Denali Tietjen and Natalie Bartlett October 12, 2016.
On college campuses across the country, student founders challenge the notion that “relevant industry experience” is necessary when starting a company. Here are 5 startups that were actually founded by college students:
When Anthony Casalena first started building a user-friendly blogging platform from his University of Maryland dorm room in 2003, it wasn’t called Squarespace. It wasn’t called anything at all because Casalena didn’t set out to start a business, he was just hacking web design tools for his own blog. But when a friend asked to pay him to use the tools, Casalena realized he was onto something: designers wanted a user-friendly way to customize websites. Backed with $30K from his dad, Casalena’s suite of design tools evolved into Squarespace, which went live in 2004. Fast-forward 12 years and Squarespace has raised over $78M from Index and General Atlantic, has over 500 employees, and drives over $100M in annual revenue.
Chegg founders Aayush Phumbra and Osman Rashid met as students at Iowa State University in 2001. At the time, some other Iowa State students were running a site called Cheggpost, a popular campus marketplace for buying and selling books and furniture and finding roommates, which Phumbra frequently used to sell textbooks. Convinced the site had the potential to go national, he and Rashid took over the site. In 2005, the site rebranded as “Chegg” and, in 2007, pivoted to a textbooks-only platform and went national. Today, Chegg serves over 40 million students across 6,000 campuses each year. The company went public in 2013 after raising over $180M in funding.
3. Warby Parker
When University of Pennsylvania MBA student David Gilboa lost his sunglasses before his first year at Wharton, he was devastated because they were expensive to replace. He did some research and was baffled to learn glasses are typically marked up 10 to 20 times the production cost. In protest, he refused to buy another pair.
So when Gilboa met fellow classmate Neil Blumenthal, who had been working at VisionSpring, a non-profit that sells affordable eyeglasses to underserved consumers, the two shared much in common. Gilboa shared Blumenthal’s frustrations so they teamed up to launch a more affordable eyewear company. Today, Warby Parker has raised over $200M in funding and sold over 1 million pairs of glasses.
In fall 2012, Stanford students Andy Fang, Stanley Cheng, Tony Xu, and Evan Moore teamed up to make software for local small business owners. When they asked a local baker what her biggest pain point was, she handed them a binder of hand-written order slips: deliveries. They started talking to other restaurant owners and all echoed the same frustration, they either had a similar binder and hated it, or didn’t make deliveries because it just wasn’t worth the time and energy.
So in January 2013, the team set out to build an app to streamline the delivery process. On January 12th, DoorDash went live and quickly took off. They spent the rest of the semester moonlighting as delivery boys across Palo Alto.
Fast-forward three years, and DoorDash has expanded to 22 markets and is valued at over $700M.
When Harvard engineering students Scott Crouch, Flo Mayr, and Matt Polega were tasked with working alongside the Massachusetts State Police Special Projects Team for a school design assignment, they were baffled to learn that the troopers still used printed documents and cluttered binders to combat high-profile gangs. Realizing software could help officers better manage records and address cases, the team set out to build a next-generation law enforcement software. The team spent the semester shadowing officers in ride-alongs as they patrolled, served warrants, and made arrests, and ultimately built Mark43, a data management software to automate some of their needs. Mark43’s software claims to increase police efficiency by 70% and drastically decreases administrative work.
Today, the company has raised over $13M in funding.
*Fundraising information reflects Crunchbase data.