Within 36 hours, Mike Meyers watched his video attract 23,000 views on Facebook. Those are numbers most viral video stars would be jealous of. But this video was never meant to be a viral sensation.
“We’re thrilled to see that kind of support from the community,” Meyers says. “It showed that we were able to communicate our message in a way that resonated with people, and it also validated the idea that we have something that can provide value to every student out there.”
Meyers is the CEO and founder of the startup company Tradeversity, an online marketplace exclusively for college students. While serving as promotional material in these first few days after its release, the video’s true purpose is to serve as a “how-to” piece for Tradeversity that will exist on the company’s website.
Meyers has always believed he has an entrepreneurial spirit. But it was advice from those close to him that began to shape his idea to start his own company.
“One of my mentors once told me ‘People would rather buy painkillers than vitamins,’” Meyers says. “So if you want to start a company, you want to create something that will solve a problem or cure someone’s pain.”
Meyers’ pain, at the time, was being a broke college student. He tried to make money while taking classes at USC by selling items he had lying around, such as backpacks. But he soon realized that the online marketplace was difficult to navigate. Marketing on EBay comes with high shipping costs, Craigslist has security concerns, and posts on Facebook become lost in a sea of social activity. He wanted a place where he could sell exclusively to fellow college students looking to make purchases. And that’s when the idea for Tradeversity was born.
“I think one of the big mistakes people make early-on with ideas, and I’ve been guilty of this multiple times, is we don’t want to talk about our ideas,” Meyers says. “We get so nervous and scared to put our concept out there, but the reality is you know your idea better than anyone else, so you have to put it out there and see how other people respond.”
Meyers and his business partners did just that. Tradeversity won a pitch competition through the USC / Columbia Technology Incubator, which gave the company free office space for a year. They also won “Proving Grounds” the same year, the prize for which was $20,000 cash.
“The best thing with pitch competitions, it’s free money,” Meyers says. “So as a startup, you’re not giving up equity, you’re not giving up resources, it’s a free check where you have an opportunity to really defend your concept and see if you can validate your market.”
With his idea validated, Meyers had to make the decision all young entrepreneurs face: was it worth foregoing the safe route of taking a job with an established company to take a chance on this? For the 24 year-old (21 at the time), it was a relatively easy decision.
“The way I viewed it is, ‘I don’t have anything to lose,’” Meyers says. “I’m in school if it doesn’t work… and if it doesn’t work I can always go get a job. And even now this is the right time to do it.”
The right time, and the right place; Meyers has a sense that the town he went to college in is beginning to make a push towards a startup culture.
“I was one of those people, coming from the DC area where I’m originally from, I said ‘I’m going to be in and out of Columbia in no time,’” Meyers says. “’I’m going to graduate and I’m going back up to DC’… and through Tradeversity but also through the community as a whole, I’ve seen that Columbia really offers much more than what people think it does… Over the past few years, there’s been more of a focus on ‘how do we promote not only keeping young talent here, but how do we promote the right ecosystem to start companies and really build business.’”
“It really takes a united community coming together, and that’s what will make us a successful startup ecosystem as a whole,” he says. “It’s not one entity, it’s everyone working together. And I think we’re finally starting to see the co-promotion, the different events together, and everyone really promoting the community as a whole.”
“We’re certainly not there yet. We have a long way to go as a city to really create that right ecosystem, because a lot of groups are still kind of working independently… but everyone’s conscious of that, and you’re starting to see people have the conversation. And the first thing that needs to happen is for everyone to acknowledge that we might not be doing this right… all of the leaders of Columbia need to focus on ‘how do we bring the right people here that they consider their success dependent on everyone else’s success?’”
“There are those people out there that want to really help, to get involved in the community. And it’s creating more events for those people to intermingle. People that have been successful, who produce multiple companies or IPOs… they want to meet other people that have done that… and so being able to create the right kind of events to bring those people together, that’s where people like us are going to find our mentors.”
“Where Columbia is struggling right now is talent. Being able to recruit specifically technical talent and engineers. Also to find the right kind of talent that wants to take a risk with a startup.”
Especially in a community like Columbia, which has multiple college campuses in a small area, a lot of that talent can be recruited by offering student internships.
“Our team has been a team of Gamecocks,” Meyers says. “We have a lot of members on our team that are still students. We have one that’s been with us since his freshman year at USC.”
“There’s no one-size-fits-all for building a company. You have to use your resources and try to make the most of it.”
Tradeversity certainly has made the most of its surrounding community. The company has gained access to investors, as well as direct advisors and mentors through 1 Million Cups. It has also received a $25,000 grant from SCRA, the South Carolina Research Authority.
That help from local resources extends even to the community Meyers has created himself. The best part of Tradeversity’s new video, in Mike’s opinion, is it was made by Tradeversity users. Meyers hired a student who advertises video production services on the app to produce the piece.
Clearly, the production was a success. But Meyers sees this as a small blip on the radar, and knows he and his company must keep pushing forward.
“It’s a very small win. We’ll celebrate it, but after the next few days we’re going to forget about it and go back to focusing on what we need to do for launch.”
“It’s really important to celebrate the small wins. But once you celebrate it, you have to get over it. No one cares about an award you won three years ago. You have to respect and be grateful for what you have in the present, but constantly look forward. We’re not looking at this video and saying ‘That was cool, let’s watch it again,’ we’re saying ‘how do we create something like this again?’”
That mindset of continuous improvement is certainly reflected in the expansion of the Tradeversity brand. Meyers’ company is in the process of growing far beyond its current reach. The app will launch at 15 schools next month, and Tradeversity hopes to be international within the next 3 years.
“We know exactly what schools we want to go to… we’ve had over 35 schools across the country, west coast to east coast, that have tried to download Tradeversity where we’re not there yet. So that’s our cheat sheet. So we say ‘okay, we’ve had people at Stanford try and download the app, we should go there.’ We’ve had people in Florida, and Ohio, and Pennsylvania. So we have this guiding force on where to expand. And in the next three years, we want to be at every school in the country… and we’ve had interest in Scotland, and in Asia, and so on. We’re really focused on the big picture there.”
For a look at more of Mike Meyers’ words of wisdom, especially his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, watch his full interview with our CEO,Tia Williams, here.
A shortened version of the interview is available below: