Ask your average college student about their current financial situation, and it’s likely not a pretty picture.
Not many students would turn down the opportunity to dog-sit or shovel snow for a little extra dough. This is exactly what Zak Fick realized during his undergraduate studies at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota, and what inspired him to create Help University – a web-based platform that allows users to post oddball jobs and hire students for a flat fee.
The light bulb moment came during Fick’s sophomore year at Bethany. Looking for extra money, he started handing out flyers to professors with the message, “Will do whatever, for whatever you’re willing to pay.” Right away he started getting jobs – so much so, that his friends wanted in. Pretty soon about 20-25 students were participating and in the next 18 months, they made a total of $10,000.
“That’s when it hit me,” Fick said. “This should be available for every college student.”
Help University was born. During the next year, Fick pursued the idea as he finished his degree in Business Finance and began his MBA of Entrepreneurial Leadership at the University of Sioux Falls (as their youngest MBA student.) He taught himself how to navigate Squarespace, and soon had a website up and running: www.helpuniversity.co.
The website is centered around two main pages: a place where users can post jobs, and a place where students can sign up. When you sign up, you are then in the Help U system and will get notified whenever a job posting is listed.
“Say you have a break in the afternoon and you get a notification,” Fick said. “You can say, hey I could make fifty bucks shoveling a sidewalk this afternoon, do I want to do that? Yeah, it fits in my schedule.”
In the past year, students have made a total of $12,418 from doing these jobs, including that 10k earned during Fick’s sophomore year.
The jobs have varied in pay from ten dollars to a thousand dollars, from painting front doors to delivering a puppy as a surprise gift (check out Fick’s live tweet of #OperationMango.)
One of his favorite stories, however, is when two students were hired to assemble a Rainbow play-set for $500 each. The two ended up doing such a fantastic job, even going so far as to fix an error made by the manufacturer and ensure it was made perfectly, that the woman who posted the job tipped them $100 and donated another $100 to Help U.
But what really moved Fick, he said, was when those two students asked if they could donate their $100 tip to Help U as well.
“You have no idea how long that story has fueled me and motivated me,” Fick said. “I just think there are going to be so many stories like that, that are just going to blow people’s minds.”
Fick said he differentiates the model of Help U from similar job-listing websites like Craigslist because his platform allows users to select their employees based on past ratings and reviews – similar to LinkedIn.
The most similar model out there, he said, is a website called Task Rabbit. The difference here is that Task Rabbit is open to everybody and offers jobs to the lowest bidder. Help U is currently only open for college students, and employees are chosen by the user, not based on pay.
Currently, Help U runs on donations, which Fick said has sustained them thus far. However, as he moves into 2015 and continues to expand the user base, he is going to employ a model similar to that of Uber or Airbnb; when users post a job, they will pay 20% of the price listing to Help U. For instance, if you pay a student $20 to walk your dog, you will then pay $24 – $4 for using the site.
[Update: Instead of doing the 20% per job, Fick has decided to employ a tiered plan for the job posts; for jobs that are $0-49, it’s $5 to post; $50-$99 it’s $10 to post; $100+ is $20 to post]
Fick said the exact percentage they will charge will be in flux, depending on how the trial period goes.
In the past year Help University received student signups from 25 different states representing 38 colleges. Seven different colleges have come on board, including University of Sioux Falls, University of South Dakota, Vermillion, Augustana, and their first out-of-state school, Chaminade University of Honolulu. Fick is continuing to travel and present his idea to colleges, and hopes to have more by the end of the week.
“I’m excited to bring this to Fargo,” he said.
Come learn more about Help University at Fick’s presentation this Wednesday at 1 Million Cups Fargo. Fick is also looking to hire on some interns this year, and will be presenting as part of the Internship Promotion that will take place this Wednesday. Bring your questions and your coffee mug to The Stage at Island Park, at 9:15 am on January 28.
Photos courtesy of Zak Fick.