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Nived Ravikumar, Founder of Statement Guru



Nived Ravikumar was born and raised in Southern California to immigrant parents from Chennai, India. Growing up, he developed a fascination with two of the region’s most distinguishing features: diversity and moviemaking. He has since blossomed into a world traveler (30+ countries visited) and expert storyteller. After working in the entertainment industry and at Google’s L.A. offices for several years, he launched Statement Guru as a “storytelling” service to a domestic and global clientele looking for help on their admissions essays. Nived is a lifetime member of American MENSA and currently completing his coursework as a Master’s degree candidate at Harvard University.

In your own words what is Statement Guru?

Statement Guru’s tagline is “My mission is your admission.” To that end, Statement Guru is in the business of getting clients into their dream programs by guiding them through the admissions essay writing process, from brainstorming to final polish and everything in between. 

While GPA, standardized testing and extracurricular experiences are all important, as admissions become even more competitive at elite institutions, it’s no longer enough to be smart or even accomplished. You need to have a story to tell; you need to grab admissions officers in a bold and vibrant way. No part of the application can do this like the statement of purpose (or personal statement). Despite this all-important component, there is a significant lack of understanding out there as to how to actually execute a high-quality admissions essay.

How did you come up with the idea of Statement Guru?

I didn’t. People decided for me! Let me explain. In my social circles, I had developed a reputation for being a strong writer, and I pursued career opportunities that allowed that skill to shine. For example, I was the Newsletter Editor for the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles for several years. Several of my colleagues and friends took notice of my abilities and approached me to help them revise their graduate school admissions essays. In fact, I got some free dinners and extra income out of it. Without direct experience in admissions, I relied on what I’d learned from screenwriting classes and storytelling theory. The acceptance success rate for those early clients was amazingly high, and my methods validated themselves. 

Could you walk us through the process of starting up Statement Guru?

Working with people I already knew in the Los Angeles area was one thing. Standardizing and tailoring my methods to a large audience was another. I needed a catchy name and, to my surprise, was available. It was short, memorable, and being of South Asian descent, the “guru” part resonated with me. From there, the process was about challenging myself in unfamiliar situations. For example, one of my early clients was a friend of a friend living in the Bay Area whom I had never met. To this day, I still haven’t met her! All of our interactions were over the phone, and at times, it was a bit awkward trying to pry interesting biographical tidbits out of a total stranger. Nowadays, these type of conversations are second nature to me, and my clients can sense that and feel at ease. I would say my first India-based client was another hurdle. I stumbled my way through it, and he’s in a master’s program at NYU now. So I guess I did something right!

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during startup?

I was so confident in my talent as an essay guru. I worked hard on building an eye-catching website and creating online advertising campaigns. For a couple of years, all that effort was met with a resounding silence. In hindsight, it makes sense—I wasn’t selling a product or tangible good, I was selling a promise, over the internet no less, that I could help someone I had never met, from some part of the globe I had probably never visited, write a compelling personal narrative. If you’re in a business like this, word-of-mouth and third-party referrals are everything. But where do you get those when no one is willing to hire you in the first place? It’s a catch-22. I had to do a lot of free and heavily discounted work in those days and wait for glowing Yelp reviews to trickle in. I would say critical mass was reached around two years ago. Since then, the focus has been less on gaining credentials and more about servicing clients and evolving as an organization. 

How have you been developing Statement Guru since startup?

This is a tricky one because so much of what Statement Guru is revolves around my way of interacting with clients and putting an essay together. The personal touch is what makes Statement Guru Statement Guru, but it is also impossible for me to work one-on-one with everyone out there who wants to work with me. Sometimes, I don’t have the time, sometimes, they can’t afford my quote. Long term, I want to indoctrinate additional tutors in “the Statement Guru way,” but for now, I am more focused on creating content that allows me to reach as many people as possible for as minimal a cost as possible. I have written an admissions essay book 50 Questions for Your Admissions Essay Draft (available on Amazon), I host the admissions-focused Statement Guru podcast ( and I post articles on my site and sometimes on my colleagues’ sites.

What kind of feedback did you get for Statement Guru so far?

I never would have imagined that a seemingly simple thing like an admissions essay would actually be a complex, at times emotional process. It is essentially a mission statement for an individual. As many entrepreneurs can tell you, creating and refining a mission statement requires a lot of soul-searching and reflection. If working on your admissions essay does not create similar sensations in you, you’re doing it wrong. I’ve had many clients tell me they’ve found the process therapeutic, and it has helped them gain greater self-awareness and direction in life. I don’t want to take too much credit, as there are numerous ways they could have “found themselves.” But I’m happy to help, and it’s that kind of thing that makes what I do truly rewarding.

