Running a corporation at any age is no small feat. Through determination, innovative thinking and some help along the way, one Eastern Kentucky University student will step into a job of his own creation upon graduation.
EKU senior Christian Braun, along with two salaried employees (all under age 23), will move into 1,500 square feet of office space in Louisville next summer as DreamWalker Social Marketing Inc.
DreamWalker provides social media marketing optimization for its clients. This means it utilizes platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+ to draw potential customers to its clients.
Eventually, clients are trained to manage their own social media marketing.
"It's unlike any other form of marketing," Braun said. "This is the future of marketing."
One of DreamWalker's first clients was the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has gained more than 700 Facebook "likes" and now has more than 1,100 Twitter followers since it partnered with DreamWalker around seven months ago, said Mendi Goble, Chamber director.
"This has changed the Chamber completely," Goble said. "If more of the Chamber businesses take advantage of it, they will see some pretty amazing things."
What began as an idea, one laptop and zero funding, DreamWalker is now a small corporation, which recently distributed 1,000 privately-traded shares.
In its first year as an LLC (limited liability company), it profited around $50,000. Since it incorporated, profit has grown to $100,000, even after salaries were paid to employees.
Braun is able to pay himself and his employees each around $405 a week, he said.
"We've done well, but we're smart about it at the same time. We make money, but we invest it back into the company," Braun said. "These guys realize that there's a high risk we can fail, but there's also a really good chance that we'll be very successful and they would be in a high position in a small corporation."
However, Braun realized his business would not prosper on ideas and determination alone. He joined EKU's Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CEDET) business accelerator program located in the Business & Technology Center building on EKU's campus (next to the EKU Center for the Arts).
DreamWalker's office is located in Room 042 in the basement of the building in the business "incubator."
"It's a place to incubate; to help businesses get off their feet," said Michael Rodriguez, director of the Small Business Development Center, one prong of the CEDET program.
Rodriguez offers help in any kind of general business guidance, such as marketing research, bank loans, licensing and most of all, a business plan.
Around six or seven businesses are housed in the incubator, which provides basic office supplies like desks and internet access, giving each entrepreneur a "professional face to their business" for anywhere between zero to $400 a month, Rodriguez said.
However, Rodriguez's consulting services are free to anyone in the community, not just college students. His position is funded by a grant through the U.S. Small Business Administration and he provides outreach to 15 counties across the state.
He also conducts free workshops such as the Basic Recordkeeping and Tax Update scheduled Dec. 6 (visit www.ekubiz.com for details).
From a Dream to DreamWalker
Braun came from a family of entrepreneurs and inventors.
"I wanted to create my own job, I don't want to work for anyone else," he said. "And with the job market now, college students are graduating everyday with a bachelor's degree and walking out into the real world empty-handed."
Braun also didn't want to "climb the ladder with everyone else" and took advantage of the opportunity he had with the business accelerator at EKU.
But his dream didn't happen overnight. It took hours of hard work to drive his company to where it is now, he said.
He started out with an idea for a mobile app named InstaTaxi that would, in theory, summon a taxi without ever having to dial the phone number.
Braun took his idea to Trifecta, a web design, programming and marketing company in Lexington. He discovered it would cost around $30,000 to develop his idea so he offered to co-op an internship at the company in exchange for some help with InstaTaxi.
While at Trifecta, Braun worked doing social media marketing. A supervisor suggested he start his own company to market his app.
Around this time, he visited Rodriguez and created DreamWalker Mobile App Marketing, LLC. Once he got started, however, he realized this company -- and the app -- wasn't going anywhere.
As his internship with Trifecta was ending, Braun began to use his social media marketing knowledge to help promote local musicians and then local businesses.
He pretty much said "yes" to anyone who needed help with social media marketing, he said, and his business started to take off.
DreamWalker's clients include Madison County Ford, Acres of Land Winery, Lisa Foster Realty, Battlefield Golf Club, Red River Gorge Cabin Rentals, Richmond Underground Gaming and others.
Business really started to pick up, Braun said, so he brought on two full-time employees, Watson Ritchie, a recent EKU graduate, and Wayne Tackett, an EKU senior. DreamWalker also co-ops with other students to utilize different skill sets like graphic design and computer programming.
Impressed that a small student-run business was able to show a profit in its first year, Louisville Marketing invested in DreamWalker, updated its website and set up an E-Commerce system that enables DreamWalker to gain customers from around the world. The businesses have now partnered so that clients have access to both company's services.
How DreamWalker Brings Customers to Doorsteps
When DreamWalker gains a new client, they take over the management of the businesses' social media marketing by generating content, running specials, promoting coupons and driving traffic to their store or website.
Through customer targeting software, DreamWalker finds customers more likely to purchase products from one of their clients.
"Think of the information you put on your Facebook page: Your hobbies, companies, musicians and products you like, where you live, where you work, how old you are, how many kids you have, are you married," Braun said. "That's how we find our ideal customers."
For example, with Madison County Ford, Braun searches how many people in the Richmond area tweet about wanting/needing a new truck or a certain car. He then "targets" that list by following them on Twitter or creating a Facebook advertisement specific to that group.
Another example is, if you're a barber and you want to cut the hair of every male working in a factory across the street, ads can be targeted to people on Facebook who say they work at that factory, Braun said.
However, instead of bombarding those potential customers with marketing material, Braun's job is to drive them to the social media page, allow the business-owner to build a relationship with the customers and then sell their products.
"People think they get a Facebook page and the customers will start walking in the next day -- it doesn't work like that," Braun said. "The optimization process takes anywhere from six months to a year."
Braun knew it was unrealistic for his small team to run social media marketing for each company forever. So through consultation and training, they can give control of social media marketing back to the business.
Some of his client's pages reach 40,000 to 50,000 new and potential customers each day, he said.
For now, Braun is finishing his degree at EKU and looking forward to growing his company.
Many times, he and his crew work 40 hours a week, plus weekends.
"It all comes back to commitment," Braun said. "It's not that I have something prove. But, regardless of what happens, I can say I put forth my best effort."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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