San Diego Business Journal

When Cory Koedel moved to San Diego from Sacramento five years ago, he knew there would be some things he had to figure out on his own.

But the recently graduated UCSD student had no idea it would be difficult to find simple things around his new town like a good place to eat or hang out, or get a haircut.

"I needed a haircut pretty bad," Koedel, 23, said. "Eventually, I talked to someone, but it took about eight weeks before I got my first haircut."

Koedel figured he wasn't alone in his search for the basic necessities of life. So he decided to do something about it.

After graduating from UCSD in March with a degree in economics, he started an Internet company to build online directories for lost students.

"A site like this would have been very beneficial for me, especially coming from out of town," Koedel said. "It's hard for students coming from out of town to know where things are."

Koedel's concept is similar to other online college student-oriented Web sites like CollegeClub.com and Colleges.com, but is not as extensive.

Sdstudents.com's home page isn't a graphic-filled, interactive showcase with banner ads and pop-ups running across the screen. Much of his advertising comes through word-of-mouth, he said.

The site simply starts with logos for the University of San Diego, San Diego State University and UCSD. Once a visitor clicks on a logo, a directory of businesses and services surrounding the school are displayed. Each category, from restaurants, apartments and of course, barbershops and hair salons, offers information and discounts geared toward students.

- No Overnight Success Story

Unlike the other sites, which are by far larger than Sdstudents.com, Koedel doesn't have a fantastic story of raising millions of dollars in capital and becoming an overnight millionaire.

He started the company with $10,000 of his own money and one employee. He runs the site from his home computer and charges local companies about $25 a month to advertise on the site. Currently, about 80 companies are on board, he said. The site averages about 2,000 hits per day, he added.

Koedel admits his concept is not as successful as he hoped. Sdstudents.com earns from $8,000 to $10,000 a year, which he said is fine, but Koedel wanted to have a lot more sites making the same amount.

"Sdstudents.com can't survive by itself," he said. "The plan was to have 200 sites up and running in five years."

But Koedel said the downfall of the dot-com industry has made some companies reluctant to give the site a chance. That downfall has also made him step back and rework his strategy.

"We missed the dot-com boom," Koedel said. "If we had done this in 1999, people would have jumped on the bandwagon.

"We started right when the dot-com industry was getting a lot of bad press and started buckling. Unfortunately, it was bad for us because a lot of the excitement about the industry had waned and people were a little more cautious."

Koedel's new strategy is to keep his site simple and not take on more than he can manage.

"It's not a good idea to grow beyond capacity," he said. "CollegeClub.com tried to go bigger than they could. That's why I slowed down and tried to get a different strategy."

His new plan is a smart one, according to some business professors.

"(Sdstudents.com) is pretty simply put together, which is a good thing," said Cristel Russell, an assistant professor of marketing at San Diego State University. "Sometimes it's smart to stay little until you have everything figured out and know who your core market will be.

"You can't be everything to everyone."

- All Things To All People

One of the dangers of a company like CollegeClub.com, according to some analysts, is it offered too much.

The site offered online services including e-mail, student discounts on clothes, music and books, chat rooms, auctions, a dating service and more. The problem, according to data from New York-based Jupiter Communications, is that students are more site specific.

CollegeClub.com eventually filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was bought by Boston-based Student Advantage last August, a similar company, for $7.5 million in cash and 1.3 million shares of common stock.

Studies show a market indeed exists. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education and Student Monitor, a company that follows student Internet use, there are more than 15 million college students in the United States , 99 percent of them use the Internet, with 72 percent accessing it