Entrepreneurship student working full-time at new start-up before graduating
Daniel Pearson is far from the average college senior. He’s not spending his Tuesdays at the bar or struggling with the plague of "senioritis."
The Waterford senior is currently working full-time in San Francisco at a new start-up called Zaarly. The site, designed to help connect buyers and sellers of services, was launched in May 2011.
“Zaarly is buyer-powered. If you’ve ever said, 'I’d pay blank for blank,' then Zaarly is for you,” said Danny Sauter, who works on Zaarly’s college program in New York City. “You say what you want, when you need it by and how much you’re willing to pay. Like game tickets, textbooks, notes, rides, etc.”
Pearson is still finishing up online classes so he can graduate by December, 2012. Since he’s in San Francisco, he needed help getting his graduation audit done, so he “Zaarley-ed” a request for someone to schedule and attend a graduation audit, for which he would pay them $100.
His post read: “I need a graduation audit and to apply for graduation this year but I kind of live in San Francisco. Get it done and I’ll pay you :).”
Pearson said he is very passionate about working at a start-up, which makes his schedule much easier to take. Zaarly employees work seven days a week, at least eight hours a day, but usually more, especially during the business week.
“I spent the first three months sleeping in a twin bed with more people than I had in my dorm,” Pearson said. “There were three guys and three twin beds in a room that’s smaller than my dorm room.”
Pearson, an entrepreneurship major, ended up at the start-up through a friend. When Pearson's friend was about to start an internship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship foundation, he was approached by Kauffman's then-Vice President, Bo Fishback, who told him he was quitting to start Zaarly and invited him to follow.
“They were looking for more people to work for Zaarly that summer, so my friend asked me if I was interested," Pearson said. “I worked there for the summer and then got a full-time offer.”
Pearson said he has always been interested in entrepreneurship. He owned a small landscaping company which he sold before coming to college. During his time at Central Michigan University, he participated in various pitch and entrepreneurship competitions.
A major in entrepreneurship aims to prepare students for the real world, said Debra Zellner, executive director of Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship.
“The curriculum is set up to provide students with a wide variety of classroom and experimental learning," Zellner said. “What we’re really trying to do is bring forward this entrepreneur perspective to the students and the whole campus, by bringing the spirit of starting new ventures and pursuing your passions.”
Last year, Pearson and his friend, Tyler Gostinger, won the New Venture Competition with their idea, HybridPay, an app that allows consumers to integrate their debit, credit and rewards card into one simple account to save money and add security against identity theft.
But HybridPay has been put on hold since Pearson started at Zaarly.
“We were talking with some investors to figure out where we want to go and what we would need to get started,” he said. “But we put it on hold.”
Pearson is not abandoning his winning idea, but said he wants more experience first.
“I wanted to come here and learn from Bo and other founders of this company who have built companies before,” he said. “It’s been a huge learning opportunity, and I’m glad I took it instead of just going off on my own.”
Pearson has three points of advice to offer students who are interested in entrepreneurship.
“Don’t just go to class; meet as many people as you can who share your interests, and don’t be afraid to start something new even if you think you’re going to fail, because you might end up surprising yourself,” he said.
Though Pearson is already working a full-time job at a start-up, which is one of Fast Company’s top innovative companies, he remains humble in his success.
“I wouldn’t say I’m successful yet; I’m far from successful. So I don’t think I’m even qualified to give advice to be successful,” he said. “I haven’t even graduated yet.”
In terms of the future, Pearson said he sees himself owning his own business.
“I’d like to build companies," he said. "That’s definitely what I’m passionate about."
Zaarly at CMU
In August 2011, Zaarly launched its college ambassador program with 20 universities. According to Sauter, there are now more than 30 colleges involved in the program and a new one is added each week. Students can sign up for the localized ZaarlyU.com with their .edu email address.
The college ambassador program is structured differently than other programs, Sauter said.
“It’s similar to running their own business,” Sauter said. “We wanted to make it more than just another college rep program; give students the opportunity to take Zaarly and really own it and run it on their own campus."
Zach Bazzy was chosen to be CMU's Zaarly ambassador. The Macomb junior said he is excited to promote Zaarly on campus.
“So far, I’ve been doing door-to-door promotions in the dorms, but I’m starting to build a team of people,” Bazzy said. “I really want to do marketing around campus and get some events going.”
Some Zaarly ambassadors have been innovative with their brand promotion, like Stanford University's Drew D’Agostino, who enclosed himself in a “glass box” for 24 hours and Zaarley-ed items he needed.
Students interested in joining Bazzy’s Zaarly team on campus can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.