When Chad Troutwine SOM ’02 graduated from high school at age 16, he had no idea that he would be a lawyer, a real estate developer, an educational entrepreneur and an independent film producer by the time he was 40. Back then, all he knew was that he wanted to be his own boss.
Troutwine spoke to a group of hopeful entrepreneurs at the Yale School of Management last week. At the Thursday talk, Troutwine told the students, both graduates and undergraduates, about how he made his high school dream of professional independence a reality. Troutwine currently runs an elite GMAT preparation program, Veritas Prep, as well as a successful film production company, which recently released a film version of the best-selling book “Freakonomics.”
“Instead of drawing an academic treatise, I just told the students about my story and my businesses, what I’ve done,” Troutwine said after the talk. “If that informs and inspires someone in the audience, then I’ve done my job.”
Troutwine’s entrepreneurial journey began after his graduation from the University of Missouri Law School, when he and a childhood friend decided to buy several abandoned buildings in their hometown of Kansas City, Mo., and convert them into loft-style condominiums. Troutwine said he and his friend did almost all the planning and construction of the condos on their own.
Following his stint in real estate development, Troutwine came to Yale in 2000 to get his degree in management. It was in New Haven that Troutwine developed and began to execute his business plan for Veritas Prep.
Although Troutwine came to the SOM with the idea for the GMAT prep program, the plan was fleshed out in Professor David Cromwell’s entrepreneurial planning class. In this class, about six business plans are constructed annually, said Cromwell, but only one or two of them become successful.
The idea for Veritas Prep came out of Troutwine’s passion for education as well as his consistent success in standardized tests — he scored in the 99th percentile on the PSAT, ACT, SAT, LSAT, Multistate Bar Examination and the GMAT.
“When I started SOM in 2000, we’d come off a decade that was really dominated by Kaplan and the Princeton Review,” he said. “I taught the GMAT for Kaplan, and they were really mediocre.”
Instead, Troutwine designed a GMAT program that offered a 42-hour preparation course — compared to Kaplan’s 16 hours — taught only by people who had scored in the 99th percentile on the test. Today, Veritas Prep is the largest privately owned GMAT prep provider, with over 500 employees in 22 states, said Troutwine.
Students in the audience said they enjoyed Troutwine’s approach to the talk.
Max Uhlenhuth ’12 said that he thought Troutwine’s straightforward approach was refreshing.
“He can take a really hard look at his past,” Uhlenhuth said. “He was very honest about his thought process on important decisions he had made — from deciding to do a 50/50 split with his business partner to deciding to do ‘Freakonomics.’” Justin Borgman ’11, a second-year student at the SOM and the co-chairman of the SOM’s Entrepreneurship Club, said projects such as these make Troutwine a great entrepreneur. He did not try to reinvent the wheel, but he used existing ideas, such as New York loft-style housing, and did something interesting with it, said Borgman.
Cromwell said Troutwine has been so successful because of a combination of persistence and skilled salesmanship.
“He’s very persisitent, that’s one of my favorite characteristics of successful entrepreneurs,” he said. “He’s determined, and creative.”
In addition to Veritas Prep, Troutwine also owns a film production company called Chad Troutwine Films.