All Episodes

December 22, 2022 31 mins

In this week’s episode, Sammy Jaye catches up with Forbes 30 under 30 recipient and co-founder of Dormify, Amanda Zuckerman. They talk about Dormify being the one-stop shop for college décor, starting a business, entrepreneurship, taking advantage of the college experience and much more!

See for privacy information.

Mark as Played

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:02):
Hey guys, It's Sammy Jay and welcome back to this
week's episode of the Letsbi Real podcast. I hope your
day is going well. The holidays are approaching, and I
just I'm very grateful for all of you. And this
week I got to chat with the incredible Amanda Zuckerman,
who is the co founder of dorm if I. She's
Forbes thirty Under thirty and her story is really inspiring.

And if you don't know, dorrify is it's essentially your
one stop shop for everything college. We talk about building
a business, being an entrepreneur, and so much more in
this episode. I love you, guys, and thank you for listening. Amanda,
thank you so much for taking the time to come
on my podcast. I am so excited about this episode
because I really want to talk about growing a business,

being an entrepreneur, and also starting at any age, because
I feel like that's something that's so accessible to us
now in the age of Google. Um. But I haven't
seen you in so long. How are you. I'm doing well,
it's been forever. I miss you and hopefully we can
see each other soon when you're back in New York.
But I think they're good. Time is flying um when

you are an entrepreneur on that topic, we always laugh
because it's like dog years in terms of days over here,
so every day just feels like it's times ten. So
something that happened last week, we're like, oh my god,
that a month ago. But oh, it's good. I'm very
excited to have this conversation. I know you co founded

dormifying what year. It's funny because it's it's a couple
of different answers depending on how you want. It's life it,
but technically in two thousand eleven, um, but I came
up with the idea in two thousand nine when I
was starting my freshman year, and then we really started
to kind of like soft concept it in my sophomore

year and then technically launched it by my junior year,
and that was the year that I actually had dormified
betting in my apartment on campus. Coming up with a business,
I know, the main thing that's always important is to
be passionate about the main topic that you're in. So
how did you choose dorms and making dorms cute? Because

it's a problem that has been going around for a
while and you're the one that really took the step
to make it a solution, So I appreciate that of course.
Um okay, so a couple of things here, So it's
not only about passion. Actually, I would start with like
centering a business idea around solving a problem, because sometimes

you might not be passionate about the business that you're building, um,
in terms of the subject matter, you might be passionate
about like solving that problem. So I think the common
misconception in starting a business is you have to like
love whatever that is. So I could have said, like,
I'm not that passionate about interior design, but I love

being creative. I love finding something that you can latch
it onto. But um, I have seen a lot of
successful people who are not technically passionate about a certain
sport or an activity, but they see an opportunity that
they're passionate about solving. For um. So without going down
that rabbit hole, I can tell you about my own experience.

And my experience is that I was shopping for my
freshman year dorm room, like everyone gets excited to do,
and back then, which was a different world than now,
and it wasn't that long ago. No, I know, it's
crazy though, but try to like think about a world
where Instagram and Pinterest did not exist. In TikTok, social
media did not exist when this was going on, so

kind of like try to put yourself in my shoes
there where you're going to physical stores. Online shopping wasn't
what it is today. You couldn't just find like an
etcy maker to find something very specific based on TikTok
or you saw on Pinterest or whatever. Um So it
was really challenging to find twin XL betting that's required
for edge in styles that were really made for someone

might age. And we meaning my mom and I quickly
saw an opportunity and a white space in the market
to totally like grab hold on because we were literally
in bed back and beyond. I remember it clear as day. Um.
I was in New York City shopping because I had
one day to do it. I was a camp counselor

and I literally, like on an off day, came to
the city the shop from my dorm room and I
was in the chelsea that up and beyond and looking
at the shelves, I was like, this is crazy. Why
isn't there anyone who's making cute betting for your dorm room.
So I was kind of nuts, and I decided to
crrate a look based upon pulling tons of different items

