A senior at the University of Florida looking to make a quick (and legal) buck, Mitch Weintraub started a T-shirt business with his friend Greg Alterman in the ’90s. Drawing from an intimate knowledge of their target audience, the men designed “really cool T-shirts that were really funny,” centered on the social side of higher education: drinking, partying and Gator pride, Weintraub says. One of the most popular shirts bore the slogan, “Life is full of difficult decisions,” printed over a slew of beer brands. “We were probably breaking so many licensing laws, it was ridiculous,” Weintraub recalls with a laugh.
Hefting bags packed with 100 T-shirts each, Weintraub and Alterman regularly trolled the dormitories to hawk their wares. The competitive pair would meet up in the stairwell after finishing each floor to tally earnings and see who had sold the most shirts. That is, if they hadn’t detoured into a fellow student’s dorm room to dodge a nosy RA or roving campus police officer. “We were getting kicked out of dorms on a regular basis. It was probably one of the most fun times of my life,” says Weintraub, who would go on to found the distributorship Pinnacle Promotions (asi/295986) with his brother David.
The experience was about more than just making money and having fun, though. The two dorm-to-dorm salesmen were learning valuable business lessons – everything from branding and sales to vendor relations and budgeting – in a low-stakes environment that allowed room for missteps, miscalculation and even failure. In fact, a surprising number of today’s successful industry entrepreneurs got their starts while still in school.
Chalk it up, in part, to the confidence and resilience of youth. “When you’re younger, your appetite for risk is a lot bigger,” says Danny Rosin. Few undergraduates have mortgages or families to consider before jumping into an uncertain business venture. Now that he has two daughters and 25 employees counting on him, Rosin says he’s more careful before making big decisions. “I’m the devil’s advocate a lot more now,” he adds.
As a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 20-odd years ago, Rosin was ready to go all in. “I was willing to plunk down $500 on an idea that I hoped would win for a chance to bring back $1,100 after a hard day’s work,” he said. “I think I learned the $500 lessons early and avoided some of the more expensive $5,000 lessons I might be learning today.”
Published in Advantage Magazine by Theresa Hegel August 2015