Class project sets alumnus on path to entrepreneurship – Newsroom
Dwight B. Anderson ’11 came to St. Thomas as an undergrad, thinking he was going to be a lawyer, not an entrepreneur.
But an online platform he built with other students for an entrepreneurship class set him on a different path. Today, he is CEO of Design Task Group, a virtual graphic design company on a membership model. The Los Angeles-based company recently surpassed 1,000 members and counts well-known companies like American Airlines, Edward Jones and Chevrolet among its customers.
Originally from Indiana, Anderson moved to the Brooklyn Park area of Minnesota with his parents when he was about eight years old. He played football at Osseo High School and dreamed of becoming a business lawyer.
“I watched Matlock a lot when I was a kid,” he recalls. When it came time to choose a college, he wanted to stay close to home. St. Thomas was the only school in Minnesota to offer a major in legal studies, and Opus College of Business’s reputation made it an easy choice.
Around the same time, online platforms like Facebook, created by “kids in hoodies and flip-flops,” as he put it, were changing the world, and he wanted to be a part of it. During his senior year, he had his own idea — an online marketplace where students from St. Thomas and other private schools could trade books and other things they no longer needed. He bounced the idea on a new buddy in his entrepreneurship class, Hudson Brothen ’10.
Anderson sold books on Amazon, but at the time dealing with strangers online seemed risky to Brothen — and many others.
“We wanted to deal with like-minded people,” Brothen recalls, and the easiest way to do that was to restrict access to the site to people with an .edu email address. The result was TheCollegeJunk.com, a sort of Craigslist with railings.
While Anderson learned how to create the online platform, Brothen got to work. His role? “It started out as raising enough money, as poor college students, to try to figure out how to build a brand and build a website,” he said. Later, he worked on the sales side. A third partner, Matt Griswold ’11, focused on marketing. They spread the word on Facebook and through friends at nearby colleges.
And it worked. “We had 10,000 views on the site in the first two weeks,” Anderson recalls. There were a few issues, however. They hadn’t set up the platform to be able to track how many goods were actually moving through the site. And while Brothen was able to get referrals, the site itself didn’t generate much money.
All of this was happening as Anderson took on more than a full course load, serving as undergraduate student body president and resident assistant, fulfilling his volunteer commitment as a Page Scholar, and working evenings in a program for convicted minors. He now jokes that his entrepreneurship teacher, Michael Sarafolean, is “going to remember me a lot sleeping in class.”
His teacher laughs at the memory. An entrepreneur himself who has been teaching as an adjunct teacher at St. Thomas for two decades, Sarafolean has seen a number of businesses that started in St. Thomas classrooms take off – Love Your Melon is a well-known example. – but this is not the case. the norm, he said.
TheCollegeJunk.com did well, Sarafolean said, by simply demonstrating that the idea had some traction — an important first step, even if its founders were unable to monetize it. “But getting your hands dirty, early on, and starting to think and practice the skills, that’s really what we hope students will go back to,” he said.
The business had enough momentum for the St. Thomas associates to continue it after graduation, and for Anderson, for a year at St. Thomas Law School. After more than a year of working in the company after school and staying up late to get ready for class the next day, he realized, “I didn’t want to practice law. I wanted to build technology.
By then, TheCollegeJunk.com was starting to falter. Griswold had moved on and Brothen was beginning to make inroads in his commercial real estate career. Anderson sold the business to a private buyer and decided to make a fresh start in Texas, where his parents had retired.
In Fort Worth, he started a creative services company called Dwight Benjamin. Very quickly, he says, “I was working a hundred hours a week. I was getting to the point where I needed to evolve. He noticed that graphic design required the least amount of work, but still allowed him to charge with a high enough margin. So he decided to eliminate all other lines of business and rebrand the company as a design working group, thus establishing the virtual design company without any outside investors.
He came up with the idea of operating on a subscription model to avoid the hassle of billing for each task. “We were one of the first” graphic design companies to use a subscription model, he said, adding that many of his competitors today “hire overseas at a very cheap rate “. He didn’t want to do this. The company only hires designers with at least five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree, to meet the expectations of its customers.
Design Task Group specializes in what Anderson calls “everyday graphics”: documents, case studies, trade show materials. Nothing too complicated, like a website or an app. And that’s exactly what RenPSG, a philanthropic financial services company, needed, according to Aaron Moncreiff, senior marketing manager there. The company’s job is to customize or co-brand many forms, often as fillable PDFs, from standard templates.
“We use Design Task Group to tweak this model so it’s perfect for every client,” Moncreiff said, adding that even at $3,000 a month — Design Task Group’s top tier — it’s cheaper than d hire an in-house designer or freelancer. .
Anderson used the connections he made in St. Thomas to help build his business. He can name six brands that came to him through the Tommie Network and were among Design Task Group’s first subscribers. Even on the west coast, he finds connections. “We are everywhere!” he said.
Recently, he got an advance on new business from a former student of Tommie’s at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and another from someone who now works in Laguna and was a resident when Anderson was resident adviser. The network is a two-way street, he said. If someone from St. Thomas asks him for advice, he says, “I’ll always give them at least an hour of my time.
Anderson said his experiences as a young African American on campus helped shape him into the person he is today. Befriending and competing with white students in the class, some from wealthy backgrounds, gave him confidence, he said. He learned: “They are ordinary people, learning, just like you, and you can too.” This assurance has helped him deal with CEOs and other business leaders, he added. Successfully navigating a predominantly white culture, “is what taught me how to be an effective business leader – how not to be intimidated, how to go into a room where no one looks like me and feel like I belong .”