Doug Messer began his first entrepreneurial venture as a sophomore in high school. A few years later, after learning firsthand how difficult it was to find and manage brand ambassadors for his silicone watch company, he pivoted.
University Beyond is a campus brand ambassador program that helps top companies like Amazon and Starbucks recruit and manage ambassadors on hundreds of campuses all over the country.
During his struggle to market his watches on college campuses, he did some research on what bigger brands were doing with their ambassadors and ultimately found that everyone from tiny startups to Fortune 100 companies were all using the same ineffective, hacked-together methodology. A centralized system simply didn’t exist.
To date, University Beyond has worked with over 200 brands, providing them with the technology not only to recruit ambassadors, but also to handle task management, communication, compensation and, most importantly, reviews.
These reviews are essential to University Beyond’s long term vision, according to Messer. Providing a centralized platform to connect brands with ambassadors is a helpful and much-needed service, but it’s only the beginning. University Beyond wants to offer students educational value as well. After every completed program, students receive grades for their performances, allowing HR to essentially transition the top rated ambassadors into summer interns. Students who work for a brand more than once throughout their college careers have a 90 percent chance of getting hired at that brand upon graduation.
“That's the core longer vision, going to market through providing a really strong technology to make an experience that's fun and actually relatable and important, while still on campus,” Messer said. "And in addition to that, on the brand side, streamline their on-campus hiring as well as internship and post grad-hiring through the onsite rating metric."
For brands, the benefits don’t stop at recruitment and management. University Beyond’s program also facilitates product feedback, helping brands engage with millennials to gain their insights, which Messer said they have a hard time doing on their own.
In the past three months, the company has not only finished its stint at growth accelerator Dreamit, but also unveiled its full, completely self-service SaaS model for employers. Messer said the company is experiencing its largest growth period yet on both student sign ups as well as company revenue, with $250,000 in booked revenue for the upcoming semester and the past two quarters clocking in at the highest grossing in the startup’s history. Going forward, he and his team of five are focused on expanding partnerships with key learning management software like Blackboard to bring these opportunities for work experience to hundreds of thousands of students across the country.
This year, the University Beyond team even registered its own national holiday: National Student Discount Day.
“We’re a year in and we’re driving to our little office in Westchester and we hear 'happy National Pasta Day' on z100 — the number one radio station that’s being listened to by our target audience,” Messer said. “We’re sitting there working 18 hour days to figure out a way to reach them and for some reason National Pasta Day is getting more exposure than what we had built. So last minute we were like, let’s throw our own holiday."
What started out as a PR stunt ended up turning into almost its own entire business. Messer and his team found out that student discounts tend to fall to the bottom of marketers priority lists, creating a pristine opportunity for collaboration. On August 24, University Beyond will feature student discounts from brands such as Spotify, Zipcar and J Crew on one centralized landing page, utilizing their network of social media influencers to amplify the reach of the discounts to 50 or 60 million students.
Bolstered by his early start and quick success, Messer sees his youth as an advantage.
“I feel like people really look down upon it when in reality it's a huge benefit. Naturally people are more inclined to work with a young and up-and-coming entrepreneur because you know maybe they felt like they had someone help them when they were just starting out.”