from different places and really mixing and matching my future
room look, which most people do today. It's just a
lot more accessible to be able to find one thing
from urban and one thing from dorm of by, so
there's just so much more access. But I ended up
mixing and matching a ton of stuff that I liked,
and it all started with a Urban Outfitters pillow case

that I was really drawn to, and I built the
entire room around it, and it ended up being a
really fun, easy ish process for my mom and I
because we're both creative. But we quickly saw when I
went to move in day that many other students and
their parents were dealing with the struggles of how to
set up a room and not only how to make
it cute, but also like functionally, what do you need

in your space? How do you rerange the furniture to
maximize the space? What are your hacks? So we wanted
to sort of bring what we knew we were good
at two other students and other families that were struggling,
and hence the idea for dorm if I was born. Um,
but really it goes back to that shopping trip at
the bath where I was standing there and I really

said out loud to my mom, we should design our
own line of that thing, and she was like, okay,
let's do it. Um, so that's amazing, I know, like gravy. No,
that doesn't always happen. But you might be standing next
to a friend or like a classmate, and you see
an opportunity to solve a problem and you're like, whoa,
this is a horrible, horrible experience. Let me figure out

how to make it better and let me solve it.
And then someone figger with might say, oh, that's really interesting,
like I'd love to think about that with you, or
something along those lines. But happened to be my mom anyway.
So um that was my freshman year. Then my sophomore year,
we actually put a blog up of all things dorm,
all things college. Um. It was students like myself, friends

of mine, friends of friends who are writing for the
blog so that we could have some online presence that
gave us some credibility to be talking about dorm decor.
And most importantly, um, this actually served as our proof
of concept. Of course, we quickly saw that people did
care about what the rooms looked like. We got to
gather UM tons of great images from these brand ambassadors

that joined the brand UM, and they ended up being
a network of hundreds and hundreds of college students that
I knew or were complete strangers to me, because it
just became this viral like friends of friends of friends
type of community, which was exactly what we were trying
to do UM. So once we had that proof of concept,
we started working on what that brand was going to

look like, how we were going to actually make products,
because neither of us had any experience in UM textiles,
and we weren't just going to go find some vendors
that we could buy products from and put it on
a website. It didn't exist, So we had to go
make betting ourselves. How do you go about making betting?
No experience? So I can speak to some of the

more like tactical ways that we did this, but more generally,
it's about learning from experts in the space and immersing
yourself in environments where you can really learn. So what
I mean by that and how we did it UM,
there's a few different trade shows that happen all over
the country, but there's plenty in New York, and we

just walked the aisles and started asking questions, getting contact information.
We didn't even have business cards, I don't think at
the time. But we were sharing the idea and selling
the idea, and people were really interested in the fact
that we were filling a niche and we're putting a
brand around a very pivotal life moment, and um, there
was a lot of interest because they knew that the

back to school shopping moment is so huge, but no
one was really owning that space. So UM, I think
the takeaway here is even if you don't have anything
formal to share with someone, they'll remember your story. And
it's important to be like pitching at all times. So

if you come across someone who could help you down
the line, whether it's with an introduction to a future
contact that you need to meet, or just like someone
who has a lot of great historical knowledge on a
certain subject matter, make sure that you're making those connections
and you have a way of staying in touch with people.
And we were just selling the idea, which is hard
to do, which is a skill in an art in itself.

