From Student to Student Business

From Student to Student Business


Daryl Bartkunsky grew up listening to business discussions around the dinner table. By the time he was 13 he knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur.

“I was obsessed with The Apprentice,” he recalls.

“One of the tasks was to sell and distribute Trump Ice, Donald Trump’s mineral water brand, and I thought, I can do that.’”

It took the young businessman four weeks to track down the right representative at Trump Industries and begin negotiating distribution rights in South Africa.

“They agreed in principle and I began securing an import licence. And then they told me that a minimum order was 100 000 bottles. I was 13. I did not have the capital to buy that amount of stock outright.”

It was a tough lesson for the young Bartkunsky to learn, but one that has served him well in ventures ever since.

“In hindsight I can see that my dad, who supported me every step of the way, also knew that I wouldn’t pull it off, but he wanted me to turn to him and say ‘I can’t import this much water,’ instead of him telling me I couldn’t do it – plus I still have that import licence.”

At 15 the now wiser businessman turned his attention to more local problems.

“My friend and I hacked into a major life insurer, and then set up a meeting with their head of IT. We had developed a product that could protect them, and supplied proof that they needed it.”

Bartkunsky placed the profits of the business in a money market fund, where it still sits today, and turned his attention to completing matric.

“My heart is in business, but I also know that you need to finish school. Your qualifications can never be taken away from you.”

But it wasn’t until university that the young entrepreneur really struck on an idea that he has grown into a sustainable business and brand.

“Within two months at UJ, I started Student Brands,” he says.

“I’m always paying attention to my surroundings: Who do I have access to? What are my skills, what markets do I understand, and how can this be monetised? At UJ, that answer was simple – we had unlimited access to students. So, what do students care about, and which brands want access to them?”

Bartkunsky teamed up with a friend who could build a website, and the two became equity partners.

“The idea was simple: We needed a website to tell students where we would be on campus, and what we would be doing. But in order for them to visit the site, we needed to give them something they cared about.

“So we filled it with tutorials, blogs, free ways to advertise their own businesses and services, chat forums and for a short while second hand textbooks. Things that didn’t work were ditched, and slowly we built up a community.”

Marketing was essential though – before people can follow you, they need to know you exist. Bartkunsky inherently understood that, and began brainstorming ways to get people to visit the site.

“We set up a competition. I offered up my brand new iPod Touch, still in its box, as a prize. It bit me to do it, but I knew it would be worth it. We set up a stand in the quad, handed out fliers, and piqued the interest of our fellow students.”

Bartkunsky was right. It was worth it. The community grew, Student Brands attracted clients who wanted to advertise to students, and it wasn’t long before the founders started receiving phone calls – were they interested in selling their database?

“We made the decision to keep our valuable database for ourselves and grow a sustainable business,” says Bartkunsky.

“We now have big name clients for whom we hand out flyers, drive activations, and handle promotions. We use students on campus who are trusted by their peers, and we’re active across a number of universities. I’m also able to focus on growing the business because we’ve hired a sales director and an operations manager.”

So what does the future of Student Brands hold? In a simple answer, growth, growth, growth

Vital stats

  • Player: Daryl Bartkunsky
  • Company: Student Brands
  • X-Factor: Use what you have available and what you know to create a great business.
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