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How I Made $50,000 in College (and What You Can Learn Too)

It all started out when I saw many freshmen at UC Berkeley unable to get summer jobs.

I asked: How can I take advantage of people who are super smart but can’t get an internship?

I decided to create a local business consulting company. Why?

Because:

  1. I was around college kids all the time (I was in college myself).
  2. The kids wanted experience and something cool to put on their resume.
  3. I’ve always wanted my own army.
  4. I figured it was something that could be fun for the summer.

Over the course of two months, we contacted major companies through the college’s alumni list.

The very first gig we got was for Dell computers. We helped dell recruit students. After that we began advising local businesses about their menus and on-campus marketing.

A great tip for anyone to use (in school or not) is to start off doing stuff for FREE to build your expertise, client base (for repeat business), and testimonials (for new business).

This is something we encourage in our course that helps people create a $1,000 a month business.

We grew to a small army of 20 people doing this consulting. Then one day, Kenny (an intern) suggested we do a student discount card.

Oy vey.

There are about 5 prototypical student businesses: selling credit cards, discount cards, t-shirt company, tutoring company and something with booze.

The year before, a company did a discount card and it was wildly popular over campus but they decided not to do again.

I figured it wouldn’t really cost us a lot and would be good to keep some of the (unpaid) interns busy.

A few of the key things to note about this business:

  1. Focus on Local Business. Local businesses are always happy to get more business for free.
  2. Make Agreements. It’s good to have agreements when you are working with people. One of my campus reps ended up not returning $500 worth of cards which she agreed to in writing.
  3. Document processes. As we expanded to 5 campuses, we had a clear handbook so it took less than one week to get a campus up and running.

We ended up getting about 20 businesses together on the first Ninja card. We sold them for $10/each.

You can see what our card and first landing page looked like here:

Noah Kagan's College Business - Ninja Card

The keys for growing a business in college:

  1. Partnerships. We found that giving the discount cards for free as a fundraiser to student groups + the greek system was our #1 method. We helped others make money and took a small cut.
  2. We expanded to multiple campuses. If you find that your business is working well, see how you can duplicate and multiply.
  3. Flyering. I know it’s a bit old school, but don’t default to buying ads or what you see others doing. Use the medium that will get YOUR customers attention.

Ultimately, we spread across 5 campuses and generated $50,000 within a year. Not bad for a senior (me) and some freshmen.

Since then I’ve been an early employee at Facebook and Mint, plus I started 2 multi-million dollar businesses. A LOT of people have asked me how I started those businesses.

Instead of repeating myself over and over I created the solution to get you your own business.

If you want the blueprint to start your own business, personal support, and access to a community of 3,000+ entrepreneurs, take a look at “How To Make A $1,000-A-Month Business.”

by Noah Kagan

Noah Kagan was #30 at Facebook, #4 at Mint and Chief Sumo of AppSumo.com based in Austin, TX. He is a top rated taco connoisseur and loves having fun with startups. Yeehaw!

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21 comments… add one

  1. I’m in college now and definitely not making $50,000. Inspirational to know its possible…my question for Noah is do you think this would still work today? Or should I more take the lessons and apply them to myself?

    Reply
    1. I’m not sure what Noah would say, but I think this would still work today. But take the lessons and apply them no matter what you do :)

      Reply
    2. For sure. I think this business can definitely still work.

      I’d go with a free card and get the restaurants to pay. Maximize distribution.

      Reply
  2. What a great idea! Ideas like this will not only pay for most (if not all) of college expenses (thereby avoiding college loan debt) but also embed valuable marketing skills to aspiring new entrepreneurs. This particular idea also helps support and promote local businesses.

    Great article! Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Most definitely Scott. The main thing is people just doing the work.

      That’s what separates the winners vs losers.

      Reply
  3. Excellent work. Way to think on how to use what you’ve got.

    Reply
  4. So this was your intention, but I’m sold on your course…Will it help me to achieve similar results to this? Even if it’s just $1,000 instead of $50,000 I would be happy.

    Look forward to your reply noah, thanks for the article too

    Reply
    1. I’ve checked out the course myself Dan, and I can tell you it’s just what you’re looking for! I believe Noah even offers a 60-day Guarantee, so why not!

      Reply
    2. Hey Dan

      We focus on the basics so you can have the foundation for the future.

      The course most definitely will as long as you’re willing to put in the work!

      Reply
  5. I’m taking the 1,000 a month business course now. Its really great, thanks Noah and thanks startupbros!

    Reply
    1. Woooot!

      Reply
  6. Another inspiring and very helpful article. Thank you!

    Reply
  7. A great & inspirational article by Noah. A true entrepreneur. I’ll sure be looking at taking his course.

    Reply
    1. Awesome. Looking forward to having you in the fam.

      Reply
  8. Another great article by another great entrepreneur- love it.

    My favourite quote of the week “ideas are actually quite worthless alone, the persistence to follow through with them is were the real value is”

    not sure if its related to Noahs article but its what popped into my head as I read

    Alex

    Reply
    1. As my mom always says, the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

      Reply
  9. Thank you :)

    Reply
  10. That’s awesome. This kind of stuff is exactly why you’ve done so well Noah. Building a side business in college is genius. Something that never even crossed my mind. Mostly because I was on the heads down path of athletics, partying, studying then getting a good job.

    That was not the best plan!

    Reply
  11. wowww thats great!

    Reply
  12. Great post, Noah. Thanks for taking the time to write it and share your expertise.

    “A great tip for anyone to use (in school or not) is to start off doing stuff for FREE to build your expertise, client base (for repeat business), and testimonials (for new business).”

    I love this idea and see myself using this strategy much during the coming years.

    Reply
  13. I agree, thats an amazing article. Now my only question is how would the organization make money… lets say you go through a fraternity and they sell the card for you, do you sell the card upfront to them or just give them like 3 percent for every card that the would sell??

    Reply

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