Dot-com businesses provide services

Ever get the late-night munchies? Hate doing laundry? Wouldn’t it be nice to have bottled water delivered directly to your door?

The rise of campus businesses started by GW students has landed four dot-com college companies on campus. Soapy Joe’s and Campus Snacks launched four years ago while Varsity Drinks is entering its third year and University Mom is in its inaugural season at GW.

The addition of University Mom has created a small rift within the GW campus business community. While none of the other businesses said they feel threatened or are worried about another taking business away, evidence might suggest otherwise. Users who try to access universitymoms.com, a commonly misspelled variant of universitymom.com, are sent to the Soapy Joe’s Web site.

“We have a brotherhood of college businesses here on campus,” said Spencer Lewin, founder of the laundry service Soapy Joe’s. “It’s not that we have anything against any other business, they’re just the new kid on the block.”

Started last year at the University of Maryland at College Park, University Mom has morphed into a veritable combination of Soapy Joe’s and food delivery service Campus Snacks. Not only can customers drop their laundry off with the dot-com business, they can also sign up to have bottled water delivered to their doors and have a cleaning service come to their rooms.

“We’re not going up against anybody,” said junior Brandon Singer, founder of the GW version of University Mom.

“We saw that other corporations on campus had done well and we saw a market for our business,” said Singer, who launched the company with two of his friends. Singer said he has nothing but respect for the other student-run businesses on campus.

The hardest part about getting a business started was keeping with it and not giving up, Singer said.

“You have to be hungry for it,” Singer said. “You have to have that motivation and drive, because it is going to be hard.”

Campus Snacks founder Matt Mandel, who graduated from GW’s business school in 2003 and now works full time for the Internet-based late-night snack company, said that at first, he was “just a kid with an idea.”

A self-proclaimed night owl, Mandel’s Campus Snacks derived from an online book trading Web site and grew into a late night shop delivering goodies and munchies to customers’ doors by bicycle until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on the weekends.

“It frustrated me that there are all these people living here, and it is the same stores repeated over and over,” said Mandel, whose business predated the opening of the 24-hour 7-Eleven in Mitchell Hall. “And they all close at 10 p.m.”

Lewin’s laundry service, which had humble beginnings as well, has emerged as a major player in the field of student businesses. As a junior at GW, Lewin hated doing his laundry and always heard his friends complain about doing theirs. He came up with the idea of a laundry service that would pick up dirty laundry and deliver it clean within 24 hours, with door-to-door pick up and delivery service.

“Ideas are great,” said Lewin, founder of Soapy Joe’s Laundry Service. “Implementing them is the hard part.”

After spending his personal savings of eight years to start up the company, Lewin got his idea off the ground as a junior in the School of Business. Today, his Web-based laundry services serves close to 2,000 customers at GW and surrounding D.C. apartment buildings.

“It’s a combination of marketing and convenience,” Lewin said. “It has to be easy for students to use and understand.”

Lewin’s first major investment was a Chevy Astro Van to hold all the laundry. He and business partner Neil Rosenshein began picking up and dropping off laundry themselves across campus. After two truck breakdowns and $1,000 worth of flashy decals, Soapy Joe’s now sports a 1996 Chevy P30 named Soapy 3.

“We target a specific demographic,” said Lewin, who can often be seen in a tie or business casual attire. “We want to convey an image that we care about our customers service.”

Juniors Michael Orenstein and Sam Pomerantz suggested that the key to their success was having an original idea when they started Varsity Drinks three years ago.

“Everybody loves to save money and buy in bulk,” Orenstien said. “But it’s hard to get it back to your dorm.”

Hence the two roommates started a bulk delivery service. While living in Thurston, Orenstein and Pomerantz one day saw a fellow freshman struggling to carry a large jug of water into Thurston Hall. So the idea of buying and delivering in bulk began.

“In the beginning there is a lot of risk,” Orenstein said. “Be persistent and stay strong, though. Embrace failure and learn how to bounce back.”

Buying the initial inventory and advertising with fliers and T-shirts is what the founders say was the hardest part. But now that the company is off the ground, the two enjoy working for their business creation.

“After the Web site launch it was really about word of mouth,” Pomerantz said. “It takes a lot of work, but if you’re able to balance the school work with the business, it is the most rewarding experience you will ever be a part of.”

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