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Student Entrepreneur to $10M+ Business: Blaine Vess, CEO of StudyMode (Part 6)

Posted on Wednesday, Mar 12th 2014

Sramana Mitra: But it did not pan out that way?

Blaine Vess: It did not pan out, but we learned a lot in the process – mainly about a lot of the things that we were doing wrong like not having employees. We had very high margins. We were making a lot of money and not really spending that money on growing the business. We didn’t have an office. It was a highly educational process for us. In 2011, after going through that process, we decided that we wanted to give it a try. That summer, we hired our first employee who was our office manager at that time. We hired some programmers and an in-house SEO person. We got an office. The process has continued since then.

Sramana Mitra: The next logical question from there is, how did that impact your business growth? You hired some people and fleshed out the team a little bit, what impact did that have in your business?

Blaine Vess: The main impact was a big increase in day-to-day communication. Having the team in the office with us was huge. We’re pretty good at outsourcing. I think it’s a great way to get a business off the ground. We, in fact, still do outsource some of our development and support but having everyone together really bonded the team and allowed us to talk about day-to-day things together.

Sramana Mitra: That increased revenue?

Blaine Vess: Indirectly, it has increased revenues which I guess happens as any business becomes more efficient. We brought on a great development team who develops better than we ever could. Through a more efficient development process, faster websites, better user experience, it certainly increased revenues.

Sramana Mitra: You continued the same path of acquiring more sites and monetizing them better. Did that strategy continue further down into the 2012 to 2013 time-frame?

Blaine Vess: The main difference was that we started acquiring sites that were not really in the research or course notes space. Our biggest acquisition, which was over $500,000, was getting into the flash card space – for memorizing art history, languages, or anything students want to memorize for a class. We acquired two sites in that space – flashcardexchange.com and flashcarddb.com. We took those two sites and merged them into a new brand called cram.com which is now our flash card site.

Sramana Mitra: What was going on in these two flash card sites that you acquired? Were they also founded by college student entrepreneurs?

Blaine Vess: I believe both were founded when the guys who owned them were in college. Flash Card Exchange had been around for 10 years and Flash Card DB for six years. They were guys running the businesses out of their homes who also had other jobs. Both of these sites had a lot of content. Flash Card Exchange had about 40 million flash cards when we bought it. It was getting a lot of traffic through Google organic search. It, in fact, ranked number one for the term flash cards in Google. It hadn’t been modernized and was using an old design. We felt that we could improve that design – put out SEO and coding knowledge behind it and do better. One cool statistics is that before we bought the site, the record traffic day in April 2009 was 25,000. After we bought it, revamped it, and re-branded it as Cram, we had a day last December when we got 140,000 visitors. We’ve been able to grow it significantly.

This segment is part 6 in the series : Student Entrepreneur to $10M+ Business: Blaine Vess, CEO of StudyMode
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