Job Maestro: DIY Startup


Illustration: Josue Cruz, ’17 BFA Graphic Design

“If you start something, you need to be willing to go all out,” says Blaine Vess, ’04 Business. The Job Maestro interviewed Vess, founder of StudyMode, which is building the world’s largest study group by enabling a community of students to share and collaborate around high-quality study materials. Vess, who learned computer programming at age 16, “bootstrapped” StudyMode, rather than taking investment. As a result, he and his co-founders built gradually, owing much of their success to hard work over time. Follow the company’s path and get tips from Vess. His top tip? Work extremely hard.

1998 | Began working as a part-time programmer

“I’ve always wanted a lot of freedom, to do and go where I want, to have fun, to work with my friends. Freedom was the key.”

1999 | Founded StudyMode as a freshman at North Central College

“You have to be a driven person, someone who is not afraid to fail. You also have to know when to quit. Try and if it works, great. If not, find something new.”

2002 | Transferred to SJSU

“I had never been to California, but I knew SJSU was in Silicon Valley, where I wanted to work.”

2007 | StudyMode surpassed $1 million in revenue

“It was a great lifestyle. We were all workaholics, but we had a lot of fun too.”

2010 | Tried to sell the business

“We were not in a good position to be sold. Three guys working out of a house without the structure of a business is not attractive to most buyers. We had no formal team, only developers overseas.”

2011 | Co-founders stopped running the business out of a house

“I didn’t know how to hire a team. We had never dealt with payroll. Never hired or fired anyone. Lawyer referred me to an HR company, which worked well for us. That made it a lot easier. Within a few weeks, we were up and running.”

2015 | Handed off StudyMode to newly hired president and CEO

“With an experienced leadership team, the company is run better than ever. We had to build the machine that builds the machine.”

2016 | Entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist

“When I’m working on a new project, I focus on making a service that people want to use.”


Jody Ulate

Jody Ulate, '05 MA English, is editor of the Washington Square blog and printed alumni magazine.

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