Daniel Black: On Campus Entrepreneur
While we are all busy people here at CMC, most students don’t have to worry about writing a paper, studying for an exam, and speaking with their investors, web-design team, and corporate lawyer all in the same three days. Daniel Black, however, is not like most students. Black is a man with ideas and a passion for making people happy. He sees the world a bit differently than the rest of us, and has shared with The Forum a view into the entrepreneurial mind. When Daniel walks into an establishment, he looks at what is working and not working. He picks out inefficiencies and tries to figure out how they could be fixed. While everyone has great ideas every now and then of how things could be improved, Black takes it a step further; he actually takes a risk. For Black, it’s never about profit, it’s all about recognizing inefficiencies and creating a successful solution.
Daniel started his first mini-business when he was eight years old selling Hotwheels to his friends. He had a lot of them, and saw that the market offered the cars as expensive singles, or in packs of six. What the market did not offer was packs of two. Voila, he had found his niche and began his first business.
He continued to think entrepreneurially, but chose to focus on his education at large and getting into a good college. Once here, he decided to try a few things. Ever been out on a Thursday night and see that 5C shot-glass set? You have Daniel Black to to thank for those. After looking for glasses at Huntley and only finding overpriced ugly ones, he knew he could do better. Black and a friend created their own 5C shot-glass sets, and sold them to the student body. In turn, Daniel was able to raise money for ASCMC as well as several clubs and organizations on campus through shot-glass sales. Something as miniscule as selling shot-glasses gave him tons of business experience with very little risk. He was able to learn more about negotiating, shipping, bottom lines, economies of scale, and more. Daniel spread the shot-glass business to other campuses, and if you’re interested you may be happy to know that he recently got in a new shipment.
Black’s next venture addressed the problem of snack-less weekends. Black and a friend got a huge cooler, went to In-N-Out during a TNC, and ordered a ridiculous amount of food. When they got back to campus, they sold every single item within 20 minutes, and even made a profit. He only did this twice, and with great success. It was just an idea, and he wanted to see if he could pull it off.
All of this experience, from Hotwheels to shot-glasses, has set Black up for what has been his biggest success so far, CollegeMatchers.com. It was sophomore year and being the frugal person he is, Black had rarely sold a textbook because he refused to get ripped off at the bookstore and didn’t want to go through the hassle of using Amazon. He noticed during the conclusion of each semester that fliers would be left all over the dorms, listing the books students were selling. Black thought this was the most inefficient thing he had ever seen. Talking to his mom one night, the two of them came up with the idea of starting an online on-campus book exchange for CMC. Just like that, CollegeMatchers was born.
He started by hammering out the idea with other students, faculty, and professionals. Once he had completed enough market research, the next step was to raise capital. He decided to go the angel investor route and found an investor in the Bay area who gave him 30 minutes to pitch his idea. Remembering this meeting, he says, “it was the high point of my life, it was so much fun.” He then built the company, and hired a team currently consisting of business professionals and over 10 CMC students.
CollegeMatchers started exchanging just books, but now features all sorts of things - clothing, DVDs,video games, furniture, etc. Recently Collegematchers launched a small business consulting wing to aide local business owners in learning more about the Claremont Colleges. Black will focus on growing the 5C inventory for the remainder of this semester emphasizing the various applications the website offers students on a day-to-day basis. Using Black’s site, students saved over $30,000 last semester at the 5C’s alone. The site has users from 50 campuses throughout North America, and Black hopes to expand to 100 within the next year. For the time being, he will focus his efforts at the Claremont Colleges where he plans to offer local discounts for students in the coming weeks.
So how does he do it all? He’s running a business, finishing school, on the cycling team, and he manages to do it all with a smile on his face. Even when you’re as efficient as possible with your time, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. He says that his lifestyle doesn’t come without sacrifices– his GPA being one of them. Black’s philosophy on education is pretty unique, “A lot of people will consider how much a class is in terms of dollars, but I don’t think of it that way. I think about my whole 4 years at CMC when I graduate being worth $200 grand. I can honestly tell you my education was worth a hell of a lot more than that. In terms of me graduating where I am now - pocket change.” In the classroom he puts more emphasis on learning what is practical as opposed to learning what is necessary to get an A. He applies everything he learns to business, no matter what class. Everything from Intro Psych, to Environmental Law, and even Political Philosophy have applications to business.
Black plans to launch an “entrepreneurial house” in close proximity to the 5Cs giving students working on ventures a place to work throughout the school year, during the summer, and even post graduation if necessary.
Daniel has some advice for his fellow CMC entrepreneurs. First, don’t be afraid to fail. You learn the most from failure, just don’t make the same mistake twice. If you are going to fail, the quicker you can fail, the sooner you can move on to better things and apply what you’ve learned. Second, learn as much as you can in the classroom, but remember that practical knowledge is just as important. Get internships during the summer, throughout the school year, and take advantage of how much you can learn from the internet. Third, there are a lot of people who are more than willing to help you, take advantage of the incredible faculty, alumni, and your fellow students.
What’s his next start-up going to be? His next venture is an idea he has been working with since high school. Car clubs have only recently been brought to the U.S., and people are renting cars for $2,000-$3,000 a day. Black thinks this is madness - there must be a more affordable way. He researched the current market, met with managing partners at several car clubs, and developed his own model. Black hopes to launch Astra Motors, the most affordable exotic car club in the world, in 6-8 months. Black is confident that Astra Motors will give the Average Joe the chance to drive the car of his dreams.
Black’s philosophy on life simply put is, "I want to be my own boss." Black plans to continue starting companies, eventually becoming a venture capitalist himself. He can’t think of a better job than hearing people’s ideas and becoming a part of their vision.