[quote style=”boxed”]Everyone can do everything, until you actually ask them to do it. I think it is very important to give people a chance, but you need to ask them to show you what they can do, because everyone can look good on paper.[/quote]
Robert Niznik became the founder of Shpoonkle at 21. He was born in 1989 in Brooklyn, New York. His father is a successful Miami entrepreneur in the medical field, and his mother is a computer programmer in New York. He started his first business as a teenager, which was a grocery delivery service staffed with the neighborhood kids in Brooklyn. He graduated from New York Military Academy as a Second Lieutenant at the age of 17. After graduating from NY Military Academy, he received a scholarship from the Brooklyn College Foundation. He completed his double Bachelor’s degrees (Political Science and Psychology) at Brooklyn College in just two short years and at the age of 19 became a law student at New York Law School. He wanted to incorporate his love of Law and business into something that would be a successful business and help people, which led to him creating the innovative web site Shpoonkle.
What are you working on right now?
I am focused on working on Shpoonkle Pro Bono. I am a big proponent of pro bono services and increasing the access to legal services to those in need.
Where did the idea for Shpoonkle.com come from?
I was in Law School in New York, reading and hearing experiences about how dismal the job market was for new law school graduates. I started to do some researching and reading about how many were deprived access to legal services due to costs. The economy was making it difficult for many to get the qualified help they need. I call it the “legal doughnut hole” where there are people making too much for legal aid, and not enough to afford an attorney.
I saw a huge disconnect between the need for clients by many new and existing lawyers, and the great need of many willing to pay, but not able to afford the inflated national average legal rates. I saw this as a call to action to do something, and Shpoonkle was born.
I began to think of a new name for the business I was developing, and I wanted a name with no previous connotations. I wanted a name that would best represent something friendly and approachable for consumers. The law services market can be very intimidating for consumers, and it is hard to say the word Shpoonkle without smiling. We have gotten a lot of criticism about the name for a law services business, but the criticism has come from traditionalists in the field and not the consumers. Candidly, consumers really like the name, and they like what we are doing for them even more.
What does your typical day look like?
I just finished taking the bar for several states. So now my days are starting to look more normal. I go into the office every day and brain storm with my team. I spend a lot of time researching developments in the legal services arena, and coming up with new ways to improve our products and services. I try to learn something new every day, and I like to revisit previous ideas we have implemented and make sure they are effective.
So mostly a lot of discussions, e-mails, and Googling.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I try to be inspired by common sense. When a new idea pops into my head, I jump on the computer and research anything relevant to it. Once I have decided the idea is worth pursuing, I gather my team and we brainstorm. I’m not a programmer, but I like to be involved in that aspect as well. My team and I figure out the logistics of making the idea real, and we get going. I don’t really hesitate with my ideas, if an idea causes controversy or provokes thought; it’s usually a good idea (thus, the name Shpoonkle). I think to bring any idea to life you have to a working knowledge about all the different aspects of the idea. So understanding how various areas of a company work is important to assess the viability of new ideas. I think it’s critical to do this as an entrepreneur.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The increased use of the internet for legal services. There is no reason legal services should be inaccessible for most people, due to brick and mortar overhead. The internet is allowing lawyers to provide their services for a better cost, reduce the time wasted travelling from office to office, and allow consumers to have more of a market to shop around. Competition in the legal services field is exciting because it promotes innovation and levels pricing.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I can’t say I had a worst job, because if I learn from the experience there was a value to me. If I had to pick one job as the “worst,” it would be making deliveries for the local pharmacy. I was bored because it did not challenge me intellectually. I learned I am not a person who likes routine at work.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Nothing, Shpoonkle has been and continues to thrive. I have learned so much from every decision from the start of the project.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Read, and then read some more. I read news, books, magazines, and any other media. I always get great ideas from reading and I like to stay informed. I love to read about history, as you don’t only have to learn from your own mistakes, you can learn from other people too.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Hiring some of the wrong people. Everyone can do everything, until you actually ask them to do it. I think it is very important to give people a chance, but you need to ask them to show you what they can do, because everyone can look good on paper.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think the pet rock is going to have a comeback in virtual form, in the near future. Because “nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I would change the higher education model. Higher education has become a business which often results in useless degrees, outrageous debt, and high unemployment. I would change college admission so that the ability to attend college would be based on academic merit and not the ability to pay.
Tell us a secret.
Free espresso and soda in the office keeps everyone productive.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Google, Wikipedia, and Reddit. The first two are the best tools I’ve found for researching anything. The third has funny cat pictures.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. I love history and quotes. The book explains different principles of success in 48 small separate chapters, and how leaders and powerful individuals throughout history have applied them.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Today at lunch with my team. We have tabletop games in the office and it’s a great way to connect with the team and to blow off steam in a fun way. It also helps team building and morale.
Who is your hero?
Why did you want to go to Law School?
I think you learn a lot of amazing things in law school. The law is the most practical knowledge you can have, and by applying the knowledge you gain from law school it can help you in almost any other business endeavor you have. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and it seemed like the best way to prepare myself to become one.
What is your worst personal trait?
I tend to get too involved in projects, I can stay up all night working on it. It has led to a lot of late nights, but a lot of productivity.
Shpoonkle on Facebook: www.facebook.com/shpoonkle
Shpoonkle on Twitter: @Shpoonkle
Robert Niznik on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/robert-niznik/23/353/482
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.