As a student at Hobart College, in upstate New York, Ian Leopold envisioned an unofficial student guide to the Hobart experience, loaded with practical information about sports, student life, and off-campus attractions, as well as key phone numbers and a calendar of events. He'd need enough advertising, Leopold reckoned, to distribute his book free. He fleshed out a business plan as his independent-study project. And even though his professor flunked him, Leopold persevered.
He founded Campus Concepts, investing $32 in order forms and business cards -- generic ones -- so that he and his ad-sales recruits could pencil in their names. With the $16 left over, he opened a checking account. Then Leopold and his sales force -- students on commission -- pitched retailers. "It cost $50 or $100 to advertise in the book," he recalls. "When I got cash, I bought an answering machine, and it started to feel like a business."
Once the editorial package was complete, he approached a printing company. "They wanted $1,000, and they didn't think I had the money," Leopold says, still relishing the moment. "But I did. I'd already sold the ads." The first annual Unofficial Student Guide to Hobart College turned a 50% profit on $3,000 in revenues.
This article was adapted from material that first appeared in Inc. magazine in August 1995.