Baker Donahue isn’t your typical college junior.
While most of his peers are out looking for internships or struggling just to make it to class on time, he’s already running his own company, In With the Old — and it’s put $1,000 into his pocket in less than three months.
The best part? He built the business on Instagram.
Sounds like a college student’s dream, right? Here’s how he made it a reality.
How a Common Campus Problem Inspired This College Entrepreneur
When Donahue started school at the University of Tennessee, he loved it. Well, most of it.
The one thing that he didn’t love was the clothing store.
Its items were extremely expensive and lacked variety — and they were also just plain boring.
As he was walking around campus one day, he noticed the Vols gear that stood out to him the most were the colorful vintage pieces. After doing some research, he quickly realized that there was no central place to buy these items — his best bet would be to go dig through the local Goodwill or order from “some sketchy website.”
Really, though, who in college has time to spend hours in a thrift store? I don’t even have time to sleep.
And who wants to order from sketchy websites? No thanks — I’ll keep my identity safe.
That’s when he figured out how to capitalize on the problem using an app he knew his fellow college students were already obsessed with.
Starting a Vintage Clothing Business
Donahue teamed up with his friend Darden Shadrach to create In With the Old (IWO), a retail company that sells vintage collegiate apparel through Instagram.
Since launching in July 2016, IWO has gained more than 5,500 followers on Instagram, opened a branch at Auburn University and become an LLC.
The marketing plan is somewhat genius: The team posts a photo of a piece of clothing on Instagram and asks for bids. The highest bidder by the listed closing time wins.
At first, IWO was small enough that reps would meet up with winners on campus to hand over their items. However, the company quickly increased its sales volume so much that it couldn’t handle all the rendezvous. Instead, it now offers free shipping to the winner’s home.
“We were able to make about $2,400 with the first auction,” Donahue said. “And that was just the beginning.”
In the three rounds of sales that the company has done so far, it has brought in more than $8,000 — and has sold out every time.
Donahue himself has taken home about $1,000, and he’s reinvested the rest back into the business.
Growing a Business by Building a Community
Donahue knew that the more enthusiastic people are about a product, the more they’re going to buy it, but his favorite part about running IWO isn’t the money. He loves seeing students wearing the clothes and coming together as a community.
“Why focus on making money when you could build a good reputation?” said Donahue. “Reputations are far more valuable than putting cash in the bank.”
The company puts community at the center of its operation, organizing events like tailgate parties and on-campus scavenger hunts and featuring photos of supporters in their new items.
After going to a big football school for a year, I know how crazy people go for game-day apparel — and what better audience to cater to other than a SEC school?
How He Runs a Business in College
After Shadrach decided the company was taking away too much time from his schoolwork, to co-founders agreed to split the business evenly, with Donahue taking over as sole owner.
However, he doesn’t run it all on his own. A few business and accounting friends help out with business processes, while other friends handle the photography and shopping. In return, they earn pay, discounts or free merchandise.
And while he does seem to have a lot on his plate, Donahue has found a balance between business and college. He schedules classes and does homework in the morning, and runs his business in the afternoons.
As for where the business might go in the future, Donahue doesn’t hesitate. He loves what he’s doing, but still considers it a hobby and doesn’t plan to keep running it after he graduates. Instead, he plans to pass the account down to a younger student to keep the campus community alive.
He’s also not afraid to experiment. For example, IWO recently launched a beautiful online store, expanding its audience beyond Instagram. In addition, the brand has started selling vintage clothing that’s “strictly for style,” rather than just collegiate apparel.
“Even if [the company] goes down, it’s been a fun ride,” said Donahue. “I’ve got nothing to lose.”
If you’re a college student with the next big idea, but are worried about taking that initial plunge, Donahue has some words of advice:
“There is no reason to not try an idea. Don’t be afraid to fail. Take that initial risk. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Your Turn: Are you a college student who runs a business? Let us know in the comments below!
Kelly Smith is an editorial intern at The Penny Hoarder and a senior at The University of Tampa. Is it too late for her to transfer to Tennessee?