What is your strategy against your competition?

I work in a funny industry, so take all of this with a grain of salt. If you look at a university like UCLA, it receives nearly 100,000 applicants for its freshman class. 100,000! Per year! I’m willing to guess a majority of those applicants used some kind of professional service or resource to help them with their SATs. But what percentage hired an essay professional for their personal statements? Much, much lower. While I’ve met a few other essay professionals, some of whom are direct competitors technically, we are barely scratching the surface of the market’s potential. Rather than fight over existing clients, my colleagues and I would rather be collaborative and refer clients to each other if one of us isn’t necessarily the best fit. For example, my focus tends to be on graduate school applicants, like STEM students from India. A lot of my fellow essay tutors concentrate on only undergrad applicants, so they are happy to send along graduate school hopefuls. Because we are playing the long game and aiming for a bigger pie, reaching out to competitors and maintaining good relationships has undoubtedly made my business stronger, and I’m confident the feeling is mutual on their end.

Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

The main thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a bit of a stigma around it, and one of my goals is to help bring essay tutors “out of the shadows.” My belief is that writing services that write essays for you don’t work, as far as admissions go. The best admissions essays are built on authenticity, and no one can represent you more authentically than you. What Statement Guru and other legitimate companies do is give our clients a set of tools and a pair of objective eyes so they avoid the numerous traps and pitfalls that can sink even the best writers during this process. I consider myself to be a coach. You never see coaches actually on the field competing, yet they help athletes unlock their potential. Similarly, those aren’t my words on the page, yet my client might have never expressed that set of words in that particular way without me around to help them have that breakthrough. 

What is the future of the industry?

I bet at some point SAT coaching was thought of as giving applicants who could afford it an unfair edge, but now, it’s standard practice. I think part of why is that it became accessible to everyone. You can go online and, without paying a dime, find sample exams and videos to make you better at standardized testing. Khan Academy has a bunch of those, and it’s way more entertaining than it should be watching Sal work his way through SAT/GRE/GMAT practice sets! If an applicant needs more SAT help and can pay for it, that’s out there, too. Right now, I see admissions essay resources in their infancy, and that world needs to be legitimized through the Sal Khans of the world. This process is confounded by the subjectivity of essay writing vs. standardized testing, but still, I’ve developed methods and practices that work 100% of the time. Can I guarantee admission? No, but no one can, unless you have a wealthy relative willing to make a large donation on your behalf! As more books are written, more podcasts recorded and more video content shot, I see my industry getting democratized like the standardized testing industry. The only ways to stay relevant are to keep getting results and to keep creating content, and I plan to do both.

Was there anything that disappointed you initially?

Disappointed is a strong word. I think it is more like being caught off-guard. In the early days, I tried to be as informal and friendly as possible in my client interactions to help build rapport. Because of that, I felt weird about asking for payment, especially in advance, when I hadn’t actually done anything yet. At the end of the process, I’d mention wanting to resolve payment. Usually, there was no issue, but there were a few times where this would drag on for months. I never enjoyed sending out reminder emails, and it left relations on a sour note. Now, I have to be more formal about this aspect, but I guess that’s what happens when you go from helping your friends and their friends to running an actual business.

What do you think about being an entrepreneur in Asia?

Though I have many clients based in Asia, my company is based in the U.S.. Because I don’t deal directly with any Asia-based companies, I don’t have much insight on this question.

What is your definition of success?

To me, success is finding that “sweet spot” where you are able to do what you’re best at and there are people out there who value that. In the entertainment industry, there are many talented people, but if they can’t connect their creative output with a wide audience, they aren’t going to survive. On the flipside, there are a lot of cynical, meaningless projects that get made because the filmmakers knew an audience will show up. I can’t define either of these scenarios as real success. Creatives/artists/entrepreneurs have to figure out a way to build that bridge between who they are and what the people want, while being true to both sides. It’s not an easy balance. If it were, everyone would do it.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

As I’ve mentioned, a lot of my background is tied to the world of filmmaking/screenwriting. While I still love movies and the whole artistic process that goes into making them, at the end of the day, it’s still just entertainment. Whereas entrepreneurship has changed and will continue to change the world in profound ways. As we’ve seen with something like Netflix, even the entertainment business can be flipped upside down by a well-implemented business idea. At the same time, I relate to a lot of how businesses are conceived of and developed. It really reminds me of the screenwriting and filmmaking process. I guess even as a filmmaker, I was an entrepreneur. I just didn’t realize it yet!

