A Prudent Question: Startup Style

Francis Bacon Quote

In 2011, JusCollege had 6,000 student travelers. This year that number is projected to more than triple, the team expects to close the year with over 20,000 having used the service. For Andrew Citores, Founder and CEO of JusCollege, this meant reanalysis and an unexpected restructuring of the business.

Citores wasn’t looking to acquire a company; he just wanted mentorship and advice from the other startup founders and CEO’s. He posted this question in the Founders Network list serv and got many responses from other startup founders.

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Before he knew it Citores was sitting down with Allan Teruel, Founder and CEO of Embark. They clicked and it was obvious that working together made sense. Less than two months later they were announcing JusCollege’s acquisition of Embark. “It just happened serendipitously, like it was meant to be” says Citores.

Although unintentional, this pairing is crucial because it will and already has stared to shape the direction JusCollege takes. Citores has noticed that 20-30% more time and effort is being put into the startup. “We are focusing more on what is working.” He says.

Lesson Learned: Don’t be afraid to be mentored. Successful CEO’s of startups aren’t afraid to say they don’t know something, they find someone who can answer the question or fix the problem. Utilize the expertise of your network and learn from others. You’ll never know the answer to a question, or be able to see results like Citores has without asking for help.

Why: Creating a Stronger Team

This acquisition happened, and it happened quickly, because it made sense for everyone involved. Together they create a well-rounded team. “It turned out to be a perfect fit.” Citores says.

The JusCollege team is passionate, young and focused. Their strengths are in marketing, sales and customer relations.

Teruel has a different set of expertise and experiences, which he will use as the new CTO of JusCollege. He is a tech savy guy who has done everything from securities to engineering and has exited three startups successfully.

Citores is already seeing results from the combined team and is more motivated than ever. “All of our weaknesses were their strengths and all of our strengths are their weaknesses.” He says.

Lesson Learned: You will be a lot stronger if you pair up with  people who have complimentary skills. If you can put the right team together your value as a company grows exponentially.

New: Narrowed Focus

Right after Teruel joined the team, they took a hard look at the JusCollege business model. What they found was that although many of the services they were offering were popular, there was more growth, demand, and less competition for traveling services. Ultimately they chose to narrow their focus to the travel, entertainment and transportation space.

This is a big shift from the previous JusCollege business model which strove to be a one-stop concierge for college students. Online food ordering and textbook services were popular among the many tools offered to college students.

“We put together many different services and offered it to the college community to see what worked.” says Citores. “Sometimes you have to throw a bunch of things against the wall and see what sticks. A lot of our services were very popular and gaining traction, but we realized that this one aspect of our business was doing so much better than everything else.”

Lesson Learned:

  • Don’t be afraid to drop everything you have been working on and change course. “I think the biggest thing that I have learned is to not be afraid to scrap everything and start all over.”
  • You won’t really know what works until you have tried it all. Keep trying new things until you find something that works. Follow Citores’s strategy and try everything that you can think of, and then focus on what works later.

How: Competing in the Travel, Entertainment and Transportation Industry

One of the reasons why JusCollege is focusing on travel, like mentioned earlier, is that the college services space is crowded. Services like Amazon, Chegg, and BIGWORDS take care of most textbook rentals and sales. Similarly, other services that JusCollege hoped to provide, are already being taken care of by big established companies.

But, online travel companies that make sense are back in demand. Many of companies that started in the 90’s have died or have outdated business plans, and travel agents are on the rise again.

Citores would like to take the old online travel model and breath some life into it and doesn’t think students should pay more for packages. “Our trips are always more affordable than if you were able to book them on your own,” Says Citores.

“We want to create a better experience and we are calling ourselves a college experience marketplace. Whether it’s a Spring Break trip, a weekend getaway or a group of sorority girls going out for a birthday; they can do it at an unmatched price.”

Price is only part of the winning strategy, creating an exceptional experience is essential for the plan to work. Citores is dedicated to service and idolizes Zappos’s dedication to their customers. He says, “We want to makes sure that if you travel with us, you are never going anywhere else because this is better than anything you could have put together yourself.”

Lessons Learned

  • Don’t let your company become stale “The best companies are constantly evolving and changing. You can’t keep the same business model and be successful forever. You have to change with the times and be ready to make big decisions and just go with it.”
  • What goes around comes around when it come to customer retention and acquisition. “If you do right by people, are honest, have fair pricing and are available when needed; your customers will keep coming back.”

It’s great to see a startup evolve and make decisions that make sense. JusCollege is only getting their momentum going. I have no doubt they will keep it going and continue to ask questions whenever they need to.

Has anything unexpectedly become a crucial part of your business strategy? What types of questions do you ask other startup Founders and CEO’s? Leave a comment with an answer below!

Want to learn more about @juscollege?  Connect with Andrew on Twitter @andrewcitores


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