'Shark Tank'-winning CEO: What my 3 favorite books taught me about money and success

"This book teaches readers the real value of investing: freeing your time."

Dr. Shaan Patel is the founder and CEO of Prep Expert.
Photo by J&J Studios

Over the course of his career, Dr. Shaan Patel, the CEO and founder of Prep Expert SAT & ACT Courses, has come across a few books that he says have helped him "optimize" his career and become a stronger, more successful leader.

In 2010, Patel started his own SAT and ACT preparation company called Prep Expert. Since then he's been able help more than 60,000 students improve their test scores. Prep Expert has generated over $25 million in revenue during that time. Patel even pitched Prep Expert on "Shark Tank" in 2016 and closed a $250,000 deal with Mark Cuban

Patel was able to grow his business while attending college, earning his MBA at Yale and his medical degree at the University of Southern California, and completing his medical residency in dermatology.

Here are his top three favorite books and some lessons he took from each.

1. A book for building wealth

'Financial Freedom' by Grant Sabatier

"Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need" by Grant Sabatier

"Financial Freedom" author Grant Sabatier is also the founder of websites Millennial Money and BankBonus.com. He writes his book from personal experience: He was able to stash away over $1 million in just five years by launching several side hustles and saving and investing more than 80% of his income. Sabatier is also a success story of the so-called FIRE movement, whose followers aim for financial independence and retiring early.

Aside from being a great introduction to investing, Patel says, "'Financial Freedom' also makes one principle clear: Time is more valuable than money." The book shares with readers the real value of investing: "freeing your time," Patel explains. Because "if you're constantly working for every dollar earned, life can get exhausting."

Patel's favorite quote from the book is about how to reframe your ideas about your income. "We often think about spending money so we can get something. But in reality, when we spend money, instead of investing it, we are actually taking from ourselves," Sabatier writes. "We are both taking the time we spent to make the money and the future freedom it can buy."

If you're constantly working for every dollar earned, life can get exhausting.
Dr. Shaan Patel
Founder and CEO, Prep Expert

In order to save and invest more money, in "Financial Freedom," Sabatier suggests asking yourself some questions before spending your hard-earned cash, such as how many hours did you have to work to purchase that item? Or, how much money could you potentially earn if you invested that money instead?

Patel has been able to use these techniques to change his relationship to spending. He is more mindful and he automates investments into an index fund every week. That strategy has "worked very, very well for me," Patel says, "because it's 'set it and forget it.' I don't have to remember to put [the money] in myself, and I don't also worry about timing the market."

2. A book for aspiring entrepreneurs

'Rework' by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

"Rework" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Patel "highly" recommends "Rework" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, especially for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Patel has learned a lot about entrepreneurship while running Prep Expert and says he "agrees with nearly every point in this book." Here are a few of the most important lessons Patel says he's gathered from the book.

  • Meetings are a waste of time. In the book, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson argue that meetings stifle productivity. If you must meet, they suggest putting limits in place by setting a timer, inviting as few people as possible, targeting a specific problem, and making sure to conclude with a solution.
  • "Learn from your mistakes" is a lie. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson pose the question of what you actually learn from mistakes as an entrepreneur. They say you often learn what not to do when you should be learning what to do instead. "Success gives you real ammunition. When something succeeds, you know what worked — and you can do it again. And the next time, you'll probably do it even better," they write.
  • Alone time is key to building massive value. If you want to be productive in whatever you're pursuing, Fried and Heinemeier Hansson say "alone time," or time when you're not distracted by your phone or other people, can help you succeed. "You can set up a rule at work that half the day is set aside for alone time. Decree that from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., people can't talk to each other (except during lunch)," they write.

3. A book for worrying less

'How to Stop Worrying and Start Living' by Dale Carnegie

"How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" by Dale Carnegie

To juggle all of his responsibilities, Patel tries to stay present. "Thinking about the future will only worry you, thinking about the past will only bring you anxiety, but thinking about the present moment helps bring you peace," he says.

He recognizes that's easier said than done, but "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" by Dale Carnegie "offers strategies and tactics to help readers conquer the stresses of daily life," Patel says.

Specifically, he says Carnegie has a three-step formula that helps him conquer his worries:

  1. Analyze the situation and determine the worst-case scenario.
  2. Mentally accept the worst-case scenario.
  3. Calmly create strategies to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening.

Using this formula, Carnegie writes, "yanks us down out of the great grey clouds in which we fumble around when we are blinded by worry."

It also helps us focus on the solution rather than the problem, Patel says: "If you're not improving and you're not constantly trying to get better or looking for ways to optimize, that's when you get stuck."

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