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Michael Bloch of Pillar: “A lot of it came from personal experience”

I’m proud to say that we didn’t lose one team member during the course of our pivot. Pivoting a business is hard, especially when it’s to a completely new space. Our team did a great job of staying motivated and getting excited about this new direction, and ultimately, they all decided they wanted to stick […]

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I’m proud to say that we didn’t lose one team member during the course of our pivot. Pivoting a business is hard, especially when it’s to a completely new space. Our team did a great job of staying motivated and getting excited about this new direction, and ultimately, they all decided they wanted to stick with Pillar and make it work.


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Bloch.

Michael Bloch is the CEO & Founder of Pillar, a family-first digital platform that makes it easy for people to store, organize, and share important family information. Prior, Michael was an early employee at DoorDash, where he led their California and New York regions. He graduated from University of California, Berkeley and dropped out of Stanford Business School to start Pillar.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in the heart of the Bay Area in the 90s and 2000s. As a Bay Area native, I experienced first-hand how the tech industry was changing the way we live. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a part of it. I interned in high school at 23andMe and Sun Microsystems. I stayed in the Bay for college and attended the University of California, Berkeley. In 2015 I joined a small startup called DoorDash as one of its first 50 employees. I spent the next three years there as the company grew from 50 → 2500 employees.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends.” — Wallace Stevens. Starting something from scratch and bringing something new into the world isn’t easy. This quote reminds me to always keep pushing forward, no matter how difficult things get.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“The Score Takes Care of Itself” by Bill Walsh taught me to focus on the inputs to success. You don’t win a football game by focusing on winning. You focus on doing a thousand little things excellently. Those actions in aggregate lead to success.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

My startup, Pillar, originally set out to build the #1 app to help people get out of student loan debt faster. Within six months of launching, we helped borrowers manage over 500M dollars of student loans. Everything was going according to plan — we had gained traction with investors, were sticking to our timeline, and had a great group of people working with us to achieve our mission.

This all changs in March when Covid hit and Congress suspended student loan payments and reduced interest rates to 0%. These actions effectively shut down our market and inhibited our ability to grow and monetize. So, instead of waiting and hoping that the market would recover, our team went back to the drawing board and started working on something new.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

The initial inspiration for our change in direction came from personal experience. In 2017, my mother was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder. This is when my family and I first realized just how difficult it can be to access a loved one’s information when you need it most. My siblings and I stepped in to help, but we struggled to figure things out like what medications she was taking, what her bank account login was, or if her life insurance policy was up to date. It took significant time and effort to understand what we needed to do, how we could help, and how to balance this familial responsibility against new jobs, new babies, and everything else in life.

It can be absurdly difficult to properly store, organize, and share your family’s most important information with those needed. It’s a problem that already existed, and with the onset of COVID, it was likely going to worsen. More and more people would be home taking care of loved ones. We realized that this aspect of the industry was underserved, and that this was a problem our service could help solve.

Obviously the actual pivot is much more difficult than I’m making it sound. For every good idea, there’s a hundred bad ones, and we are no exception. But when you finally do find that one good idea, it’s well worth the blood, sweat, and tears (aka endless market research, company rebranding, and tough conversations with other parties involved).

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

A lot of it came from personal experience. When the idea was thrown out there, it just made sense. Given the frustration that myself and my family experienced first hand, and the frustration that millions across the country experience, we realized that a service like ours was the missing piece of the puzzle.

How are things going with this new initiative?

Great! We managed to launch our first version of the product within just three months of pivoting. Hundreds of families are already using Pillar to easily store and share their most important information. Our team is learning a lot and iterating fast, which is the key at this early stage.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother. She pushed me to always raise the bar and do better.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Our team has been hearing from dozens of families across the country that are thrilled to be using Pillar to more easily store and share their family’s important information. This has been especially valuable this year with covid as people are concerned about their family’s well-being.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I’m proud to say that we didn’t lose one team member during the course of our pivot. Pivoting a business is hard, especially when it’s to a completely new space. Our team did a great job of staying motivated and getting excited about this new direction, and ultimately, they all decided they wanted to stick with Pillar and make it work.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

First, know when to turn things off. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the news and social media, which can be overwhelming. Stepping away and taking a break from it can be crucial. Second, while we’re all at home, use the time to find new outlets that help you recharge and stay motivated.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

A movement where no one is left behind and everyone has an opportunity to take care of their loved ones without worry.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Jeff Bezos

How can our readers follow you online?

They can find me on Twitter @michaelxbloch or @Pillar_Life. They can also connect with me on LinkedIn at Michael Bloch!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you! Hope everyone stays healthy and safe.

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