Black-light posters featuring mushrooms and trance-inducing swirls were absent in Graham Weihmiller's dorm room at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. "There wasn't a Web site for those things [yet]," says the 24-year-old who co-founded Manhattan's DormNow.com Inc. with college buddy Neal Batra, 24, in August 1998-about a year after turning the tassel. Instead, Weihmiller "got a lot of used furniture and went about college existence."
But it wasn't regretful memories of a blah dorm room that spawned the idea for DormNow.com-corporate umbrella over TheDormStore.com (where students can buy furnishings, decorating accessories, gifts and electronics with no shipping charges) and StudentAuction.com (where attendees of like schools can bid on each other's futons and bean bags). It was more of a "see a niche and fill it" situation.
Weihmiller, who worked in the technology sales equity group for Merrill Lynch on Wall Street after graduation, ran a moving company with some friends in school and dabbled in independent tech consulting. But witnessing daily business-to-consumer Internet successes and realizing the buying power of the college market sparked a yearning in Weihmiller to be involved. Not "an Indiana Jones-type person," he made a well-prepared leap of faith, armed with personal savings and seed funding from two angel investors-a friend and a former professor.
At start-up, DormNow.com was three people making phone calls en masse out of Weihmiller's Upper East Side apartment bedroom. "The echo was one of the biggest challenges," he says. Now 50 employees strong, with pending partnerships and investments, DormNow.com hopes to reach a broader market.
The sad part of expansion? DormNow.com's last office sported a dorm-room setup, but "that gave way to more desks, unfortunately," says Weihmiller. "We've fallen prey to the corporate environment-but maybe we'll set up another one."