Likely he will not supplant Coach K – the “K” you see but don’t hear in Krzyzewski – and his Blue Devil basketball stars in the idolizing hearts and minds of classmates, but Bryan Silverman returned to his freshman studies at Duke University this month as a certified BEOC. Big Entrepreneur on Campus, that is. The university even gave him a shout-out for his singular national achievement on its Facebook page.
Last summer I met 19-year-old Bryan, then a Durham-bound graduate of Blind Brook High School, and his 22-year-old brother Jordan, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, at their family’s home in Rye Brook. In the basement workout room, they had set up an office workstation for their highly novel startup business.
“I was sitting in the bathroom one day,” Jordan told me, describing a moment of entrepreneurial inspiration in Ann Arbor. That is how the story begins when you are a philosophy major gazing upon a blank scroll in the men’s room and your business that has brought a curious journalist to your door is one called Star Toilet Paper.
Advertising on toilet paper: it had not been done, or at least not so successfully or so earnestly as to have left a historical record on Google or a patent on file in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, until the Silverman brothers did it.
A captive audience of consumers – brilliant! Scrolling through retailers’ discount coupons bar-coded for scanning over that ever-present smartphone and redemption online – brilliant! Ads printed in anatomically and environmentally friendly soy-based ink – what a relief!
“Don’t Rush, Look Before You Flush” – what a cheeky company slogan! It translates well to T-shirts for that vast forever-irreverent-youth market. I confess my thirtysomething son wears one now, a walking advertisement and conversation starter for Star Toilet Paper in Chicago. Thanks, Pops, what a great Christmas gift!
So it was that the Silvermans rolled out their business in Ann Arbor and here in Westchester among advertisers willing to pay one-half cent per ad on a toilet paper sheet and willing too to gamble on a new medium that might leave many advertisers squeamish. Pita Pit. Smoothie King. Ben & Jerry’s. Just Baked, a chain of Michigan cupcake shops. They dared to go where others would not dare to reach a literate customer.
And so it was that Entrepreneur Magazine in December named Bryan Silverman its College Entrepreneur of 2012. The $5,000 award that came with the honor and a feature profile in the magazine’s December issue likely will be used to improve their company website, Bryan told me while back home in Westchester on semester break.
It was a break too from his extracurricular activity: opening a new, ripe market for Star Toilet Paper in another open-minded, venturesome college community. He has placed their recycled paper rolls in a blues and ribs joint and a popular sports bar in Durham. About 15 advertisers in Blue Devil country have signed on for the brothers’ bold experiment in soy-based ink.
“When I have to make calls, the dorm isn’t really a good place to do that,” said the BEOC. DUhatch, a student business incubator on campus, “is a good place for that.”
There’s little time for beer pong for this freshman. Bryan said he works 30 to 35 hours a week on Star Toilet Paper business. “To me, it’s just my thing,” he said, learning outside the lecture halls and campus library “a business you can’t really learn unless you go out and do it. The more hours I put in, the more enjoyable it is.”
All that while starting coursework for his declared major in neuroscience. “Neuroscience is stranger than the toilet paper industry,” Bryan gleefully declared.
Don’t rush, think about that before you flush from memory.
Their business has grown to about 70 advertisers. Jordan Silverman since October has been commuting from Rye Brook to shared office space for entrepreneurs at Sunshine Suites in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood. He has hired two employees. Jordan puts in 12-hour days there, said his kid brother.
“He comes home tired and he comes home exhausted,” Bryan said. “But he loves exactly what we’re doing. He wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
The brothers are focused now on regional and national retail chains – among them, movie theaters and restaurants – as venues in which to place their ad scrolls. That would help them place larger bulk orders with their paper and print suppliers and reduce operating costs. They are also looking for investors to help cover their manufacturing and printing costs.
“Advertisers seem to love it,” he said of their toilet paper medium.
In Westchester, you will find their novel product at the Port Chester-Rye Brook Public Library. “People should definitely go check it out,” said the College Entrepreneur of 2012.