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Starting a Small Business: How I Made $50,000 in College

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?


  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 encouraged in our old course that helped 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.

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 “the FREE Sumo tools.

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5 responses to “Starting a Small Business: How I Made $50,000 in College”

August 17, 2014 at 12:18 am

Dude, how did you get buyers to the landing page? Is that the main way you sold the cards? I’m in college and I wanna do this!

March 3, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Noah great post, I try to preach this to all of my students. Many universities just don’t deliver knowledge like this, they treat entrepreneurship like a formal class, and don’t see the value in instilling mentalities like this.

Violeta Nedkova
February 28, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Oy vey. I like your thinking, Noah. I’m reading (and writing) a lot about the growth hacker’s mindset (although I am more interested in the hacker’s) and I gotta say, I’ll include you in some of my case study analyses. Good stuff, keep up the tacos! 😀

February 3, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Doing things for free is a good thing to start BUT … make sure you understand the value you are giving to people.

I had the problem of giving webinar away for free thinking it will help people and in the end, free things did not make them commit to it …

Lesson learnt though!


Tyler V
January 27, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Noah! Thanks for a great post. Wish I had known this 8 years ago!

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