Doug Imbruce ’05 Created The U for You
Doug Imbruce ’05, creator of The U, on campus last summer.
PHOTO: LISA BERG
Doug Imbruce ’05 didn’t think of himself as the perfect
Columbia candidate when he applied for admission. Even though he was
more focused on starting a dot.com business with his brother, Greg, than
on high school academics, Imbruce believes Columbia’s admissions
officers were willing to take a risk on his passion and the success of
his business rather than the way he looked on paper. If they had any doubts
about admitting Imbruce, those fears must have vanished.
It was during his senior year that Imbruce, who grew up in Greenwich,
Conn., got the idea to start The U — described on its website,
www.theu.com, as “Uncensored College Video Tours and College
Reviews. For Students, By Students” — while watching
the MTV show Cribs, which showcases celebrities’ homes and
highlights a bit about their personal lives. It occurred to Imbruce
that he “had access to intimate details about Snoop Dogg’s
life, but couldn’t get intimate, detailed information
about college life.”
Imbruce views academic institutions as businesses — businesses
marketing tools. His motivations for The U were his tedious
college visits, which were full of cookie-cutter tours and brochures.
He felt that they could not give the average teenager the information
he or she really wanted. Imbruce envisioned
a flashy overview of “real” college life, “from the
classroom to the party scene,” which could be absorbed from the
comfort of a living room couch via DVD, and now from a desk or laptop
via the Web.
During his senior year, when Imbruce had the idea for The U,
he was interning at Warner Brothers Television and working on the
popular show Everwood . He befriended the star, Gregory Smith, and
the creator’s assistant, Drake Smith. Imbruce showed them
a pilot project he developed with friends. With their help, he pitched
The U to the WB’s CEO, David Janollari, who decided that all
of the WB’s stars would host DVDs featuring the most popular
American universities in five categories (the Ivy League, Northeast,
Midwest, South and West).
After the project was given a green light, Imbruce spent the
rest of the year pulling together the revenue he needed to film
the DVDs by pitching his idea to as many companies as possible with
the WB’s help. He sent out the first professional crew in
April 2005 and met with students on each campus in order to put
the films together. Imbruce’s project won the top prizes in
the Columbia Business Plan Competition and the Brown University/Bryant
College Business Plan Competition, both national, undergraduate
competitions. That spring, he graduated from the College with a
degree in English literature.
Of his success, Imbruce says, “[It] gave us confidence
more than anything else, and helped us network with fellow students
and alumni who were all valuable in taking the business from concept
to execution. It also provided third-party credibility to potential
partners and investors.”
The U certainly is credible. As of publication, more than 100,000
copies of the DVDs have been sold and 500,000 copies have been donated
to high school counselors since their release in January 2006. According
to The U’s website, they are a collaboration among more than
100 college students, “dozens of TV production experts, a
seasoned Board of Advisors and a 50-person Guidance Counselor steering
When he speaks about
his alma mater, Imbruce is emphatic. He loved the Core, considering it
to be Columbia’s strongest selling point and one of the reasons
the school was his No. 1 choice. He speaks highly of his professors and
the education he received, stressing the importance of the writing skills
he acquired in “Logic and Rhetoric.” “Being a great
writer is the most important thing in business,” Imbruce notes.
He says his favorite Core book, The Odyssey, also serves as a model for
good business sense.
The U’s journey is far from over; Imbruce speaks rapidly,
voice raised, when outlining his plans. In August, the website was
upgraded to include all of the college tours along with a forum
to discuss admissions, and 500,000 university reviews. It is still
growing, with a goal of profiling 300 universities. US
News and World Report and The Princeton Review are sponsors, and a partnership
with Spark Notes is in the works.
Imbruce does not want to stop there. His next project is a series
of documentaries about job opportunities that might profile such
figures as a stock broker, a lawyer and Donald Trump. Also in The
U’s future is a discount card that could be used at such businesses
as Target, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble.
When asked whether he would like to add anything about his business
goals and his Columbia experience, Imbruce notes that it was Columbia
that helped him get where he is. In sum, he says, “Go Lions!”
Oriana Magnera ’09