When it comes to starting a business, many people don’t follow through because of fear or debt. But Brandon Gotlieb, a junior at Ohio State University (OSU), didn’t let those issues scare him away from his goals. As a sophomore, he launched a business called Nxtstor.
“Nxtstor is an online marketplace where those with space — whether it’s a homeowner with a basement, garage, attic, or spare bedroom — can rent out that space to somebody in their community that needs room to store their items,” said Gotlieb.
Now, Nxtstor is expanding its reach, and Gotlieb continues to juggle his growing business and school responsibilities. Here’s how he’s done it.
Coming up with an idea
As a finance major, Gotlieb thought he’d have a traditional college experience and follow a traditional career path: go to school for four years, graduate, and then make his way into the finance industry.
However, just a few months into his college career, OSU launched a business pitch competition.
“I was sitting with a couple of my roommates, and we thought about this competition,” said Gotlieb. “We had this idea for a storage business that we thought would be an interesting pitch, so we threw together a slide deck. We thought that we’d at least get feedback to help us decide whether or not to pursue the idea.”
Gotlieb and his friends ended up winning the competition, getting thousands of dollars in developmental help and $1,000 in cash. It was an important first step in getting financing for the business.
“[Winning the contest] validated our idea, and we got such good feedback that we decided we could start building it,” he said.
Building a business
With a vote of confidence from the competition judges, Gotlieb designed a test for the business. He decided to focus on a niche group with a need for storage space once the school year was over.
“The biggest challenge is educating people about what we do,” Gotlieb said. “It’s like what Uber had to do with its initial customers. That summer, we stored items for international students to get an understanding of what the process would be like. We raised a little bit of money that way and used it to bootstrap the company to where it is now.”
The first round of renters loved the idea, giving Gotlieb and his friends proof that they had a good concept. They focused their efforts on building a website that would connect renters with homeowners and marketing the company, stressing its benefit to communities.
“We’re really concerned with the use of space in urban environments,” Gotlieb said. “We worked heavily with urban planners to figure out the best way to use space.”
With his concern for the environment, Gotlieb positioned Nxtstor as a sustainable and affordable storage solution for people in busy cities and densely populated areas.
Juggling work and school
Entering his junior year of college, Gotlieb is careful about managing his business and school responsibilities.
“I try really hard to not be isolated,” he said. “It’s easy to get distracted by work, but I make sure I get out in the community and hang out with friends and have the traditional college experience.”
Gotlieb said OSU’s supportive staff has made the process easier. Plus, he dedicates blocks of time in his schedule to his growing business.
“I fit in small activities like email when I can throughout the day,” he said. “Then I set aside blocks of time just for work. Having these blocks allows me to be really productive and more aware of my time usage.”
Gotlieb also credited his teammates for helping him with the business. With people dedicated to web development and marketing, he is able to grow the business while enjoying college life.
Right now, Nxtstor has renters and spaces available primarily in Ohio. However, Gotlieb plans to expand the business outside the state.
“We’re still in the early phases, and we’re working through the kinks,” Gotlieb said. “But it’s been cool to see it grow, and people seem excited about the product.”
Although he’s not taking a salary from the business yet, Nxtstor is becoming more established.
“Everything that we get goes straight back to the business,” he said. “We’re pushing it forward and making sure we have a way to grow and attract new customers to us.”
For other would-be entrepreneurs
For students who want to start a business but are intimidated by the idea, Gotlieb recommends reaching out to contacts on campus.
“Just get connected in the community and talk to whoever you can,” he said. “[There are] a lot of students on college campuses that [want] to be entrepreneurs but just don’t know how. … Many colleges and universities have entrepreneurship clubs or programs. Get involved in a group on campus and find some like-minded people who can help you.”
If you have a business idea but don’t know where to start, check out the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization to find partners and sponsors near you.
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