Dan: Welcome to the premiere episode of ‘Prologue Profiles’. My name is Dan Feld; my guest today is Stuart Blake.
Stuart is a law student who doesn’t want to be a lawyer – he wants to make something.
Stuart is taking matters into his own hands by co-founding a tech start-up called Pique while still attending law school. He’s 28 years old.
Stuart: Hi, this is Stuart Blake. I’m a wannabe tech entrepreneur. And you’re listening to ‘Prologue Profiles’.
Stuart: Socially I’m referred to as “Beef” it’s a nickname that I was given when I was in 1st grade.
Dan: Our 1st grade gym teacher, since his name is Stuart he shorted it to ‘Stu’ as most people do. And then added a pot to it, “Stu pot”, and from that he added onto the Stu theme. And made it “Beef Stu.”
Dan: And from there that was a game changer.
Stuart: That’s right.
Dan: Once we had the “Beef Stu” to work with the next thing was the stew so we just had “Beef.” I haven’t known Stuart I’ve only known “Beef.”
Stuart: It got to a point in school where the teachers were calling me “Beef.” Half of my friend’s parents call me “Beef,” there are people who don’t know my real name. [Laughter]
Dan: So “Beef”..what…that felt good.
Dan: Tell us what are you working on right now, what are you in the beginning of?
Stuart: Right now I’m the process of creating a start-up in the technology sector. It’s called Pique and our objective is to make everyone’s life easier. We are going about doing that by aggregating newsletters. We understand that people get a ton of newsletters in their inbox every day to the point that it’s annoying.
So what we do is go and get out those newsletters out of your inbox. And we have created a cool platform for you to keep track of those newsletters. It’s you know you can keep track of different companies, marketing campaigns.
Dan: So newsletters like…
Stuart: Like LivingSocial, Groupon, something coming from Ralph Lauren. All of those newsletters that are entering inbox whether it’s about events. Daily deals and flash sales or just like cultural trends. Hopefully we can show you newsletters that can actually pique your interest. In either making a purchase, making a reservation at a restaurant, going to a museum to check out this awesome new exhibit.
Dan: How did Pique come about?
Stuart: I’m actually in law school and I hate it very, very much
Dan: Where are you in school?
Stuart: I’m at Rutgers Law School in Newark. So I hated school and out of that innate detest for studying the law I went to my buddy Karl and said, ‘hey, we need to start something’. We each get a ton of marketing emails every single day to the point that we were both really annoyed.
So we realized, hey if we could find a way to do something, if we could find a way to aggregate newsletters and find a way to get them out of your inbox we could be providing a real service.
Dan: So when did you approach Karl?
Stuart: January 2011. I was in second semester, first year.
Dan:So tell us where you are right now with Pique?
Stuart: So we are 5 months in but we hopefully are only 2 months away from releasing our beta. That means putting out a test version of Pique. Where users can actually sign up, they can clean out their inbox and they can sign up for newsletters on Pique and visit Pique on a regular basis to keep track of things in the calendar, share things among friends and hopefully discover new and interesting bits of information that are contained in those newsletters.
Dan: So what if you launch the beta and its well received what then?
Stuart: That would be a great feeling, if it’s well received then you know we start pushing this out to more and more people. We start getting our friends to go ahead and share it with their friends. And we start getting traction and the data that we are going to be collecting is huge. Because then we would love to be able to scale it up. It’s a little product but like the way it’s built it’s going to be great for 1000 people, 2000 people. If people really love it we’re going to need people to ahead and scale this up.
What we would then do is start reaching out to potential investors. Look for some level of investment where we can then use that money to increase our resources and maybe hire on some people who are smarter than us and they can help us build this up to its real potential. Best case scenario is we can receive an investment, pay ourselves, and turn this into a full-time job for all of us. I can take time away from law school; it just turns into a real working product. That would be theStuart: greatest feeling on earth.
Dan: So you haven’t really thought about if it’s going to work out…
Stuart: No, no.
Dan: What would help you the most to get the beta where it needs to be in Mid-April?
Stuart: Wow, what we really need right now is a designer. We have reached out to a few people. Just getting someone to jump on-board with us who believes in this product and has some really great designing skills.
Dan: What do you love about working on Pique?
Stuart: Honestly it’s the excitement of creating something on your own. Being a part of something that you’re actually building. Your thoughts, your vision, is actually going into this cake. I don’t know I love cake that’s why I refer to it as cake.
Dan: It’s true Stuart does go to Subway just for the cookies.
Stuart: Do they actually make sandwiches, still?
Stuart: [Laughs] So it’s just you know like we are throwing these ingredients and we are saying, ‘Oh, let’s put a dash of cinnamon or a little bit of more sugar’. And we are just hoping that this turns out to be something great.
Dan: What do you dislike about working on Pique?
Stuart: The uncertainty, that’s really it. There’s nothing that’s assured in doing this. This can be a complete failure; we can go ahead and put this test out in 2 months and our friends can say they absolutely hate it, they’re not using it or they can say that they love it it’s just the fact that they’re not actually using it. Like, ‘Oh hey congratulations we love this’ but no one’s using it. That’s going to be a huge disappointment. It’s going to make us decide whether or not to continue tweaking it and try to create a real product that people do use.
