Saturday, December 17, 2011
The Business Side of Student Life
Here we chat to Stuart Minnaar, as he perfects the science of business in the student market with his start-up STUDENTOLOGY
The eternal student Stuart Minnaar is the first to admit that he’s been a student for a little bit too long. That said, all his time on campus taught him a thing or two about how students communicate – and helped him to spot some vital gaps that existed in that area.
Take for example the simple activity of posting the sale of a second hand textbook. He noticed that a student would write out (or type out) the details of the textbook on an A4 sheet and past it on one of the many campus notice boards, only to return a few hours later and have to dig for their advert under layers of other posters. A somewhat primitive communication method, you’d agree, and somewhat ironic for this market; Generation Y, at the forefront of all things technological and online.
It was an opening in the market just waiting to be filled by an entrepreneurial sort. Stuart, with his Bsc in geomatics behind him, along with a post-grad diploma in project management and just enough work experience in a medium-sized company to understand the fundamentals of running a business, took it as his cue to unleash his inner entrepreneur. And so Studentology was born.
Studentology.co.za is an online platform that caters to the needs and wants relevant to the student’s lifestyle. Stuart says that it serves a dual function; on the one hand it provides free online services to students – for example, buying and selling textbooks, finding accommodation, classifieds and details of events and activities, and even sending free SMSes – and on the other it connects businesses and brands to the student market.
They launched in February 2010 during Orientation Week at UCT, so the business has been running for just over a year.
Chicken versus egg Year one has been an extreme learning curve for me, and the business has its manic highs and manic lows, says Stuart. Getting momentum is very much a chicken versus egg scenario: we connect businesses to the student market, which means that the students will only be active on the website if there are exciting companies advertising. In the same vein, companies will only advertise once there are large numbers of “student eyeballs” seeing their logos. Despite the challenges, we are growing our student database through the use of Facebook and Twitter and as a result companies are starting to cotton onto the idea, he says. “Every entrepreneur must want to have quit at least a dozen and a half times,” he smiles.
A personal journey When questioned as to what the biggest challenge has been, Stuart’s first comment is that being an entrepreneur has made him realise that if your personal state and confidence is not solid, it will reflect into your business – the industry can pick this up immediately.
He says he had one week when he was totally crushed, and started to doubt his ability – his ability to start a business and the whole Studentology business concept itself. That was when he learnt the importance of self-appraisal. “I realised that, in a conventional sense, we have conditioned ourselves to receiving external appraisal as a means to validate what we do. Working alone meant I had to coach myself and provide self-appraisal on a regular basis.
“Being an entrepreneur and trying to start a business is a lonely activity. What I lacked most was support. General support but also business-specific support. No one in my family has any business background and the general response was: “But how will it make money?” The constant
availability of naysayers resulted in me having to become somewhat selfish with my time and attention. I would avoid speaking to people that were negative about my venture – this resulted in me cutting ties with certain people in my life and just keeping a group of core people close to me. This year I will try to reconnect those relationships but I have no regrets – what I did was vital to the first year of my business’s growth. “I’ve learnt that, when times are tough and your business is hitting its manic low, the quality of the relationship that you have with friends and family is all important.
“Then there’s the quality of relationship that you have with your clients and suppliers – and when it comes to maintaining those properly, all you have on your side is integrity. Your word and your ability to not renege on what you say is what will carry you through.”
In the pipeline Year two looks to be an expansion year for Studentology. Stuart, together with his business partner Dean Horwitz have worked on a plan that will see them establish a presence
on the top ten campuses in South Africa, with an online community of 100 000 students. They are also launching a student discount card, StuD card, and have plans to collaborate with Visa to endorse the card in its second phase. He says he’s looking forward to days filled with doing things that energise him – what he cites as the best part about being an entrepreneur. “To all those entrepreneurs starting out, all I can say is do not quit, do not quit, do not quit. My greatest
reward is seeing how an idea that I came up with at 3am one morning is actually becoming a viable business.”
Not to mention a viable business that will tick over as he enrolls for his MBA at the Graduate Business School next year… there’s not doubt about it, Stuart Minnaar is an entrepreneur who is
living his own brand of studentology.
Contact Stuart Minnaar at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Follow Studentology on facebook www.facebook.com/studentology
This profile was produced by Founder@Work and was first published in “Your Business” Magazine.