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

Love what your business does—and love business. 

Know yourself—both in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

Know your audience—you can never change human behavior; you can only work within the bounds of what people are willing to do. In both entertainment and entrepreneurship, I’ve seen huge chasms between what creatives think people want and what people actually want. 

Get comfortable with failure—a big ego will blind you from reality.

Be prepared to embrace the process—yes, it’s maddening, but I suspect most entrepreneurs are a bit mad anyway. If you are driven only by dreams of success and rewards, you’ll likely burn out before ever seeing them. The ups and downs of entrepreneurship are like being on a roller coaster 24-7. Some people are perfectly suited for this, most aren’t.

Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there from your personal experience?

At the end of the day, people want to feel…






…listened to





…in control










Whether you’re making a product, offering a service, penning an essay or shooting a movie, to be any good, form is crucial, so is function. But to truly be transcendent, you must also reach for the third f… you must deliver a feeling, or two, or a dozen.


Callum Connects

Elaine Zhou, Co-Founder of China Women Equipping Center



Elaine went on a journey of self discovery and once she knew her true self she could be successful in her own business.

What’s your story?
I am very proud of where I came from and I am grateful for where I am living and working today. Singapore is my adopted home and it is my aim to always contribute to and serve this country and its people.
Twelve years ago, I moved to Singapore for an internship opportunity. I was twenty one years old and I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t speak English, I didn’t understand the culture or the customs. Everything was new and strange to me. Everything was difficult, but my parents had tremendous faith in me.
My parents have worked diligently on the family farm to raise us and send us to college. My parents had a huge influence on me. The important things I learnt from them are to love, to never give up, to be a hard worker and to have a can-do attitude. These are the qualities that I embrace in my daily life.

What excites you most about your industry?
We offer more than just training. Our business is a resource to be leveraged for transformation, improved teamwork, leadership behaviours, communication skills, relationship skills, coaching skills and increased job satisfaction and productivity.
Our passion and purpose is to help people grow as leaders and to create tremendous results by serving others well. We take people to daring destinations, beyond their imagination.
My greatest joy is to see people grow, change and transform and live a purposeful life; this is what motivates me to do more and do it well.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in China and I have spent all my adult and professional life in Singapore.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore and China.
Singapore is a very sophisticated and systematic country. It is a structured and highly efficient business environment and people are generally nice and honest. Also, the convenience and diverse culture is a great advantage for people who want to settle down there, no matter if they are from the East or West. You always feel at home in Singapore.
I also like China because of its fast growth. The population and the market is here. However, it takes time to settle in because of the language barrier and the very different traditional culture. But you will also find it is very interesting and you’ll want to learn more about China. The people are nice if you know them well. It is always about relationship first and business second, and when you are in a business meeting, you really have to master the skill of “reading the air.” It is a skill to let people know and understand you; your values, your background, why you think in that way or why you do or do not do certain things. Doing business in China is like swimming in the ocean; it is an abundant ocean and it is full of risks. Always know your values and stay true to yourself and make decisions close to your heart. It will help you see things more clearly and get things done in a way that doesn’t violate your values.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Be yourself, Elaine.” That is the best advice I have ever received. It was a big ‘aha’ moment for me. It was also the moment I truly and honestly looked within myself. I realized that when I am being my true self, and not trying to be someone else, I am able to connect with people instantly in a genuine and authentic way. It is a great feeling.

Who inspires you?
There are so many people who encourage me, lift me up and challenge me everyday. My mentor, John Maxwell who helped me discover my purpose in life; Michael Griffin, for his passion for Christ which is contagious and Wayne Dyer, my spiritual mentor who passed away in 2016. Also, people who are living with a purpose and striving everyday for their dream, they really inspire me. My clients, mentees and students. When I see that joy and peace in them, that inspires me to do more and do well. My team inspire me, especially when they said, “Elaine, I joined the business because of you.” They inspire me to make it work for the team and the business because it is beyond my own self interest. I am grateful for having so many people in my life who inspire me.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
China is a big country, we all know that, and it is also an internet giant. Recently on a team meeting, one of the directors who manages a successful beauty business, shared with us, that everybody is on the internet, especially on WeChat. People are obsessed with online communities – for ordering food, getting taxis, forging relationships, connections and friends. Almost anything and everything can get done online. But right now, there is a new trend; more and more people want the “offline” experience. It usually takes one to two hours from one place to another in Beijing, but people want to make the effort to have a real connection with other people, to attend networks, seminars, workshops and business meetings.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I started my first business when I was 24 years old, it failed. One year later, I started my second business and after a year and a half, I closed down the operation. After several painful experiences and two failed businesses, I started to look within myself, and seriously and intentionally invested in my personal growth at the age of 28. If I could turn back time, I wish I could have grown a lot earlier. I strongly believe that the level of our success is determined by the level of our self growth and we are always learning, everyday. But I also understand it is not the only way to live. I also consciously and intentionally try to live in the now. It is a beautiful and great way to live. In fact, I am grateful for what I have gone through; the pains, setbacks and challenges in my earlier life.