Dan: So what are you doing about that concern?
Stuart: At this point there’s nothing you can do. We know what we want to create. We need to create it and bring it to a certain point where we can start having people use it.
Dan: So then how do you deal with that uncertainty?
Stuart: It’s hard. It creeps up every now and then. There are some days when you’re just like ‘what the hell I’m I doing?’. But I mean you’ve got to chase after something; you’ve got to do something. I know that I don’t want to be a lawyer; I know that law school is just not for me. I’m sticking with it because it is my plan B. But I want this to happen so I might as well do all I can to try to make it work.
Dan: So how you feel about the fact that law school isn’t free, that you’re paying a lot of money for it.
Stuart: It sucks; it’s been a constant struggle whether or not to drop out of law school. Cut my losses, do what I really want because I feel like I have really found my calling. It’s been a lot harder to step away than I ever imagined. I have probably gone through 2 bouts where I have been convinced ‘Yes I’m done. I’m not going back next semester, it’s over’ but I’m still there.
Dan: How do you balance law school and Pique?
Stuart: What tends to work for me is that I go to class and I have time in between classes so I just go to the library and I completely dedicate my time towards school so that means reading the cases for next class.
Sometimes I don’t have enough time. So what I tend to do is wake up in the morning and just dedicate an hour or two towards school work. It’s definitely gotten easier second year as opposed to first. That’s kind of the motto, first year work you to death second year…wait, no. First year scare you to death second year work you to death, third year…why are you there? Oh yea bore you to death, that’s why…
Dan: …I think it’s actually ‘why the hell are you still here’ is third year. [Laughter] Do you feel like you are doing the right thing?
Stuart: I don’t know, it’s just one of those things where it’s just like, ‘Hey this feels right; this is something that I want to do’. I don’t know if it’s just adrenaline from the idea of creating something of your own. I like the idea of me creating something that allows me to be my own boss. And it’s me and 2 other people and we’re hoping we can create something that sustains us.
I have this desire to be successful; I don’t want to be like a billionaire or any of that. But I do want to be able to create a nice comfortable lifestyle for my future family and for myself. And knowing that hey you know what, I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk working 80-hour weeks. I’d like to be able to do something I enjoy and hey it might be 80 hour weeks. And I might be stuck behind a desk but it’s something like, this what I have helped create.
Stuart: Failure is definitely what scares me. I always think, ‘Where am I going to be in 10 years?’. Am I going to be a guy who is homeless living on the streets somewhere and all my friends are around me and I don’t stay in contact with anyone because nothing in my life worked out the way that I wanted it to.
Everything that I’m doing right now, is it going to be for not? Is going to law school is that the thing that screws me in the long run, knowing I have some debt to worry about and I’m chasing after a career that doesn’t quite pay for the next few years. So it’s just, yeah, not obtaining my dreams.
Dan: You were on a Mommon mission. This is something that a small percentage of people have done. And you were in 2 countries in Latin America.
Stuart: I was there from age 20 to 22.
Dan: How do you think that experience has helped you during this time? When you’re starting up on a new venture?
Stuart: There’s never been anything in my life that has been more difficult than the 2 years being a missionary. I mean all right there’s the whole religious aspect to it but there was just like the personal growth. It was day in day out constant work. From 6:30 in the morning, wake up, work out, study, go out and it’s just talking to people, meeting people you know, doing volunteer work. And it was just one of those good satisfying feelings. And there were times when I just felt so down that I didn’t know if I could actually go on. And the issue of learning a new language, learning a new culture. The culmination of all of that made it a very difficult, trying and rewarding experience.
Dan:How’d you stick through it?
Stuart: That is one thing that I really started to learn in life, is that I have to start setting goals. Whether they’re daily, whether they’re weekly, whether they’re monthly or yearly. That’s how I kind of live my life now. I create a set of goals and I try to meet as many of them as possible.
Dan: So what’s your goal right now?
Stuart: So my goal right now is to get Pique off the ground, number one goal. The second goal which is always there is to maintain my relationships with people. Whether it’s with my girlfriend, whether if it’s with my friends and family. Another goal to stick with it with law school currently. I look at that semester by semester. Where I signed up for this, I have to complete it, and I gotta complete it well.
And with it there are so many little goals that come in. Whether it’s I have to test out the tagging system, I want to get a certain number of emails tagged. I want to get a plan out on future features of Pique. Or reading a number of cases before the end of the day so I’m prepared for the following class. It’s just little goals that are constantly set in life that are attainable.
Dan: What advice can you give to someone who is thinking about starting a business while in law school?
Stuart: To be completely honest I have no idea. I don’t know if I’m doing it right. I mean this could be completely wrong. So I don’t know what to really tell you. But I can tell you what feels right; I can tell you what feels good and that has been chasing after the thing that you like most, the thing that brings you that satisfaction of completing. I mean law school, it’s hard for me to stay up until 4 o’clock or 6 o’clock in the morning working on a project because I just don’t care as much. But when it comes to Pique, I can be working on a project non-stop and completely lose track of time. And it could be the most boring mundane thing on earth, but like, I like it. And I like it because I know it’s going towards my…it’s easier to tell that this is going towards my future.