The Gen-Z and Millennials oftentimes get a bad rap and are called entitled and lazy. But more and more of these young people are proving that couldn’t be farther from the truth. With the pressures of student-loan debt, wage inequity, toxic corporate work environments, being overworked and underpaid are just some things that many in this generation say they will not put up with anymore. The side gig economy has opened the doors for young professionals to explore their talents while providing other options for financial and career flexibility.
That was the inspiration behind Clutch (formerly known as Campus Concierge), a platform for college students with side businesses to offer and shop for affordable services.
The Defender spoke with Clutch co-founder Madison Long about the start-up and the impact it has had in the higher education space.
Defender: Where did the idea behind Clutch first begin?
Long: Where we are now is really connecting students who have side hustles to students looking for affordable services or faculty or staff. The bigger mission is how can we economically empower students to have more control over their finances and provide them opportunities to grow these side hustles that they’re so wildly creative at. We launched this year. The first school was Texas Southern and we are currently working with some folks at St. Thomas University as well as Rice University and hope to expand to Prairie View in the coming months. We are trying to start small and get it right and build those relationships thoughtfully before going everywhere.
Defender: What did it take for you to launch this business?
Long: My co-founder (Simone May) and I have been working on this for at least two and a half years. When we started, we were both working full-time jobs. This (Clutch) was on the side. Our first developers were interns at a university who were helping us for college credit. We did luckily have someone in our family network who was able to fund and bring those interns on as part-time workers, contractors, and eventually employees. I was living in the Bay Area (California) and moved to Houston because my co-founder (Simone) was here. We were accepted into the DivInc accelerator program. They took us through a rigorous 12-week program of understanding our product market fit, customer discovery, and fundraising. Since then, we’ve been raising our first round of external capital. We’ve raised a significant amount that will help us be able to take it to the next level. To create a better product and marketing that will allow us to get into a hundred schools versus the three we’re starting with.
Defender: How does the service work?
Long: It’s a mobile app that students can download to start booking services. If you are interested in listing your service, we actually have an accompanying web application where they can go upload their schedule, put in pictures, their bio, etc. And then that feeds directly to the platform. Let’s say you have a side hustle and you do hair, you can apply on our website to be a provider. Our team will assess, there will be a quick onboarding call and then you’ll have your services listed. It’s free to sign up. We only take fees once you start getting services booked. Students at schools in Houston can download the app and start booking people. We are adding new services each week and getting new side hustlers on the platform as quickly as possible.
Defender: How many side businesses do you serve?
Long: We have about 15 and that’s intentional. We did want to go slow and [figure out] how we should make this process a more effective and have really great side hustles for our first launch.
Defender: How have the responses been since your launch?
Long: We’ve been received very well. We’ve been able to have other schools reach out to us [to ask] how we can bring this to [their] campus. Building partnerships with entrepreneurship labs and housing groups. There are a lot of administrators that are eager to find ways for students to make more money. They want students to be able to have better rates of retention, lower levels of stress if [students] are paying their bills and getting through school. I think students are excited. We don’t have a ton of people that know about us yet, but we’re trying to build that with Instagram and TikTok. In the coming weeks, we’re going to be rebranding to be called “Clutch.”
Defender: Are there other schools you are working with while expanding?
Long: Knowing how entrepreneurial students are at HBCU’s is something that we want to be able to further empower then. We got a great reception at TSU and we think a similar effect could happen at Prairie View University of Houston is in Third Ward right next to TSU. So many students there have different needs. The reason we are focused on different kinds of schools whether private, HBCU’s, or public schools is because we are still in a discovery phase. We’re trying to understand what works and student needs at these universities. So, when we bring it to the A&M’s and the UT’s, we’re prepared to support those schools.
Defender: Do you feel that schools are doing more to create access to entrepreneurial opportunities?
Long: Absolutely. Everyone seems to have an entrepreneurship lab, courses, and lectures. Entrepreneurship can be intimidating. There can be a lot of gatekeeping and giving resources to students is huge. I see universities embracing it. We’re going to do a speaking event in about a month at St. Thomas with their entrepreneurship group. Administrators and faculty recognize this as a huge value, even encouraging alumni to come back and get help from the universities about their ventures. So if you don’t start the company when you’re in college, they’ll still support you outside of it.
Defender: What advice do you give students who feel that education is a waste of time?
Long: Things don’t have to be either or. You might know in your gut that you want to be an entrepreneur. Start something because that will help you pick the right courses. If you know your business blows up and you’re making $100,000 a year by your junior year, maybe you’d take a year off college to see if you can make a million the next year. I didn’t quit my job even with this startup until we were on track to make revenue in the next few months. It wasn’t because I was trying to be risk-averse, it was because there were skills I was learning in corporate America that were transferrable. It’s also a privilege to be in an environment where you can stumble, fall, and fail. I don’t recommend dropping out unless you’re like Mark Zuckerberg.
Defender: What is next for Clutch?
Long: We are updating our user experience to reflect the more gen Z market and bring it to them in an easier to consume way that is more fun. We want to expand to more universities. We want to get organizations and local businesses involved. As long as we’re empowering young people to get them where they want to be, then we’re doing the right thing.
Laura Onyeneho covers the city’s education system as it relates to Black children for the Defender Network as a Report For America Corps member. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org