As soon as I sat down with Alex Berman CMC ’12, Charlie Walton CMC ’12, and Daniel Black CMC ’11, it was all business. These gentlemen are unusually focused for college students, especially within the “Claremont bubble” of a distractingly sunny Southern California campus. They’re not afraid to dive right into the real world and do what many graduates and beyond only dream of: start their own businesses.
Black is owner and CEO of BookMatchers.com, a resource for college students that began as a way to sell and trade textbooks. Now, it is evolving into a Craigslist-type buy, sell and exchange site that specifically targets college campuses, and adds a local slant.
“Our ambition is networking within your campus,” Black said. “We launched it to prove the concept that college students have lots of resources, but we don’t have a way to organize and use them.”
Berman and Walton similarly take advantage of campus resources with their company Eureka Tutors, which contracts the services of college students as tutors for elementary and high school students. They currently have five to 10 students contracted out as tutors but plan on expanding to include 15 to 20 new tutors in the next few weeks.
The time line for starting up a company looks daunting. Several months can easily pass between a business’s conception and its actualization. Berman, Walton and Black agreed that starting up a company requires persistence and motivation.
Black first conceived of BookMatchers.com 11 months ago, but the Web site actually launched last August. He said his mother first proposed the idea of a web site to help students share information at CMC, but it was his ambition to expand the idea worldwide. To transform his ideas into concrete plans, Black consulted more than 80 Web designers on the ideal design for the site over the course of several months. From the beginning, he enlisted the help of a small team of fellow students and friends. Like Black, they all have stock in the company—meaning just about everyone involved is invested in the project’s success.
Then Black pitched his plan to investors—a crucial process in which he had to show potential investors that his ambition and excitement made the project worth funding. “It was all about proving a niche existed, and that I knew how to fill it,” he said.
Black is currently in the process of gathering information, making constant design improvements, and adding more specific and complex features.
Black aspires to take his business national. With this goal in mind, he launched CollegeMatchers.com in December, a sleek test web site dedicated to enhancing communication on campuses in nearly every way imaginable. In three weeks, “We’ll merge the two into one gorgeous site,” Black said.
Berman and Walton followed a very similar process of developing the idea, working out detailed plans, presenting to investors, and finally obtaining funding in about three and a half months. “Getting funded was the fun part,” Walton said. After the company was launched, he said, “It really snowballs. We get clients by word of mouth, so at some point it really takes off.”
Berman agreed. “They say if you get twenty clients, you’re on the road to 100 clients,” he said. “Those first twenty are the hard ones.”
They’re currently still in the process of expansion, formally presenting to teachers at local schools in the next few weeks and anticipating that several more schools will sign with Eureka Tutors within a month.
However, their success has not come easily. Berman estimated that in the last two weeks, the pair spent several 10-hour days on accounting. Black said he spends about 70 percent of his time on entrepreneurial activities and 30 percent on schoolwork.
In a world full of eager entrepreneurs, Eureka Tutors and BookMatchers.com stand out because they are both for college students, by college students. Living on campus themselves, these business-founders have the crucial advantage of knowing their niche and being well positioned to spot potential areas for improvement.
BookMatchers.com eliminates the commission, shipping and transaction fees of sites like Amazon.com. It also uses highly focused advertising. And according to Black, nearly all ads on the soon-to-be-merged web site will offer some kind of discount to students, making them beneficial to students as well as to the businesses that pay for them. The improved CollegeMatchers.com will also sport a yellow pages-type reference section, but will feature only local businesses specific to each college campus and its immediate surroundings.
Black’s company is also 95 percent student-run. He emphasizes the importance of employing students and consistently looking out for students’ interests. “I have had mentors who really helped out, and I want to do the same—give back to my people,” Black said.
Eureka Tutors cleverly recognized that California middle and high schools are having trouble getting affordable help—with class sizes of up to 30 or 40 students, one-on-one attention simply isn’t feasible. On the other hand, college campuses offer a wealth of young, bright students often with time on their hands and very little cash in their pockets. According to Walton, “One of the things you aim for as an entrepreneur is doing well by doing good. With our company, I think that’s what we’re doing.”
Next week, Part Two will take an in-depth look at how to transform an idea for a business into reality and how to get involved in Kairos, the 5-C entreprenerial society.