We’re seeing a wonderful trend of student entrepreneurs building substantial businesses without dropping out. Blaine Vess is yet another great role model. This story outlines Blaine’s entrepreneurial journey.
Sramana Mitra: Blaine, let’s start with introducing our audience to you. Where did you grow up? Where were you born? What kind of back story leads up to StudyMode?
Blaine Vess: I’m Blaine Vess, the CEO of StudyMode. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, which is where I co-founded StudyMode with my friend Chris Nelson. At that time, we were going to North Central College. From there, I ended up moving to Northern California and graduating from San Jose State University with a degree in Marketing. I originally focused on Computer Science and learned that I could program, but it wasn’t my specialty. So I switched over to Marketing and ended up moving to Los Angeles.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you graduate from San Jose State?
Blaine Vess: At the end of 2004.
Sramana Mitra: Is that when you started StudyMode?
Blaine Vess: StudyMode was started in 1999 within a couple of weeks of starting college. We didn’t know how to program at that time. There was a lot of manual work in adding content users to the site. Then, we taught ourselves how to program and automated the site within a few months from there.
Sramana Mitra: While you were still a student at San Jose State?
Blaine Vess: At that time, I was at North Central College, which was a small private school near Chicago.
Sramana Mitra: What year are we talking about when you started StudyMode in North Central College?
Blaine Vess: We started StudyMode in 1999. I was at North Central College. It was at a time when the Internet was still new and exciting.
Sramana Mitra: What was the concept of StudyMode? What were you going to do with StudyMode in 1999?
Blaine Vess: At that time, it was a fun project. It was basically a site where students could share and review research papers, course notes, and anything related to college.
Sramana Mitra: You got this site launched with manual contents?
Blaine Vess: We only knew how to code HTML at that time. It was taking a lot of our time adding content to the site. We had looked at the idea of raising money or hiring a design firm to develop everything for us. A great piece of advice that I got at that time was from a friend of my parents’ who I had called to see if we could raise money from him. He said, “You should learn how to code yourself, so you won’t be reliant on other people.”
It seemed like a daunting task at that time but we just delved into some PHP tutorials and books and learned it fairly quickly. Within a few months, the site was automated. The code wasn’t perfect but it worked.
Sramana Mitra: What was on the site and what was needed to be automated?
Blaine Vess: The main thing that needed to be automated was the adding of content to the site. So if someone wanted to add some course notes from their accounting class to the site, they would email it to us in Word format or a scanned document and we’d have to either convert it to HTML and code it on the site or link to a PDF on the site rather than simply uploading the file from your computer.
Sramana Mitra: You were offering your site as a hub for students to load up their course notes and share?
Blaine Vess: Yes, exactly.