Unigo: Retooling the College Guidebook
This young entrepreneur is giving students the power to rate and review their schools.
Who: Jordan Goldman, 26
Projected 2009 Revenue: Undisclosed
The Pitch: Unigo.com is an ad-supported site with tens of thousands of student-generated college reviews, photos, videos, and articles. The site provides college-bound students and parents an uncensored look of what life is really like--academically, socially, and politically--at hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the United States. With more than 10 million page views to date, Unigo has dramatically transformed the college resource landscape from an industry controlled by print guidebooks, magazine rankings and college admissions offices, into a democratic free press governed by the real experts: the students themselves. Since its founding, Unigo has attracted lucrative advertising deals from companies such as Apple, Dell, Best Buy and the Wall Street Journal.
The Startup Story: At 17, Jordan Goldman found himself unable to find any college search resources that answered his laundry list of questions. He couldn't fathom how anyone could make such a life-changing decision--not to mention five or six figure one--based on the two-page administrator-written reviews found in traditional print guidebooks. His solution: an entirely student-written guidebook.
At 18, Goldman searched Google "how to write a book proposal," penned the pitch and blindly mailed several unsolicited packages to the top five publishers in the U.S. For most people, the story would have ended there, but as luck would have it, Penguin Books responded. The publisher commissioned Jordan to produce a book series based on his concept. A few months later, Goldman's first Students' Guide to Colleges became one of the top five best-selling college guidebooks in America. But Goldman still felt something was a miss. The print book was a limited and prohibitive medium. It was time to evolve his concept yet again--this time to take advantage of the internet.
By 23 Goldman had limited savings, no business background, and his parents begging him to find a "real job," so he began writing his business plan. Over the next two years, he reached out tirelessly to hundreds of alumni from his alma mater, taking a hundred or so out to lunch in exchange for advice and criticism. Seven years after he first conceived his game-changing student-written guidebook, Goldman's persistence paid off. He was able to raise several million dollars from private investors and launch Unigo.com.
Impressive Stat: On average, Unigo.com has received user-generated contributions from 2 to 10 percent of each college's student body.
Founder Fun Fact: During his 20-month hunt for an investor, Goldman managed to survive in New York City on less than $20,000. His secret: he rationed Chinese lunch specials into multiple meals and lived in 18 different sublet apartments. Goldman is happy to say he's lived in every neighborhood in NYC.
Founder's Advice: "Youth isn't an insurmountable barrier. It's an advantage."
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Scott Gerber is the founder of Sizzle It!, a New York-based sizzle reel production company specializing in promotional videos for PR and marketing professionals, and the Young Entrepreneur Council. He is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, columnist, public speaker and author of Never Get a "Real" Job: How To Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke (Wiley, 2010).