First Trump Ice, then Dargil, now Student Brands
Posted on May 4, 2013
I’ve been doing business since I was 13
I was born with the entrepreneurial flair. When I was much younger, I would sell soccer balls to friends; constantly looking for opportunities of what works and what doesn’t. And at the age of 13, whilst on a trip in the United States, I caught an episode of The Apprentice. The contestants were required to sell Trump Ice, which is Donald Trump’s water brand. Intrigued by this water, I set out to get its import rights. When I was 13 years old.
However, I had to let the opportunity go when they asked for $50 000 deposit. I figured that it wasn’t quite in line with my budget of R100 monthly pocket money. We tried other investment avenues to have the product enter the South African market, but unfortunately those costs would mean that the water would be sold at R75 per bottle. Who is going to buy that?
The experience taught me what I have come to know as the mousetrap fallacy, which is about knowing when to walk out of situation: Trump Ice was not a feasible market for me to enter into, and the knowledge and experience of all of that was one of the greatest lessons I have ever learnt.
I then went on to launch Dargil, which provided data security and data protection. I used the import licence I had acquired through the Trump experience to bring in a data security product from the USA, which began to get the attention of large corporations like Liberty Life. When I was just 15, I sat with 30 people in a boardroom. I said to them: “Yes, you need my product, and you need lots of it.” That was my first real interaction with buying and selling products, and engaging with people on that scale. Listen, I may have sold only a reasonable amount of the products, but it was fun! It was my first time being in person at a meeting, rather than virtual interaction.
At university, my friend and I quickly realised that as students we had an opportunity in the market. We could hand out flyers on campus without paying, which would translate to reduced costs for such businesses as nightclubs that wanted to market to students, by sending through the information through us. That was the start of the thought process. Then we realised that we needed a website, to let the students know which day we would be on campus. Then we also realised that we needed to have content that would initially attract the students to the site – and so we provide channels for students to sell their books and find a place to stay, etc.
In order to market ourselves to attract the students to the site, we ran a competition on campus, where we gave away an iPod. It had been my birthday present for that year. We collected telephone numbers and email addresses, and after 8 hours created a database of just under 4000 students. The next day, we got a call. A company wanted to purchase the database, and were soon faced with the business decision: should we sell or create a company out of this? Student Brands was born. And has been profitable since its inception in 2009. We have grown significantly since, and over time added various services to the site. Today we are on 27 campuses.
As a brand, we try push for students to launch their own initiatives: we help with website building, mentoring and really creating a support structure for potential young entrepreneurs. My founding partner is no longer involved in the daily activities of the company, rather serving just as a shareholder, whilst I am at the opposite end of the spectrum. Just because I am an MD, doesn’t mean that I don’t have knowledge of every single new client we get – before we get them. There are no proposals sent out that I haven’t thoroughly read myself, and the idea of it is that it is my company – I have to be involved. Likewise, even though we have an investor (of which entrepreneurs tend to expect copious amounts of pressure from) my decision is final, although I do consider the advice given.
I have come to own my experience as an entrepreneur. I have come to learn to own my brand. Student Brands is just the beginning of this story, for I am now only 23. My early start afforded me a lifetime of experience, and it is with that experience that I celebrate entrepreneurship.
My name is Daryl Bartkunsky. I am youngpreneur.