t.
What’s perhaps most interesting about Cram Fighter is that it’s essentially establishing a new product category — and at scale. Mathew says that, initially, he thought this would just be a fun lifestyle business to work on in spare time. In fact, his top priority was simultaneously launching a healthcare company out of an accelerator. But whereas that venture didn’t work out, Cram Fighter was on autopilot and growing regardless of the fact that the cofounders were only spending a few hours a week on it. Seeing significant potential, the team doubled down on the business starting in 2014. And Mathew tells me that the company has been able to thrive primarily via word-of-mouth marketing.
“The great thing about medical students is that they all talk to each other,” he explained. “They were all telling their friends about Cram Fighter, which helped fuel growth.”
Now, Cram Fighter’s study schedule planner — which is available for the USMLE, COMLEX, Shelf, MCAT, CFA, and NCLEX-RN — is accessible across the Web, iOS, and Android. The most popular exam that the product supports (USMLE Step 1), according to Mathew, has captured more than 10 percent of the second year medical student market.
Mathew claims that the team surveyed users last year and found that students who stuck to their Cram Fighter study plan performed a lot better on their exams than those who didn’t. What’s more — the difference in scores they saw was similar to test prep companies that cost several thousand dollars.
“What we realized is that being organized is just as important as picking the right content to study from,” said Mathew.
Adding to the intrigue of Cram Fighter’s story is that it has managed to stay profitable while also being entirely bootstrapped — no easy feat for any startup. Mathew told me that they aren’t ruling out angel or VC funding, but they’re not aggressively pursuing it because there’s no immediate need for it, considering Cram Fighter is seeing healthy growth — and also because he just doesn’t feel like begging for money right now.
Adding to the intrigue of Cram Fighter’s story is that it has managed to stay profitable while also being entirely bootstrapped — no easy feat for any startup.
“It takes a lot of energy. I’d rather spend time interacting with customers and building a product they love,” he told me. “We want to get to a point where VC are coming to us.”
Already, there’s hundreds of supported resources for medical students available on Cram Fighter. But Mathew says that the team is starting to think about the bigger picture — and greater potential — for the startup’s tools. That means figuring out how to help students study for everything from the SATs to the GREs, as well as prepare for general classroom quizzes and tests and tackle other overwhelming homework assignments. Image of books with stethoscope via Shutterstock.