How do you unwind?
I like to stay connected with nature. For example, taking a walk barefoot on the grass and smelling the roses on the street. Having a beer or coffee along the riverside with friends; reading a good book; hunting for nice restaurants; swimming or running.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand – nice beaches, food and people.
Bali – fantastic beaches and food, great people.
Malaysia – Nice food and people, particularly Langkawi, Penang and KK.
Of course Singapore, it is always a place dear to my heart. It’s my home.
There are a lot of other interesting places in China which I am still exploring.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill
The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Tao Te Ching: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Wayne Dyer
Developing the Leaders Within You by John C.Maxwell
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
These are some of the books that truly transformed my thinking and shaped my values.
I used to read a lot of different types of books, from sales, marketing, branding and management to different business models. I found it is really hard to master all of it and I was not optimizing my own strengths.
Entrepreneurship is a skill to be learnt. But it is really important to recognize what we are good at and what we are not so good at. We can not be everything.
Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovery and soul searching. It is all about learning and striving. We should try and always remember why we started our business in the first place.

Shameless plug for your business:
The China Women Equipping Center, is something both my team are I are very proud. We have put our hearts and souls into it, to help women in China grow and transform. As a developing country and with the rise of China, people are not lacking in money, everywhere is full of opportunity, but the challenge is the civilizations, values and faith. In fact the Chinese government puts a lot of effort into improving and shaping the international image to ensure it is making progress. But people are still facing a lot of pressure, especially women.
One of our business partners who is runs traditional Chinese medicine retail stores, shared that 80% of his patients are female, and the reason they are coming to see him are anxiety and depression.
Our China Women Equipping Center creates a safe and comfortable environment for women to help build their values and characters. My local team and I are very passionate about our mission and purpose. Beijing is our headquarters in China. We are planning to take three to six months to establish our business in Beijing and grow and expand to other major cities in China after that.

How can people connect with you?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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Callum Connects

Bryan Choo, Founder of



Bryan Choo gets excited by executing great digital campaigns for his clients.

What’s your story?
Inspired by TripAdvisor and then later Buzzfeed, I created a hyper-local portal in Singapore 4 years ago. now reaches over half the population each month and we have over 100 employees.

What excites you most about your industry?
There’s a certain thrill that goes along with content creation because results are sometimes impossible to predict. Those with strong ideation skills tend to do well and on digital media. How well your campaign did is known to everyone through the public engagements the posts get. So executing great campaigns for brands brings me a lot of satisfaction.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore; a very modern country that offers the best of both worlds. In Singapore, we have access to the latest in technology and very competitive prices. We can tap into skilled labour such as IT from Myanmar and design/videography from the Philippines. Should we venture into production or E-comm, we have access to extremely cheap raw materials. We’re just a 5 hour flight away from China.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore! Most APAC regional offices are located here, making it easier to get approval since we deal directly with the decision makers.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
To think of ourselves more as a publisher and not a review website.

Who inspires you?
Oliver Emberton, Mark Manson, Charlie Houpert and Tim Urban. They are all amazing content creators.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I discovered a franchise that used an amazing way of growing content regionally through user-generated content and hashtags.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
To focus on content geared to social audiences from day one. The biggest mistake of most traditional players is just focusing on SEO-driven content, which does not do well on Facebook. We started off like that but we adapted quickly and that’s when our business took off.

How do you unwind?
I used to play computer games, now I exercise and get lots of satisfaction looking at my fitbit results.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
South Korea. I love the food and weather there.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Shameless plug for your business:
Apart from TSL, we also run three other websites. which focuses on news, which focuses on food and which focuses on female-centric content.

How can people connect with you?
Drop me an email at [email protected]

Twitter handle?

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

Continue Reading