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February 25, 2004: On the Campus

Illustration by Ron Barrett

In business, online

By Ashley Johnson ’05

Some of Princeton’s “type A” students have gone beyond the usual pursuits in organic chemistry and student government; they have gone into business, specifically Internet businesses.

Derek Kleinow ’04, an economics major from Scarsdale, in 2001 started a Web business selling Global Positioning Systems ( The first year he saw $285,000 in sales, and for fiscal year 2002, Kleinow reports he sold roughly $1.4 million in equipment and gear. In the beginning Kleinow spent eight hours a day on his business, but has since hired someone. “I only spend two hours a day now, so I can study and have a social life, but my employee spends around eight hours a day working,” he says.

Other students are just getting started. Having invested their own money, usually hundreds of dollars for start-up fees, including server space and domain names, they spend time between classes, meals, and extracurricular activities filling orders, fielding customer phone calls, and maintaining their sites.

Mariah Zebrowski ’05, a politics major from La Cañada, California, markets “recycled fashion” on the Web under the name “Em.” Launched last fall, the site,, serves buyers and also functions as a business-school laboratory.

Beginning in high school, Zebrowski and her best friend, now a student at the University of San Diego, would buy T-shirts from thrift stores, and with scissors, trims, buttons, zippers, and labels, transform them into stylish tops. So far Zebrowski and her partner have received orders for a dozen shirts and skirts, and one order for a purse made of men’s neckties. Zebrowski says that their items, which sell for about $20 each, rival what she sees in the aisles of Saks Fifth Avenue, for a fraction of the price.

To run the business Zebrowski has learned digital photography and Web-site maintenance, and figured out shipping, sizing, and marketing details, which until recently had been through word of mouth. “News of the site traveled so quickly,” she says. “I e-mailed my friends that the site was up, and they passed it on to other friends via e-mail, and suddenly I’m getting responses from people at Forbes residential college, and from around the world.” One of her first orders came from Japan. Zebrowski anticipates increased sales this spring, and her creations will be featured in Princeton’s charity fashion show for Operation Smile, “Service in Style.”

Adam Hopkins, a junior from Dallas, who is pursuing a major in physics and a certificate in materials science engineering, also devised a plan with high school friends. Last summer, they started, which offers artwork by college students from around the country. Initially, Hopkins relied on personal contacts for artwork, even offering his own paintings. Now, he reports that news of the site is spreading through campus artist networks, resulting in more submissions.

Hopkins’s start-up costs were about $2,000, which included fees for payment software, server space, domain name, and an outside accounting manager.

Though the site has yet to sell anything, Hopkins is not deterred. Like Zebrowski, Hopkins has learned through trial and error about business. Now, he is working with billing companies and marketers, and he has hired Nick Stroustrup ’05, an electrical engineering major with a certificate in programming, to help with presentation, data processing, and ordering.

Woodrow Wilson School major Ryan Caughey ’05, from Del Mar, California, and a friend, now a student at Stanford, last summer started “a one-stop shop for the ‘soccer mom’ type.” His site,, offers everything from tutors to lamps to L.S.A.T. prep books — “college essentials, for students, by students . . . all in one place!”

Caughey says he and his friend came up with the idea after realizing that “there wasn’t a site devoted to everything a kid needs for college.”

The site functions as an in-the-know middleman, referring users to merchants who complete the order. When the order is finalized, Caughey receives a commission. So far he has made enough money to pay for “recreational activities and entertainment.”

Caughey spends about an hour a week on site maintenance. “Some people take study breaks by watching TV,” he says. “I’ll review a product or touch-up part of the site. I feel productive, and it helps the business.”

Kleinow sympathizes with Zebrowski, Caughey, and Hopkins as they trudge through the early days of server contracts and start-up costs, and encourages his fellow students to utilize more than the high-speed Internet on campus. “Even though there is no business major,” Kleinow says, “many professors can give great business advice.”

Ashley Johnson ’05 is an English major from Florence, Alabama.

On the Campus Online: Go to www. to read “For grad students, it’s sometimes about the bike or a foreign land,” by Jessica Jacobson GS.



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