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Derek Johnson was having lunch with a friend at the University of Houston when he had an "aha!" moment: The friend, a communications director for a sorority, was having a hard time messaging her chapter about important announcements, meetings and dues. Facebook, e-mail and message boards weren't working, so she asked Johnson for ideas. He thought of mass text messaging.
After doing a little research online, Johnson was surprised to find that there weren't any mass texting services for the average consumer. When a friend in a fraternity agreed that he could use such a service, Johnson decided he had a real business opportunity on his hands.
Within months, he launched a website for his new company, Tatango, to sell group text messaging. Now, just two years later, Tatango offers subscription plans starting at $19 a month that allow groups to send text messages to all of their members at one time--whether they are 10 or 10,000--from any computer or phone. The plans also include keywords that make it easy for users to join a group just by texting a certain word.
The 5-Step Solution
Derek Johnson's formula for finding your idea in college:
1. Identify a problem . "Ask people what keeps them up at night."
2. Zero in. "Pick a problem people will pay to fix with a product or service."
3. Do the research. "Fast-track product testing by surveying and selling to students and using college resources and faculty."
4. Then do it. "The biggest hurdle is going forward with an idea. A lot of people stop at the idea point and think too hard about the product and say, 'I don't know.'"
5. Be ready to sacrifice. "You are going to miss out on some of your social life, which isn't fun. But when you graduate, you will be doing something you love."
Being in college was instrumental to the creation and success of Tatango, says Johnson, 25, whose previous college-inspired ideas included a memory foam pillow that sticks to car or bus windows for sleeping on long trips and a website to help college students find apartments.
"To find a good idea, talk to other students to learn their stress points," Johnson says. "People will pay for products that fix problems, make life easier or make it simpler."
Today Tatango employs five people, and more than 2,500 groups use its service. The company broke even last September and hopes to top $500,000 in sales this year.
Johnson eventually dropped out to run Tatango full time, but he firmly believes that college is the best place to start a business.
"In college you have the time and resources to research and test potential business concepts," he says. "It's the best time to start a new business, because no matter what happens, you will still be able to eat and sleep with a roof over your head."
College Entrepreneur of 2010: Will It Be You?
The UPS Store and Entrepreneur are proud to announce Entrepreneur® magazine's Entrepreneur of 2010 awards. We'll be naming three winners, including a College Entrepreneur of 2010 . Candidates will be judged based on the positive effect they've had on their industry and their community. For more information and to enter, go to entrepreneur.com/e2010 . Winners will be featured in Entrepreneur magazine and will be honored at a luncheon in Atlanta in January 2011.
Joel Holland, 25, is the founder and CEO of Footage Firm in Reston, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .