Student entrepreneur, Rutgers Business School faculty encourage business creativity
From morning to night, Dan Reji works.
He wakes at 8 a.m. and attends one class after another until 3. He plows through his schoolwork until evening when he opens his computer, signs into Skype and steps into his role as co-founder of Drizzle, the fourth business he’s had a hand in since he was 16.
Reji, a 20-year-old Rutgers Business School junior, is one of six young men who acquired $290,000 in seed funding on Sept. 22 for Drizzle SMS, a mobile app that pays users to text their friends by placing small banner ads in personal conversations. Rewards are distributed in forms of “Drops,” which can be translated into cash, PayPal, Amazon gift cards and charity donations.
Reji said Drizzle is a far cry from the first business he created, a T-shirt design company he launched with a small group of friends and named Royal Cartel when he was a junior in high school.
“It was a really fun experience, and we had no money to spare for a budget,” Reji said. “It was literally just like, ‘How can we scrounge together what we have to try to make this as cool as possible?’”
Reiji’s drive to create — which only intensified as a college student — exists in hundreds of Rutgers students.
There are organizations on campus that support hundreds of students' creative endeavors, such as The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED) and organizations like the Rutgers Entrepreneurial Society, said Jeffrey Robinson, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship in the Rutgers Business School and director of CUEED.
With the concentration in entrepreneurship, Alfred Blake, assistant director of Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Programs, said he wants to give students actual professional experience.
“When I first arrived at Rutgers, we were teaching one or two courses and had 20 or 30 students,” Robinson said. “And then more and more students found out, and we had to increase the number of sections and then we created the minor and we opened it up across the University.”
Prior to enrolling at Rutgers and kickstarting his entrepreneurial career, Reji said he devoted half of his high school career to Royal Cartel.
He learned to run a budding business on a budget — he corralled his friends into zero-budget photo shoots in friends’ garages and on the beach and sold his clothing to his high school peers, he said. Occasionally, he said he and his friends would have to ask their parents for loans to finish an order of shirts.
Royal Cartel was not a especially profitable business, Reji said, so when he did earn money — and when he saw his peers sporting his brand around campus — he was ecstatic. But he did receive his share of criticism.
“Your friends may love everything, but there’s people outside where they’re going to say ‘Oh, his design sucks,’ or ‘Why would I spend $20 on a T-shirt that Dan designed?’” Reji said. “That was probably the first time I learned about how thick of a skin you need (to be an entrepreneur).”
That lesson, he said, carried him far, through the end of high school and into college.
He said he self-started a new clothing business, Canberra Collective, out of his dormitory when he was a first-year student.
Canberra Collective fizzled out after a year, Reji said, but he developed a feel for branding and designing — skills, which in due time, would become his calling card in future entrepreneurial ventures.
He became the chief marketing officer of TSTMKRS — pronounced as Tastemakers — a venture that connected with social media influencers on campus and made them brand ambassadors, connecting them with brands to produce social media marketing.
TSTMKRS only lasted for about six months, Reji said, but he discovered how to leverage social media to create organic marketing, noting that there was a lot more foot traffic in stores that partnered with campus influencers.
In the time following TSTMKRS, Reji and five other entrepreneurs launched Drizzle in February 2015. It currently has 50,000 downloads in the Google Play store.
These days, Reji takes 18 credits worth of classes while working remotely at Drizzle, which is based out of Bloomington, Indiana.
“I’m on Skype calls from like 11:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. just working with these guys after I’m done with my school work,” he said. “I might as well be married to them, we talk every single day.”
Despite the time commitment, Reji loves it.
“When I’m working on Drizzle, I never feel stuck,” he said. “I feel energized and I’m ready to go. So at two in the morning, I don’t feel tired. I feel a spark, and I could do this all night if I didn’t have class in the morning.”
But he understands that not all students are cut out for entrepreneurship, not because they lack good ideas, but because they fail to act on them.
“I don’t think Rutgers is a sub-entrepreneurship school with Harvard, Columbia and Stanford,” he said. “I think when it comes to student entrepreneurs, I think there’s too many good ideas and not enough hard-working, let’s get after it, let’s make it happen (students).”
Knowing that, Reji wants to superimpose a new entrepreneur work ethic over the current one, which is largely more talk than action.
“I may not have the most talent in the world, but I think I do have a thick skin and can outwork the next person coming behind me, and I kind of want to teach that same culture at Rutgers with this entrepreneurship community,” he said.