Chelsea was recently featured in a segment on Fox News about how Millennials use their student loan money. The segment made me reflect on how I used my student loans during my time at Oneonta State University.
I had a unique situation. I transferred in after a year of community college , and there wasn’t room on campus. I lived off-campus for my entire time at Oneonta state. I had to scramble to find an apartment for my first semester , and I ended up finding an empty room in an apartment of a 4-apartment property known in the college life as a “ party house ”.
Most of my student loans went to tuition , books , rent , and food , but $1500 a semester was my personal spending money. That broke down to $100 a week. I invested $75 of that a week , along with six of my associates , into a “ business endeavor ” , and turned it into at least $150 each week per person. What business endeavor was this? Well , throwing parties of course
Law Breaker or Entrepreneur ?
Before I talk about how I made money throwing parties , I want to make a couple things clear. The first is that I was underaged , and made money off of essentially selling access to alcohol to other underaged kids. Very much illegal and something I’m not really recommending. I’m just simply telling you my story.
The second thing is I was a GDI ( God Damn Independent ) at a college that had nearly two dozen Greek life organizations , both recognized and unrecognized, and only about 6,000 undergrads. We did not have a built-in network or fund source to throw parties at scale. We had to build our rep one party at a time.
Now that we got that out of the way , let’s get to the story.
The Business Model
We pretty much followed the standard party house business model :
Step 1 : Invest in Keg (s) and liquor / supplies for spiked punch
Step 2 : Invest in a shit ton of red solo cups
Step 3 : Sell said cups for $5 as part of the entry fee for guests.
Step 4 : Pray the alcohol runs out and everyone leaves before the cops inevitably show up
But in a world of cash-strapped college students , getting enough people to come to your party to pay $5 for a cup is a lot easier than it sounds. Yet we were able to double , sometimes triple , our investment each week. Looking back , I feel like this experience actually taught me skills I’ve carried over into my professional life. Here’s how.
Understanding A Target Market
As I mentioned before , I and all my party-throwing associates were GDIs , so our target audience was other GDIs who didn’t have a designated frat or sorority house to party at each week. They were also people who were under 21 and lived on campus ( which was a dry campus anyways ). We provided our target audience a place to drink , as well as alcohol , in exchange for $5 a cup.
In order to get people to come and willingly pay , we focused on providing a great experience. We had a multiple-apartment set up that had alcohol in all apartments , a designated drinking games apartment , and an apartment turned into a dance floor. One of my buddies was a DJ and he set up his equipment for every party. In marketing terms , we focused on providing value before generating profits.
Building Relationships With Customers
One of my favorite things to do for parties was sell the cups. I didn’t really drink much , as part of that job involves handling the money. I thought of it more as a job. The reason I liked selling cups is I got to interact with every single person who showed up to the party. I made a concerted effort to positively interact with as many of these people as possible. I would do some of them small favors , such as letting them store their coats in my bedroom , to make them feel “ at home ” while partying at my house. A lot of these people became repeat customers , and more importantly , good friends.
I have taken this same approach to meeting people and building relationships into my professional life. It is why “ your network is your net worth ” is one of my mantras.
Giving Back ( and Building Positive Brand Rep )
It was February of 2010. There had recently been a devastating earthquake in Haiti that decimated their people. We had a pretty established group of regulars at this point , and of my buddies had the idea to throw a Haiti benefit party.
We called it the “ Hope for Haiti ” party and marketed it heavy within the Oneonta State Facebook network. All of the profits were going to be donated to Danita’s Children – a non-profit organization that focuses on the children of Haiti. The party started at 9pm , and we had raised $470 by the time the cops showed up at 10:30 pm. I explained to the cops it was a benefit party that got out of hand ( it helped that we made t-shirts and I was wearing one ) and they didn’t even give us a ticket after they shut the party down.
We were the talk of the campus the next day. Oneonta only has around 6,000 students , so something like this spreads pretty quickly. Not only did we give back to a cause greater than our wallets , but we also generated a buzz that drew us party-goers for weeks to come.
In the second year of my party-throwing adventures , I used an “ influencer ” to grow our clientele , although it wasn’t called influencer marketing at the time.
I knew of a kid from my high school , who was a Freshman that Fall , who knew everyone in high school. He had the gift of gab , was a good looking kid , and was a pretty decent rapper. He had recently released a mixtape that went “ microviral ” within our high school’s community. Simply put ; the kid had a knack for making himself known.
I knew he didn’t know anyone at Oneonta , so I reached out to him and invited him to our first party of the semester free of charge. We hung out for most of the night and I made him an offer. Bring me enough business and you and your crew of friends that come regularly get to party for free all year. This deal generated a steady stream of clientele throughout the year.
I didn’t write this article to brag about my college days , or even present what I did as a smart choice. I wrote it to show you how even “ non-professional ” experiences can teach or reinforce skills you can carry over into your professional life.