My Soapbox: Lyden Foust, Xavier University, Campus Solutions
Make way for Lyden Foust.
The Xavier University senior recently won this year’s Jugaad competition and was the only Xavier undergraduate honored with an Entrepreneurship Black Belt in an award ceremony last month. This is the same student who led the effort to host Xavier’s first TEDx event. With two start-ups now under that black belt and work lined up in web development, design and branding after graduation, Foust recently spoke to Soapbox's Becky Johnson to explain his creative approach to business strategies and how he would like to challenge accepted notions about the purpose of profits.
What is this Entrepreneurship Black Belt?
The program, offered through the Williams College of Business, is modeled around a Six Sigma framework. It’s a very rigorous process and designed so that, when students graduate, they’ll understand how to succeed in the workplace. Over three years, I read books, wrote a business plan and interviewed entrepreneurs in Cincinnati to learn from them. Having guidance from mentors really helped accelerate my learning curve.
One other requirement in the program is starting your own company. So when I was meeting with these mentors, I was also making connections with others in the Cincinnati community to start a business.
That company must be Campus Solutions...
Right. We think of it as “move crew meets summer storage.” We deliver packing material to students, they pack their belongings and then we move it to warehouses, store it over the summer and deliver it back in August. It’s actually two ideas - moving people and storage facilities - combined into one service.
I started the company last year with a $2,000 loan through Xavier’s microloan program. You present your business plan to a board made up of investors and Xavier professors. Actually, when I first presented my idea, they said “no” and told me to refine my plan. So I went back the next week – I just kept bothering them – and they gave us the loan. Since then, we’ve been able to turn the initial amount of money over five times; we paid back that first loan in about three months.
The end of a semester must be a busy season for your company.
It comes down to about four weeks and, man, when it’s busy, it’s busy! Students’ favorite thing to do is to wait until the last second. Our busy times are the beginning and end of the school year, and we also have a sizable group of customers in the study abroad programs. There’s also a busy time before winter break starts.
What do parents think about this service?
Interestingly, 98 percent of our sales are to students’ parents’ credit cards. I have had parents write us to thank us for the service. I didn’t realize that this was such a value to a parent, say, if you live in Wisconsin and have to drive all the way down here to pick up your kid and bring the stuff back home. Then it’s like an atomic bomb exploded in the living room. With this service, parents get to avoid that disruption.
We really have three customers: the students who want the service; the parents who are making the actual purchase; and the universities who allow us to operate on their campuses.
The Jugaad Competition is different from the Entrepreneurship Black Belt program. (Jugaad is a colloquial Hindi word meaning a creative idea that quickly leads to significant and measurable benefits.) The Williams College of Business offered each student who entered this competition $10 to grow creatively. What did you do with your $10 to win the award?
There’s a story Jesus tells in the Gospels called the Parable of Talents, where a man gives his three servants money to care for while he’s gone. The first servant buries the money but the second and third risk that money by investing it and made more for their master to do good with. This competition reminded me of that, and I also wanted to challenge the notion that more money was the best result for this $10 investment.
So I took the $10 and bought a bunch of junk, including some old floppy disks that you can’t recycle and just fill up landfills. I pasted them together and used them as a canvas to make a painting. Then I offered it on social networks for $300, with the twist that the $300 didn’t go to me but to a charity or cause of the buyer’s choice.
I called it “Redesign Hope,” with the purpose of redesigning unrecyclable materials into art and selling it. Then people who want to buy this art put their purchase price toward a non-profit cause.
So I provided $300 to a nonprofit…great, but that’s just a one-time transaction. To make it to scale, I interviewed a lot of art students and learned that they get inspiration from each other and sharing their work. I also discovered that artists want some control over the percentage of profit that goes to both them and to a non-profit. So I’m creating a social network where artists can share their work, and people can visit to buy their work and direct part of their purchase price to a cause.
You also led the student-driven effort to bring a TEDx event to Xavier this past spring, and its theme was of service, innovation and leadership. Have you always had an interest in social causes and affecting change through entrepreneurship?
I don’t know if I had any really altruistic ideas before I came to Xavier. I think I’m a product of my environment here. There is so much focus on service that I’ve come to have a passion for it, as well.
With this black belt in entrepreneurship comes a responsibility to your community to be a stand-up citizen, that you should provide a value to make your community a better place. That it’s important to be more than just your business.