Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE), the financial branch of the ASSU, started two new business ventures this academic year. SSE opened Campus Mobile, an AT&T authorized retailer, in Tresidder Memorial Union on Sept. 7, and is preparing for the public opening of Ground Up, an off-campus coffee shop, next Wednesday.
The two stores are opening as part of an effort by SSE to open new revenue streams, according to SSE CEO Neveen Mahmoud ’11. All profits from the new stores will be returned to the student body.
“You bring on two new revenue streams that — if we do things well and correctly — are profitable, and you’re getting new money for the student body,” Mahmoud said.
Campus Mobile sells AT&T wireless products and accessories and will work its way toward selling tablets. Mahmoud said the partnership with AT&T is new territory for SSE because it has never collaborated directly with a corporation.
“What I’m seeing really immediately is that it’s taking the organization to a new level of professionalism,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve engaged a corporate partner in a long term relationship.”
All Campus Mobile employees had to complete online classes for AT&T for more than 50 hours and participate in a four-day training session with AT&T corporate officials. Sales associate Keith Cross said that employees were trained in transactions, use of the point-of-sale system and customer service.
Foot traffic through the store, which is located in between the Treehouse and Tresidder Fitness in the previous SSE Student Store location, varies with each week, according to Campus Mobile General Manager Victoria Asbury ’11. She said the retailer’s busiest periods so far have been during International Student Orientation, New Student Orientation and the release of the iPhone 4S.
“Lots of people were coming in here [during NSO] getting family plans,” Cross said.
As part of a separate SSE venture, Ground Up will serve Blue Bottle coffee, Ike’s sandwiches, local artisan ice cream and other pastries.
The coffee shop, located off-campus at the AOL building on Page Mill Road, is not the first off-campus SSE venture. SSE’s startup accelerator, StartX, also maintains offices in the AOL building.
Ground Up plans to host a soft opening Thursday when it will open for building employees.
“They were looking to have great coffee and great food in-house, and they approached us to operate it,” Mahmoud said. “That was an opportunity for us to leverage an existing corporate relationship [into] the food services sector, which is a completely new experience.”
According to Mahmoud, before starting a new venture, SSE researches the demand for a proposed business through polling and focus groups. SSE’s Board of Directors also plays a large role in vetting the ideas, she said.
The group then compiles a business model to determine the profitability of the ventures and, if necessary, looks into where the business would be located.
“Off the bat, because of the nature of our model, Ground Up is going to be almost instantly profitable,” Mahmoud said. “With Campus Mobile, because it’s a much more complicated business model. It will be profitable early, but the real profitability with Campus Mobile is looking three to five years down the line.”
SSE’s foray into the food and phone services has required SSE to expand their office by hiring two full time managers — both of whom are recent Stanford graduates from the Class of 2011.
Mahmoud said even though SSE has hired graduates, current students remain the center of the organization’s mission.
“Although our mission was to give an entrepreneurial experience to students, we thought it was really an extension to give that experience to recent graduates,” Mahmoud said.
Campus Mobile currently employs three students and, by year’s end, aims to employ roughly 10, according to Mahmoud. Ground Up will employ approximately five student baristas over the course of the year.
“Students are capable of incredible things,” she said. “Eventually, we could have students running these incredibly complicated businesses just as we have them running our banking business or our [Stanford Student] store. We’re certainly looking forward to and expecting a time when students can be running these ventures.”
Asbury said she only just heard about SSE before coming on board as Campus Mobile’s General Manager because she had previously been focused on mentorship and non-profit ventures.
“This is a very good experience to improve my managerial skills,” Asbury said. “I am understanding finances, making sure the dollars and the cents add up and all make sense.”
In the future, Mahmoud said that SSE might branch off into businesses such as real estate to give students an opportunity to own and manage real estate and to help startups obtain physical spaces to start their businesses.