If there is one thing that Ramit Varma knows, it is that “no” does not always have to be the final answer.
In 2002, Varma, a 1992 graduate of , cofounded Revolution Prep, an online academic tutoring and test preparation site, with fellow University of California, Los Angeles graduate Jake Neuberg, using only their credit cards and a shared vision.
Both men wanted to inspire others to take an interest in science and math, and thought the best way for students to succeed was to assess and analyze information, rather than simply memorize answers for a test.
Today, rivals Kaplan and the Princeton Review. The company collaborates with 40,000 to 50,000 schools, Varma said, and was recently listed as one of the 100 fastest growing private companies by the Los Angeles Business Journal, in addition to being named to IBM's Good Company Project.
Despite Varma’s success, becoming a businessperson was not always his ambition. Varma completed an engineering degree at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1996. Even in his four years in College Park, however, Varma had a passion for teaching and worked for the Princeton Review.
It was after graduation, while working as a consultant at Citibank that Varma decided to make a change in his life. “I just thought, what is it that you love? I love teaching,” Varma said. That decision is what sent him to UCLA, and ultimately, to his future career. Though the West Coast might have lead Varma to Neuberg, his drive, ambition and character started in Rockville.
“I consider it a privilege to have gone through a great school system. [Montogmery County Public Schools] put me in a position to maximize my potential. I am very grateful for that,” Varma said.
The Junior ROTC program at Magruder made a lasting impact, he said. “The Junior ROTC program was a formative experience, unique to Magruder High School,” Varma said, “It was so tremendous in giving kids leadership and discipline.”
While in JROTC, two men helped form Varma’s drive: Retired Army Lt. Col. Leonard Whiteside and retired Army Sgt. Maj. John Ohmer. “A lot of schools talk about academic character development. I give these men credit for developing my character,” Varma said.
Whiteside, who was also Varma’s tennis coach, described him as a bright student with a “fantastic personality” and charm. “One thing about him: He was smart,” Whiteside said. “He was head and shoulders above others, particularly in mathematics. I knew he would go on to do great things.”
For students with large ambitions and dreams, determination is essential to success, Varma said. “It may sound a little cliché, but some things are cliché because they are so true. Never take no for an answer,” he said.
To prove his point, Varma recalled how he requested an elephant and a parade for his wedding—and actually succeeded. His initial request immediately drew a "no" from all sides, but constant requests and innovative solutions ended with Varma riding down the street in Santa Monica, Calif., where Revolution Prep is headquarterd, on the elephant he had fought so hard for.
“If you have a goal and you are persistent, many times you’ll find that no rarely means no,” Varma said.
Whether it is founding a company or finding a wild animal, Varma believes that anyone can make their aspirations a reality. “Just be humble, look at the data and process information,” he said. “Keep on moving, one step in front of another. You’ll be surprised how far you can go.”