Looking For Work In A Pandemic? This Stanford MBA’s Startup Can Help

Stephen Cognetta, co-founder of Exponent, speaks to an audience in Hartford, Connecticut on how to ace a product manager (PM) interview. Courtesy photo

You’re in an MBA program. You’re preparing to interview for a tech job you really want. And that means you have a big problem, because like most of the rest of the world you’re currently locked down because of a global pandemic.

Stephen Cognetta gets it. A former Google product manager, he’s late in the second year of his MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business and doing classes virtually while looking ahead to a graduation ceremony that almost certainly won’t occur in person, if it even happens this spring. But there’s one thing Cognetta doesn’t have to worry about at the moment: preparing for a job interview. Because he already has a thriving business.

The good news for you is that Cognetta’s company can help you get that tech job you really want. The better news: They’ll do it for free.

Cognetta is the co-founder and CEO of Exponent, an education service that uses interactive content and video on a custom platform to help people prepare for jobs in tech. Exponent, co-founded with CTO Jacob Simon, has just secured a series of partnerships to offer free online tech interview prep courses for MBA students amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Among their clients: Stanford GSB, Yale School of Management, INSEAD, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, the University of Washington Foster School of Business, and others.

Since launching in 2017, Cognetta, Simon, and their team have helped more than 3,000 paying customers. Now they want to do their part during the global crisis and help some non-paying ones.

“We have over 10,000 people using some level of our course,” Cognetta tells Poets&Quants. “COVID, obviously, has changed everyone’s plans a ton. We’re seeing a lot of internships get canceled, a lot of offers getting rescinded, a lot of internships getting changed, and a lot of layoffs. A lot of things going remote. And so there’s a frenzy for students to now secure jobs for the summer or figure out what their full-time opportunities are. And the job market is getting more competitive as a result, so we’re seeing fewer opportunities appear — which means candidates need to be even more prepared for the interviews and make sure that they’re doing well in them if they want to secure the job.”


Stephen Cognetta. Courtesy photo

Cognetta spent three summers in product management at Google. In May 2017 he took time off to find his passion. “One thing that naturally came out of it was that I really love coaching and helping people through their problems, just sitting with them,” he says. “I was coaching people just to help out, and I started to realize that there was a lot of potential here to do something.

“There was one point where I was considering being a doctor. But instead I sort of ended up being a therapist in the career world.” 

Cognetta and Simon scaled out their ideas, and Exponent was born. When, for Cognetta, business school beckoned, it didn’t interrupt the development of their venture — it accelerated it.

“I’ve basically grown the business during business school to the point where now it’ll be sustaining me after I graduate,” he says.

Call it the Stanford advantage.

“Business school, especially for the business that I run, has definitely helped,” he says. “What we do is we help people advance their careers in tech, specifically starting with interview prep, and starting with product management — so there are a lot of potential users at the school. There are a lot of people that would be able to help with the products and help get advice. And being on the ground is really helpful.”

It’s especially helpful in establishing Exponent’s MBA partnerships, through which the company is offering the free help during the coronavirus pandemic.

“To really stay close to the ground of the MBA experience, that helped us lock down a couple of our initial partners for the MBA programs that we do, where we provide our online courses and some of our coaching and some of our community memberships to MBA students,” Cognetta says.


Exponent, “like an online tech gymnasium server,” helps people prepare for interviews in product management software engineering, data science, technical program management, product marketing management, business operations — “a bunch of different spaces within tech,” Cognetta says. “All the hot, cool tech jobs, basically.” It works in three main ways: online courses, coaching, and community. Online is straightforward: Exponent offers videos, lessons, and a course you can browse through. Coaching involves the company’s stable of more than 30 experts from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Etsy, Apple, Zynga, and more.

And then there’s community. “We have a vibrant community of thousands that help each other,” Cognetta says. “We have a full database of practice interview questions that have been asked by companies like Google and Facebook, where people can comment on each other’s answers.”

The cost range of Exponent’s product management services is $99 for an online course, more than 15 hours of course content, and access to Exponent’s Slack community, to $829 for all that and three coaching sessions. The ROI, says Cognetta — and his company’s website is papered with testimonials backing him up — is the beginning of your dream career.

“You come here, you prep, you get ready for your career advancement,” he says. “We see us eventually expanding into the entire career trajectory, but we’re starting with interviews because they’re pretty high-leverage. They’re a really key moment in your career.

“Interviewing is a very emotional process for people. It’s a lot about rejection and acceptance and things like that. I really found it exciting to help people through those pivotal, high-leverage moments in their lives.”

Exponent co-founder Stephen Cognetta speaks to Yale University students on how to ace a product manager (PM) interview. Courtesy photo


Cognetta explains what to do if you’re an MBA student looking to avail yourself of Exponent’s services for free.

“We partner with the career services departments at these schools, where they license the tool for all the students to use,” he says. “We also sometimes do workshops and things like that with the schools to help them with tech interview prep broadly. What that means is that, let’s say you’re an average GSB student, you actually can log into Exponent at tryexponent.com/stanford and then it authenticates you and you actually get full access to the experience.”

It’s a frightening time for a lot of students and young professionals, Cognetta says. They need whatever help they can get as the country enters a highly uncertain economic period. Exponent, he says, is “not really looking to make a profit with this period.”

“There’s just fewer jobs available,” he continues. “We’re seeing a decent spike in terms of people coming into our platform, because there’s more of a demand for interview prep services given what’s happening. We want to help out and kind of play our part in this global crisis, so we’ve decided to make all our courses and our community free for anyone who is at a partnering school.

“We’re basically opening up our courses and our platform to partnering institutions. We typically like working with career services departments, because that’s the best way to ensure that the students find out about it en masse. Otherwise, it’s an ad hoc basis. But we’re excited to have these partnerships, where we expand access to our curriculum and help people in this crazy time interview prep and get ready — and make sure that they get the job that they want to get.”


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