Gary Vaughan and I spent the last two days at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) conference in Chicago. The conference is largely sponsored by the Coleman Foundation, who also made our Entrepreneurship in the Arts course possible through a grant, and who continue to fund some of our arts entrepreneurship initiatives. Our own Alex Chee and Cuong D. Nguyen are still at the conference.
This three-day event features a number of entrepreneurs who share their experiences with about 1500 students from all over the country. We heard, among others, Jimmy John talk about his story. (His father lent him $25K to start a hot-dog stand, and said that if he makes it, Jimmy gets 52% of the company, father gets 48%; if he fails, he agrees to enlist. The threat of boot camp pushed Jimmy to succeed and buy out his father. How did he sell his first sandwiches? Well, he didn’t. After he opened his shop and not a soul showed up by 2pm, he grabbed a few sandwiches and went to the neighboring businesses to hand them out as samples.) Another interesting person I heard was Phillip Leslie. Formerly a Microsoft software engineer (mobiles apps division), Mr. Leslie just couldn’t help getting into the iPhone app gold rush when he was an MBA student at Chicago’s Booth School of Business. So he launched ProOnGo, a mobile expense reporting app. In the middle ages, when you went on a business trip, you came home with a pocketful of receipts, which you then meticulously recorded and submitted. With ProOnGo, when you get that receipt, you take a pic of it with your iPhone, or Blackberry, or whatever, and in a few seconds you are done. At the end of the trip, you click to submit your expenses in excel or pdf format. Huge hit. Mr. Leslie gave very good advice indeed on how to make it with an app. For example, do you know the three ways to make money with an app? Through ads, one-time sales, or subscription service. Sounds obvious, but, actually, he is one of the pioneers of the last of these: it was believed that subscription service just wouldn’t be viable for iPhone apps. And how much do you get per impression if you advertise on your free app? Well, between a tenth of a penny and a penny. He also encouraged students with economics and social science-type skills to pair up with computer science majors to produce an app. But be clear about one thing: is this a hobby (which will cost you money), or a business (which should make you money)?