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A Dorm-Room Startup for Dorm Rooms?

A Dorm-Room Startup for Dorm Rooms?

If you've ever gone shopping for dorm-room supplies, here's a startup you'll appreciate.

Dormitup.com is a Dallas-based online retailer that sells customized dorm accessories packages -- with comforters and extra-long sheets and shower caddies -- to incoming college freshmen. The aim is to “revolutionize” college-dorm shopping by providing freshmen with a lower-cost, hassle-free experience -- with the ability to customize the style, colors and content of orders. And the site offers free shipping.

Already deep into this year's back-to-school season, business has so far been swift, says Shanil Wazirali, 24, a 2012 Texas A&M University graduate and co-founder and co-CEO of Dormitup.com, which he runs with his 22-year-old first cousin, Sagar Hemani, a 2013 University of Missouri graduate.

“We’ve gotten orders from all throughout the nation, even Alaska, Hawaii and Canada,” says Wazirali, who wouldn’t disclose company metrics other than to say there have been “thousands” of sales.

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While simplifying the consumer experience is an easy enough goal, the pair have learned that entrepreneurship means hard work, as they are Dormitup's only employees at present.

“We’re literally doing every little aspect,” from customer service to graphic design to order fulfillment, says Wazirali. “We do every box ourselves. It’s truly a startup because we’ve done the whole process.”

The site offers four dorm-room packages, ranging from the $120 "Fundamentals" to the $299 "Doin’ It Big," include 100 percent cotton, extra-large twin bedding and thin hangers, among other products geared to dorm life. The high-end assortment includes an iron, Ethernet cable, first aid kit and picture frame. The company says the packages, on average, cost 64 percent less than similar items at other retailers, and can be ordered in less than 10 minutes.

The cousins, who are first-generation Americans, developed the idea for Dormitup in college after going through costly, troublesome, freshman experiences shopping for dorm supplies at big-box retailers. Unsure of what to buy and armed with shopping checklists, Wazirali stocked up on unnecessary items, missed some essentials and made several trips to stores with his parents, costing his folks about $700. After Hemani had a similar experience shopping for college, the two decided to go for it.

The cousins turned entrepreneurs developed the packages based partly on a survey last fall of new freshmen at different schools. They also researched articles and checklists on the internet so they could eliminate the guesswork for freshmen and provide what students need.

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“We basically analyzed every angle from this industry and we wanted to go direct to consumers and ask them because we knew they were going to be our customers,” Wazirali says. The idea they hope to get across, he says, is that “just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you can’t live like royalty.”

Armed with funds raised from family members, the pair started bootstrapping the business after Wazirali’s graduation, researching products and forging a partnership with Rice University and several other universities before ordering inventory or legally forming a company. “We didn’t take that leap of faith,” he says.

While Wazirali and Hemani’s parents -- Pakistani immigrants -- may not have been able to advise the cousins on exactly what to buy for their dorm rooms, the family has been helpful in getting the business off the ground, and not only by providing startup capital.

Their fathers and uncle are partners in other businesses, supplying their own brand of school supplies and other products to retailers. Because they source their own products, the elders were able to help the young entrepreneurs in that aspect of business, according to Wazirali. “As soon as they laid it out for us, we stepped in and did it ourselves,” he says.

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While the business is profitable and self-sustaining, the cousins continue to live at home with their families. They hope to draw incomes in another year or two, and aim to develop as many partnerships as possible and to build a staff. “This is our first year and everything that we’ve made is going back into the business,” says Wazirali.

Do you think niche business like Dormitup can catch on big with consumers? Let us know your take in the comments below.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has covered business, politics, healthcare and general news for wire services, newspapers, blogs and other publications.

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