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Student Entrepreneur to $10M+ Business: Blaine Vess, CEO of StudyMode (Part 5)

Posted on Tuesday, Mar 11th 2014

Sramana Mitra: In 2008, you have got one acquisition under your belt. What happens next?

Blaine Vess: We ended up buying another site, which was called All Free Essays. It was another site that has been around since about 2000. It was not monetized at all. I had been reaching out to the owner for at least a year about buying the site. She wasn’t interested. I finally just made an offer of under $35,000 and she accepted it. The philosophy around that acquisition was the same as bignerds.com. We wanted the traffic and content. We were once again able to monetize it better than how it was monetized before we bought it.

Sramana Mitra: What was the traffic level for that site?

Blaine Vess: That one had around 10,000 visitors a day.

Sramana Mitra: Now we are in 2009?

Blaine Vess: In 2009, the Spanish and French sites that we had launched in 2008 were starting to pick up.

Sramana Mitra: The Spanish and French sites were organically launched by your company in 2008?

Blaine Vess: Yes, that’s correct.

Sramana Mitra: Why did you choose to do that? What was the thinking when you decided to launch those?

Blaine Vess: We wanted to get more traffic and reach more users. We weren’t sure if we were going to get those users domestically or internationally. No one else in our space was launching international sites and we felt that we could do it and it wouldn’t cost us too much money. It wouldn’t be very high risk as well. We seeded the Spanish site with some content. It was about 100 documents on various topics. It was slow growth, but eventually, people started finding this content in Google and submitting their own content and it just snowballed from there.

In 2009, it was still Todd, Chris, and I working out of my house at that time. We were pretty much staying on track. We were growing the businesses we already had. We had brought on a couple of outsourced programmers through an outsourcing website oDesk. That allowed us to get more done. We found some good people in there to help us with support as well for the international sites because we don’t speak Spanish or French. Year 2009 was similar to 2008, but we acquired a couple more sites based on the same philosophy – to get more traffic and content.

Sramana Mitra: What was your revenue level in 2009?

Blaine Vess: It was around $4 million.

Sramana Mitra: You were doing all these organically? There was no outside financing until this point in the company?

Blaine Vess: That’s correct.

Sramana Mitra: What happened in 2010?

Blaine Vess: In 2010, things were mainly the same except we thought we might want to sell the business. We talked to an investment banker and various private equity companies. In the end, we did not sell. We just didn’t find a match.

Sramana Mitra: Why did you want to sell?

Blaine Vess: We were not sure if we were going to be able to take the company to the next level – that is bringing in employees, getting a real office, and really professionalize the business. We weren’t sure that we were the right people to do it. Selling seemed like a decent option.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Student Entrepreneur to $10M+ Business: Blaine Vess, CEO of StudyMode
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