Monday, March 28, 2011

I'm sticking with my idea of a weekly 2-minute video here on my web site, it will go up by 5 p.m. each Monday. Last week's won't win any awards, but I'll keep working at it to make the video, combined with what I post here on the blog, don't miss TV for you, post a comment here if you like the idea, send me your email if you don't. :)

Hope you'll become a regular viewer, check back here each Friday and encourage your friends to do the same. Your watching, and especially your commenting, will help me help you by making it easier for me to connect with interesting startups and gather useful information for you.

This week I spoke with 21 year old Robert Grant Niznik, a senior law school student and founder of Shpoonkle, a website that just went live 14 days ago with 4 employees. It allows attorneys and law firms to bid on legal requests submitted by clients. The service is free for now, attorneys may be charged membership fees in the future.

Niznik and his new eBay type service is getting lots of publicity right now. I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal last week, and it has been featured on the American Bar Association Journal.

Niznik and I spoke by phone this morning and this is what he shared with me, reconstructed from my notes (Robert please post a note with any additions or corrections):

"I'll graduate from New York Law School this fall, I graduated from Brooklyn College when I was 17, I've always had a lot of business ideas, and I started an Internet business with a friend when I was 14.

Being in law school, I've become aware of the fact that a lot of the 44,000 or so law students that graduate each year don't find jobs with law firms right away. So there are a lot of people who would do law work for the experience.

"There has been a lot written recently about the fact that the middle class has a hard time getting legal help they can afford, it's a lot like medicine, there is no problem for the wealthy, and no problem with the poor, but the middle class gets squeeze.

"Last September I was on a train, and the idea of connecting these two groups came to me. I wrote it down in a little book I carry with me for making a note of my ideas like this.

"This idea gathered momentum as I talked about it with my girlfriend and my dad, who has become my best friend over the years after he and my mom divorced when I was 3. I gathered more information about the need for new lawyers to find work and the needs of the middle class, we incorporated, and I hired our first employee, we now have 4. (The firm is headquartered in Florida, where Robert's dad, a business consultant with an active practice, now lives.)

"I'm managing the business. Everyday I send an email to each employee and every day I speak with each of them on the telephone, sometimes more often. If one of them tells me it will take an hour to do I job, I'll often call them back in an hour to see how it's going.

"As the business was getting started, I came into the house and my dad was watching TV, and I said, 'Hey, Shpoonkle, what are you doing?' The word just came to me. Later I thought, that would be a good name for what we are doing. In the beginning we didn't have any marketing help. We have a PR firm now, and they were not thrilled with the name, but I stuck with it and it has worked out well.

"People are now saying 'Shpoonkle' to describe lawyer and clients getting together this way. We are in the process of registering the tradename.

"After just these first few days the site already has over 300 lawyers and we are having requests for help come in from all over the country, we have a couple from Colorado.

"We should make legal services much more affordable. This is what happened with baseball cards and other collectables when they started to trade online. Being available on the Internet destroys the illusion of scarcity, and the price drops. That's why so many established lawyers don't like what we are doing. Their negative comments don't bother me at all.

"What's my favorite book? That's a question I ususally ask when I get together with successful lawyers in our mentoring program at school. Mine favorite book is 'How to Get Rich' by Felix Dennis, he's in the UK, but he has some real insight into how businesses really get started."

I'm emailing a link to this blog post to Robert later this evening. Post your question in the form of a comment here, I'm pretty sure you'll get a direct answer from Robert posted here as a comment. (This is new, please help me test it by posting your question for Robert now, OK?)

Would you like to see a similar interview here each week?

Your Small Business Chamber of Commerce's Denver IDEA Cafe had writer/entrepreneur Cathie Beck with us last Friday, it was one of our best ever meetings. This week we have three speakers, my friend Rick Grice, who has started a sea salt business, Sharon Linhart, who will talk about how she started her PR firm, and entrepreneur Susannah Carroll. No RSVP is required, but to reserve a seat at the brainstorming table, RSVP at, you can also RSVP on our Denver Small Business Chamber Group site, see the link to it on

If you'd like to start an IDEA Cafe Startup Workshop in cooperation with your local chamber of commerce, or if you'd like to start or join a Franklin Circle Peer Advisory Group, stick around after the Denver IDEA Cafe for Community Room College. There is a 20-minute chalk talk on a business topic, and then we have a sample Franklin Circle. Attend 6 times and you are eligable for a certificate of completion. For more information see

"Conventional wisdom daunts initiative and offers far too many convinient reasons for inaction." Felix Dennis, How to Get Rich

Let's go get started!

John Wren