When people think of New York City, visions of Wall Street, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty tend to come to mind. But interestingly, the city is also a hotbed for higher education--and startups are taking notice of its growing tech-savvy student population.

In New York City alone, there are an estimated 600,000 students that attend over 75 universities and colleges including New York University, Columbia University, and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

So when WayUp--a startup website for college students to find part-time jobs and internships--decided to run an ad campaign in the Big Apple, they went straight to the source by hiring students instead of a traditional Madison Avenue agency.

"We tend to 'dogfood' our own platform," WayUp CEO Liz Wessel said. "This means we hire college students for practically everything. When it comes to understanding our brands, our users can one-up anyone."

As with most venture-backed startups, WayUp is cost-conscious and eager to cut wherever they can without making big sacrifices on the results. "When we were assessing the concept of working with students as opposed to the price of an agency," Wessel said, "the decision was obvious." Wessel estimates that the company saved between $30K and $100K by employing students instead hiring a traditional agency.

The scope of the project was to produce print ads for WayUp that would run in the subway stations and subway cars of New York City. One set of the ads was geared towards college students (to be strategically placed on subway platforms near college campus stops) and the other set was placed on subway cars targeting employers seeking to hire recent grads.

To source talent for the campaign, WayUp posted a job listing on their platform seeking two college students who could offer creative insights into what messaging would best connect with college students like themselves.

Claire Wu, a graphic design major at Collin County Community College in Texas, and Molly O'Shea, a sophomore studying studio art at New York University, were hired to produce the ads. Both students were looking to gain real-world experience outside the classroom and earn income to support their schooling.

Along the way, the students got a real taste of startup life. With Wu based out of state, she worked remotely with the WayUp team from her Texas dorm room, sending drafts of her work and getting feedback from headquarters in New York City. Meanwhile, O'Shea got a firsthand glimpse into the late-night startup scene, working from 7pm to 1am alongside the two co-founders of the company where they provided mentoring to ensure great results.

"I literally designed these ads in their office while eating sushi with the CEO," O'Shea said. "It's been an eye-opening experience to see what opportunities are out there, and to be chosen as a spokesman for my peers."

"It's not everyday that you're able to design something that can be seen by millions of commuters every day in an iconic city such as New York," Wu said.

In November and December of 2015, the finished campaign was printed and displayed across all major subway lines in New York City.

"We received tons of positive feedback from people who saw our ads," Wessel said. "Our favorite part of the feedback was people commenting on how they loved that students we hired through our own product also made the ads. "
"We're strong believers that you should listen to and work with your users whenever possible," Wessel added. "Not only does this keep us in sync with what our user base wants and cares most about, but it also allows us to save money.

After the ads come down, Wu and O'Shea will have this valuable experience to keep as a resume builder and a glimpse into the working world. And for WayUp, the experience has proven to be a win-win situation--a success story in creative bootstrapping, as well as hiring young, hungry talent who understands their business best.