With expenses as high as the city’s skyscrapers, New York is as tough a place to start a business as ever. But not every young and ambitious college grad from the north New Jersey area is fleeing to Manhattan or Williamsburg to launch a career.
Take 22-year-old Shachar Avraham and 23-year-old Scott Wisotsky, for example. The two former Binghamton University roommates have jumpstarted their entrepreneurial enterprise in Teaneck, just a few miles down the road from where they grew up.
Their company, Campus Pursuit, is the most fun marketing startup you’ve never heard of. Essentially it’s a college-wide scavenger hunt program that engages brands with college students. Brands like Pepsi and Kettle Brand Chips send their products to Scott and Shachar, who deliver the samples to college student ambassadors working part-time from the comfort of their campuses. Then those ambassadors organize scavenger hunt games for participating students, sending them scouring between library bookshelves, under bushes, and anywhere else the hunt takes them. When they find the prize, they get to keep their Chipotle burrito or their Amazon gift card.
For Campus Pursuit’s clients, the prize is even greater: they’ve just acquired a new potential customer.
Sound as retro as the games you played during your own college orientation? It’s not. The scavenger hunts are organized through a sophisticated smartphone app. The ambassadors post clues on the app and push notifications send the students running. Once they’ve discovered the prize, students can scan a barcode on the product to inform them that it’s been found.
“At least where trends are going with the market, students are always on their phones,” Mr. Wisotsky said. “We wanted to infuse traditional marketing with a digital component. So essentially what we’re doing is hiding physical product and engaging people through digital means — the app.”
This fall, the founders expanded their scavenger hunt app to 45 college campuses across the country, and they quadrupled the size of their student ambassador team.
The founders believe Campus Pursuit owes its success to the invaluable and timeless rule of marketing: 18- to 22-year-olds are ripe for the picking when it comes to customer loyalty. Out of their parents’ house for the first time, it’s when many of us make our first decisions about products we will continue to buy for the rest of our lives.
Legacy brands and new product creators alike know this, and so they come to Campus Pursuit to forge those connections.
“Clients come to us because we connect the physical and the digital,” Mr. Wisotsky said. “We work with many snack and beverage brands. To physically get the product into college students’ hands and then into their mouths, we do that pretty well.”
What Mr. Wisotsky and Mr. Avraham think Campus Pursuit brings to the table is the thrill of the hunt.
Any brand can post advertisements on social media, or even hand out product samples to students outside the campus center. But in a saturated market full of hundreds of different soft drinks and snacks, few brands truly engage young people in the experience of obtaining their product in the first place. And as any diehard Black Friday shopper knows, sometimes it’s the chase that makes you really love the product you buy.
In all business, success comes down to knowing your target audience. Mr. Wisotsky and Mr. Avraham certainly have gained a lot of insight into college students today. “They want instant gratification,” Mr. Avraham said. “They want things now. No one has time to read everything on their news feed. People want to skim and get the general gist of things. What’s cool about Campus Pursuit is that you get the product now.”
“Students are open to learn about new brands,” Mr. Wisotsky added. “Eighteen- to 23-year-olds want to learn new things. Later on in life, people know what their toothpaste will be, what they’ll drink. But students, this is their first time living away from home. They’re building brand preferences that will determine what they buy for the rest of their life, and might even pass onto their kids one day. It’s easier for a college student to try a new snack and fall in love with it than when they’re older.”
Companies often hire student ambassadors to spread the word about their products to the coveted college student market. Both Mr. Wisotsky and Mr. Avraham had student ambassador jobs when they were in college.
“When Scott was my roommate, I remember he posted on Facebook groups and it wasn’t getting anyone’s attention,” Mr. Avraham said. “It was all flyering and spamming Facebook groups, slipping things under students’ doors,” Mr. Wisotsky said. “We wanted to create something more fun.”
Unsurprisingly, given that the two recent college grads just launched a business from their dorm room, they have run into some difficulties along the way. “When we started out, our challenge was balancing schoolwork while developing a business,” Mr. Wisotsky said. “Now that we’re both out of school doing this full time, the challenge is totally different.”
“Keeping our brand ambassadors motivated is a challenge,” Mr. Avraham added. “We’ve refined the program many times to make it better.” Right now, Campus Pursuit ambassadors are compensated for each person they persuade to download the app.
“It’s a great experience because they’re running marketing campaigns for these brands,” Mr. Avraham noted. “Now we’re seeing ambassadors who graduated in 2015, 2016, get full-time jobs. There are employers literally hiring our ambassadors because of their experience working for us.
“One guy was with us as a participant when we started in 2014. He was finding a lot of prizes and we were like, this guy can’t just eat up all the prizes, we want to hire him! So we approached him and asked if he’d want to work for us. So he became a brand ambassador, then a team manager, then we hired him part-time to be the director of the brand ambassador program. He just got hired for a full-time role last week. It’s very cool.”
“We’re helping a lot of people, we’re helping brands,” Mr. Wisotsky said. “A philosophy we had from the beginning is ‘we want to put a smile on every students’ face every day.’”
Young entrepreneurs face a vast number of challenges. Perhaps most daunting is building a business without any experience. But both men said they wouldn’t exchange their journey for any entry-level job. “I can’t imagine starting my professional career any other way,” Mr. Wisotsky said. “It’s been the most rewarding experience of my life. Having started a company, having taken an idea and turned it into a full operating business, has shown me that even outside of business, if you work hard and put in the effort, you can make something amazing. It’s not impossible.”
In addition to diversifying their services in their Teaneck office to include such marketing services as on-campus product sampling and events, Mr. Wisotsky and Mr. Avraham are considering expanding the Campus Pursuit brand to Israel. “I was in Herzliya in 2015 and thought that Campus Pursuit could do well here,” Mr. Wisotsky said. “College marketing initiatives could thrive there.”
“We’ve had requests from students in Israel to expand there,” Mr. Avraham added. “But we’d need to work with Israeli clients.” They’re even considering empowering ambassadors to make connections with local Israeli businesses to bring them on as clients.
Shachar Avraham and Scott Wisotsky are two nice Jewish boys at heart. “Jewish business ethics and morals are very important to us,” Mr. Avraham said. “Specifically, treating everyone we meet with respect, compensating ambassadors on time. It’s very important to us to infuse those values into our work.”
Entrepreneurship seems to run in their blood. Mr. Wisotsky’s grandfather owned a manufacturing factory, his mother started a recruiting firm, and his father had a film production company.
Mr. Avraham never had thought about starting his own business, but, he said, “when Scott approached me with the idea, I formed my major around it.”
Both say their families and Jewish upbringing, including a shout-out to their Hebrew school education at the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies, contributed to these values.
“Jews have always been entrepreneurs,” Mr. Avraham said. “It’s in our blood.”
“There’s something very Zionist about it,” Mr. Wisotsky added.
“Yeah, going back to the pioneers in Israel,” Mr. Avraham said. “They built the country — turned it into a country from swamps. Jewish people are a light unto the world. We’re the type of people who want to help others and benefit the world. With all the challenges we face as a people, we’ve always come out on top.”
Mr. Wisotsky added, “When you look at Israel, there’s so much solar and green energy, so many tech companies. It’s in our books. It’s in our teachings. Young Jewish entrepreneurs read the scripture and apply it to their lives.
“They don’t just read something on paper. They actually go out and make change.”