Case Studies in the 9 to 5 alternative: No. 9
Welcome to a series of profiles on alternative lifestyles. If you think that you (or someone you know) would make for an interesting interview, drop me a line.
Meet Mark Sawyier, CEO of Off Campus Media. When Mark was in college, finding an apartment was more challenging than he expected. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit, Mark set out to improve the apartment-hunting process by launching Moving Off Campus, a search engine for rental units located around college campuses.
Mark is a good friend of mine. We shared a couple of courses together at Washington University and both majored in International Studies. During my last semester, I was fortunate enough to work for him on a data entry project. I saw what it was like to work for a small, dynamic company. Mark may not know this, but those few months were a huge influence on me. To see a friend start a company, to see that friend hustle and land clients and make strategic changes–it was exciting stuff. I remember those days well.
Over the last three years, Mark’s company has evolved quite a bit. I’ll let him tell you more.
So, Mark, tell us about your company, Off Campus Media.
Off Campus Media has two main areas of business: website assets and client services (that also support our assets).
MovingOffCampus.com is a website designed to help college students find apartments. The website will help over 1,000,000 college students find apartments off campus in 2011. We market the website primarily through search engine and campus marketing through our national Campus Ambassador program.
All of the services we offer our clients (campus, search engine and social media marketing) stem from our own experience and dependence on them for success. Put simply, we “eat our own dog food.” Moreover, these services exist in a constantly evolving landscape and there’s no better way to learn than managing your own asset that needs all of them.
Where did the idea come from? How did you originally get things off the ground?
As a college student, I was going through the process of trying to find an apartment off campus and found it to be an extremely challenging process. To solve the problem, I got together with a bunch of friends and launched the first version of MovingOffCampus.com. From there, the business adapted to meet our needs (traffic growth and revenue).
How much has your business model changed from when you first launched Moving off Campus?
It’s been constantly evolving but within an expanding definition of what Off Campus Media is. This expansion has largely occurred in the services area (which are all core competencies we need to grow our websites) but even with MovingOffCampus.com – from membership to referral fees to finally traffic-based advertising, the revenue model has changed. I suspect it will continue to do so but the big picture has more or less remained the same.
What have been some of your biggest entrepreneurial hurdles so far?
First and foremost is building the right team. Understanding the value of experience and working with talent is something that I only came to appreciate as I continued “down the road.” Attracting talent is always one of the toughest challenges for any young company because of a lack of resources.
The lack of resources would definitely be my second hurdle. As an entrepreneur, you will likely never have a shortage of ideas, just the means to implement all of them. Managing available resources (cash and people) is crucial. For me, always keeping a 1, 3, 6 and 12-month goal and priority list top-of-mind has been very helpful combined with remembering when weighting priorities to consider which will have an immediate or short-term impact on revenue.
Finally, staying motivated. Starting any business invariably involves many ups and downs so keeping your team (and yourself) motivated can be difficult.
Anything exciting in the works?
Some of the highlights:
- Expanding our Campus Ambassador program to over 70 campuses nationwide
- Launching a new brand that focuses entirely on the search engine and social media marketing services we offer
- Deepening our management team
- Adding new features to MovingOffCampus.com to improve usability and increase revenue