Tuesday, October 19

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Princetonians launch Internet businesses

While most University students are busy buying books and starting classes, a couple of their peers are busy meeting with venture capitalists and earning six-figure salaries. VarsityPlanet.com, a leading college student portal, and Digital Kiwi, an e-business consulting firm based on Nassau Street, are both companies owned and run by Princeton students.

Three University students — one of whom has since graduated — founded VarsityPlanet.com last February. Company president Jim Citron '00 described the Website as one that "caters to college kids in its content, commerce and community features."

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According to Citron, the site features articles covering college sports, dorm life and dating, all of which are written by students from more than 40 college campuses across the country. In addition, the Website offers chat and messaging options, a free e-mail service and a virtual store featuring commerce partners such as Dell, Buy.com and Amazon.com.

Co-founders

Citron, along with co-founders Kevin Bourke '99 and Ryan Winter '00, have had an exciting year attracting investors in their business. "We closed close to $1,000,000 in a seed round over the summer and we are currently pursuing our first institutional round," Citron said.

Though VarsityPlanet.com has yet to turn a profit and is not projected to do so for the next two years, the company has a full-time staff of six people working at its headquarters in Atlanta, Citron said. He and his friends created the company because "there's not a Website all kids go to."

"We're positioning ourselves to be the leading college site built for college students by college students where they can find everything in one place," Citron said.

A politics major, Citron said he spends about 30 hours per week working for his company, including trips to Atlanta every three weeks and frequent trips to Manhattan to meet with his advertising and development firm.

Citron said the reason he and his friends started the company, besides seeing a market opportunity, was they "got fired up" about the project. "When you believe in something, you're willing to work hard," he said.

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"I'd rather build something that has real tangible value than be an I-banker. VarsityPlanet strives to become an indispensable resource for the college student," Citron said.

VarsityPlanet.com is launching a marketing program to spread word of the site to college students. Citron said the initiative will begin with "a very comprehensive sales force that will have a presence on 30 campuses. [The schools] were all strategically chosen by their size and how wired they are."

"The best way to get the word out is through college kids who believe in the concept and find your site useful," he said.

Lou Ssutu, a California-based corporate attorney who invested in VarsityPlanet.com last year, commended Citron's efforts. "He's made remarkable strides to bring it from idea to fruition," Ssutu said. "This site is being created by folks who are in that environment. That's as true or as real as you could get."

Digital Kiwi

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Josh Rothman '02, the creative director of Princeton-based Digital Kiwi, describes his company as one that provides "Web services to our corporate clients, Web consulting, strategic consulting and technical services."

Rothman and the rest of Digital Kiwi's management team — which includes Paul Caldwell '02 and Chris Karr '02 — have seen the company earn six-figure profits since they started last spring, he said.

The students formed the company because they saw a growing market for Internet consulting, Rothman said. "As the Internet matured, a lot of Web-consulting companies started. Their level of professionalism and expertise wasn't any different that what you could get out of Princeton students," he said.

Digital Kiwi has worked for Johnson & Johnson, American Dental Examiners and the National Crash Analysis Center — a firm that studies automobile crashes. Rothman said the company charges its clients an average of nearly $30,000 per account.

Though Rothman and his partners have enjoyed their experience with the company, he said he does not plan to pursue Web consulting as a career. "This isn't a long-term career option. I want to get a Ph.D. in English literature," Rothman said.

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