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Building Businesses and Cultivating Entrepreneurs

Jared Hecht CC'09 turns his Columbia Student Enterprise experience into a successful start-up.

For Jared Hecht CC' 09, Inside New York was an opportunity to manage and run a real business – within the safety net of the College.

Hecht served as Publisher and Managing Director of the student-run New York City guidebook during his junior and senior years in the College. He hired a staff and oversaw content, design, payroll, budget, production, sales, distribution, and marketing. He did this with support from the College’s Center for Career Education, which runs Inside New York and other student enterprises.

Soon after, Hecht got the opportunity to do the same thing in the real world.

A year after graduation, Hecht, then a Business Development Manager at Tumblr, co-founded GroupMe, a group texting and conference calling service. He and his cofounder sold the company to Skype in August -- just over a year later -- for $85 million.

And Hecht said that Inside New York really prepared him to be an entrepreneur.

“Without a doubt Inside New York played a pivotal role,” Hecht said. “It’s a really unique experience for a college person to have the opportunity to go out there and manage and actually build a real business… I think it really set the precedent for everything that happened after Columbia.”

Inside New York is one of three Columbia Student Enterprises run through the Center for Career Education. The goal of the program, founded in 1965, is to provide students with an opportunity to develop and cultivate entrepreneurship and management skills by leading and running student-operated businesses. Business managing directors like Hecht receive training, mentorship, and a salary for their work.

While at Columbia, Hecht also ran his own marketing and production company, managed several touring bands, and worked at a magazine in between classes. But Inside New York was his “first legitimate crack at managing and building a business,” he said. He found out about the Inside New York position while visiting Career Services for help with his resume.

Besides publishing the annual guidebook, Hecht’s main goals were to develop an active online presence and to market the guidebook to all college students in New York, not just Columbia students.

And it was because of his push to put Inside New York online that he got a job at Tumblr, and ultimately started GroupMe. A Political Science major, he had planned to go into finance or consulting, or do Teach for America, when he was approached by someone at Tumblr.

The idea for GroupMe came when Hecht’s girlfriend – now wife – started complaining about the problems with mass text messaging. There was no way to “reply all.” Hecht called a friend, cofounder Steve Martocci, and they built a solution.

Jared said starting GroupMe was just like his experience at Inside New York. He had to raise financing and define the mission. And, as with Inside New York, “the fate was in [his] hands.”

“All of our goals were driven by us. The only ones we could blame for not executing were ourselves,” Hecht said. “Here was [my] Inside New York experience. Now take everything I learned and apply it to a new market.”

That’s still the case, Hecht said, despite GroupMe’s recent acquisition. Hecht and Martocci still run GroupMe as a separate Skype division with a staff of 25. Only now they have more resources to tap into than they did as a start-up. 

But, Hecht said, his goal remains the same: “to put a product in people’s hands that they like, that they enjoy, that make people happy.” More simply, he said, he aims “to impact people’s lives for the better.”

“It’s really just to see the impact of what you do on a daily basis on people, whether it’s an entire society or whether it’s a single individual,” he said. “GroupMe really started as a way for us to stay in touch with friends. Now it’s turned into something that keeps families together across the world, that bible studies on college campuses use and football teams use, that people [who] are doing disaster relief [use]… You see all these outstanding uses…”

“I think GroupMe has literally changed the way people communicate and has brought people together all across the globe,” Hecht added. “I think that’s really special.”

Read more about Jared Hecht in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of Columbia College Today.

Published Thursday December 22, 2011

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