“During my senior year, in 2009, I was touring colleges and I was captivated by the student-run businesses at Washington University in St. Louis. They included everything from bike rentals to water coolers. Students buy into the business, become a part of the University’s entrepreneurship program, and sell it when they graduate. The Entrepreneurship Center serves as support,” explains Girl Scout alum Amanda Zuckerman.
Amanda remembered selling cookies as a Daisy and Brownie in Potomac, Maryland, but this was the first time she had seen college students running their own businesses.
A few months later, she was shopping for home goods for her freshman dorm room and—because her camp counselor job ran right until the end of the summer—she only had one day to figure it out.
“I went from store to store looking for things like twin XL-size bedding at Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Urban Outfitters, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. I bought pieces from each store in order to create a look that felt like me, but it was really challenging to find what I was looking for,” she reflects.
“I had this light bulb moment and I said to my mom ‘We should start a brand!’” she laughs.
Zuckerman comes from an entrepreneurial family—her parents ran their own advertising and creative agency at the time. So not only did her mother, Karen Zuckerman, believe in the idea, she helped Amanda make Dormify happen.
“By my sophomore year, in 2010, we developed a brand and came up with the look and the feel. We created a community and a blog before we created product. We set up a WordPress site, and we had friends writing about college life there. At the time, there were no publications on the internet writing about college and so we had the opportunity to serve that space,” Amanda explains.
“Then we decided to produce a line of products that didn’t require any investment. We launched with a line of posters that were different letters of the alphabet, and people started buying their initials or their school acronym,” she says. “It allowed us to get ourselves out there and start selling something without manufacturing, since we didn’t know how to do that.”
“We eventually figured out how to manufacture textiles overseas. We took different patterns we created and they cut it up into different products. From there, we just continued to grow. We had this line of private label product and then we curated products from other brands to create a one-stop shop,” Amanda remembers.
Today, the majority of Dormify’s products are ones that they manufacture.
“We grew pretty responsibly and steadily, and once I graduated from college, I started working full time on the business,” she notes. “We did trunk shows in people’s homes and organically grew Dormify because the brand really resonated with people.”
At the beginning, it was just Amanda and her mother running the business, and then, about a year and a half in, they enlisted the help of a couple of people who worked at her parents’ agency, including Stephanie Kimel, who quickly became a core part of the team.
Today, Amanda is the Chief Brand Officer, Karen is the Chairman of the Board, and Stephanie oversees product development and merchandising. They’ve also hired a few other senior team members.
“I don’t think I would have done it without someone to partner with,” says Amanda, acknowledging the difference her mother’s support made for her.
“That said, 2021 is a different world than 2009. When I speak to budding entrepreneurs, there are so many new resources. It’s easier than you think now, and the risk is low—you can have an idea and get proof of concept pretty easily, just using your social media savvy.”
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