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1Mby1M Incubation Radar 2010: Off The Quad

Posted on Thursday, Sep 9th 2010

In a new twist on the hyper-local and “daily deals” trends, Off The Quad combines a daily lifestyle, events, and entertainment e-newsletter accompanied by local specials for students at several U.S. universities. It has just launched in time for the fall semester.

Before launching Off The Quad, founder and CEO David Rich was the owner and sole manager of Overtime Marketing Group, LLC, a marketing consultancy and software developer of social networking, communication, CRM, and management software since 2004. Throughout his career, Rich has provided marketing and business development consulting to clients across a broad range of industries, including clients such as BMW, Travelpro Luggage, Jarden Consumer Solutions, STP Tools, and 3M.

Findings released in July of this year from Alloy Media + Marketing’s 10th Annual College Explorer Study show that that there are sixteen million college students between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four enrolling this fall with an unprecedented $306 billion in projected spending power, up 13% from last year’s estimates. The study also projects a 10% increase in discretionary spending for what they deem “must haves” rising to an estimated $69 billion. According to Alloy, the current college population is now the largest on record.

By targeting three hundred universities across the United States that fall within Off The Quad’s target market criteria, the company has identified approximately 6.5 million actual potential subscribers, which encompasses just over a third of the total college student market.

Off The Quad has just launched on the following college campuses: Penn State University, University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, University of Florida, University of Colorado, San Diego State University, University of North Carolina, and University of Southern California. The company is targeting more than fifty additional college markets for expansion in 2011. The ideal market provides a large student population between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, the kind of population founded at major universities nationwide. Off The Quad’s ideal target market is large college towns with 20% of the town’s population made up of students. The reason for this number is that studies have shown that when 20% of the town’s population is made up of college students, 50% or more of the town’s businesses will cater to the college student population in that market.

The e-mail-based publication, which comes in national and local editions, is free. Each campus’s edition is written and edited by local journalism students, who will receive college credit for their work. Rich sees the publication as a supplement to the fast-paced lifetstyle of students, many of whom are juggling full course loads with work-study or other jobs, sports, internships, and family obligations. With Off The Quad, says Rich, students “get the information they seek when they want, whether on their way to class via their mobile phone or taking a break from studying on their laptop.”

Revenues are through advertising, and advertising costs will be determined based on Off The Quad’s subscriber base and Web traffic, which will evolve as the company develops. Off The Quad is currently using an affiliate-based advertising model until subscriber rates reach a level sufficient for national advertisers. The main advertiser thus far is BustedTees, which sells novelty t-shirts, hoodies, and posters. Additionally, Off The Quad is working with independent student groups at its launch markets to incentivize viral and organic growth through grassroots and social media initiatives.

The competitive landscape for Off The Quad comprises primarily traditional publications such as magazines and websites. Off The Quad aims to distinguishes itself from these outlets by providing once-a-day emails that offer only best-of recommendations for students’ immediate college markets, featuring the scoop on popular restaurants, stores, events, bar specials, movies, websites, and more. This approach is the first of its kind for the college student demographic. Many university websites have an events calendar, but these generally do not include information about what’s on around town. Sites such as Flavorpill and DailyCandy are popular but are present only in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, LA, Seattle, and Dallas, where there is obviously not as high a percentage of students as in college towns. And while DailyCandy has a separate kids’ Web site, neither of these sites has content specifically for the student demographic.

Since the company has just launched, there is no revenue to report. Rich secured $450,000 in funding through angel investors and private investors. He bootstrapped a pilot market in Boulder, Colorado, to develop best practices, leading up to a successful fundraising effort. Further, he gained significant local attention through taking first place in Track II of the Florida Atlantic University 2010 Annual Business Plan Competition. This recognition caught the attention of several local investors. Rich has no intention of raising more capital at this time.

The company plans to grow by increasing its subscriber base through PR campaigns and social media to make it more attractive to advertisers. It will expand into additional markets on a semester-by-semester basis, following the academic calendar. Off The Quad’s speed of growth is dependent upon the development and successful execution of a replicable subscriber acquisition model. This may be a tall order: Even as advertising spending increases, major media companies such as Sugar Publishing are being frank about that need for diverse revenue streams. An increasing number of companies are developing commission-based services (e.g., Sugar’s FreshGuide) to bring in revenue from nonadvertising sources. That being said, Rich’s eighteen-to-thirty-four demographic is certainly one beloved of advertisers, and he’s hit on an idea that wired students in smaller cities may welcome.

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This segment is a part in the series : 1Mby1M Incubation Radar 2010

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