What was your elevator pitch? Well, I think this all
goes back to my original point of if you are
not solving a problem, it's hard to get someone to care.
So if it's kind of like a nice to have,
like I believe in this because it's a nice to have,
I'm totally generalizing, it's a lot harder to explain why
someone should care. Um. Then if you like have identified

a problem and you are creating a solution even if
it doesn't exist yet. Um. So that's why I think
the elevator pitch, to your point, is really really important
because you have to grab someone's attention within I don't know,
less than thirty seconds probably within the first ten seconds
five seconds in what you're talking to them. Why should
they care? How is this going to benefit them? And

what does this look like? Is there a timeline? Is
this real? So as you're building this company in you're
in college, how did you balance the school work as well?
As you know this is something it fills a need
and it's you're creating a business and you can see
potential with it, So how do you compartmentalize and be
a student as well? If you talk to a group

of founders. I'm sure people would have very different perspectives
on this question, but I think it depends on what
you're doing right. So there's lots of people who have
started incredible businesses where they have to just move really
quickly in order to not lose the opportunity to be
the market leader in whatever they're doing right, So people

might drop out. People might totally prioritize their business because
if they don't do it now, someone's going to beat
them to it. I wasn't in one of those scenarios
where I felt like it was important to move fast.
It was actually more important to build the brand slowly,
take advantage of the fact that I was on a
college campus, and like immerse myself in the audience that

I was trying to connect to, being college was working
for you, right, it was market research for me. I
would never not take advantage of being on a college campus,
and like my senior thesis was actually something that I
totally based off of a future endeavor for the business
that was all based on like the get back component

of the business. So I tried to connect everything that
I was doing on campus with what would help my business. Now.
I think what would be important to share here is
what I would do today, um if I were going
to go back in time and redo it. Something that
I um did not take as full advantage of that
I wish I did was just making connections on campus.

So building my network while being a college student is
like the number one thing that I think no matter
what you're going to do, whether you're starting your own
business or going to work for someone else, Like you
hear it all the time, but it's so real and
having a mechanism to how's your contacts linked and just
doesn't cut it for me, Like I don't have a

way to mentally organize and LinkedIn all these people that
I know. You can come up with your own system,
whether it's just a Google sheet, And I have this now,
I literally the Google sheet called Amanda's Network, And I
have people that I meet their contact info who introduced
me to them, Like I even have a dropdown of
are they an investor, are they a founder? Are they

an operator? Like I just record this for myself so
that when I'm thinking, oh shoot, I need to call
someone to help me with this, let me go reference
my sheet and see who I could tap, because otherwise
I will not remember these people, did you color code
this Google sheet too? Oh it's not like that level
of oct okay, because that's just not me. I'm actually

really unorganized, but this is my attempt to be organized.
It sounds pretty organized. It's functional. Yeah, it's definitely functional.
But my advice to this group listening is do this
as soon as possible. My point is that I didn't
do it early enough because I started this in the
last couple of years. Now, imagine if all of the

connections that I've been building as a young founder have
been captured in one place, I would probably have the
right people to go to for every single problem that
I need to solve. That's all really important. Have it
to just get into at a very young age. That
would be my first takeaway. And then other things that
you can do on campus is just utilizing and leveraging

the opportunity to test out ideas. I'm just thinking of
my own university experience. We had a class where you
could actually build your own business and it wasn't real,
but it ended with a pitch and just take advantage
of those chances on campus because you don't have that
type of built in opportunity once you've graduated. So even

if it's something that doesn't end up coming to fruition,
at least you had the practice of like building a
business plan or a pitch deck, and then you can
apply that to something in the future. Absolutely, we have
to take a quick break, but when we come back,
I want to talk about burnout, how you created so
many different types of products without any prior experience, the

future of Dormify, and so much more. We'll be right
back and we're back. Something that I'm going through and
I don't know if you ever went through was being
a student and you wanting to take advantage of all
of those opportunities and stay creative and keep building, but

also navigating burnout because you know, when you're operating on
different deadlines for different people, like how do you not
in this day and age. So I guess I was
wondering if that's something you've ever gone through and how
you've navigated that. I mean, it's definitely something that I
still deal with today. So I'll put myself in the
college environment for a second and I'll talk about how

I navigate this in just my professional life. But in college,
I think it's so easy to want to do a
million things. You're literally told go try everything. This is
your time to do all of these different things. You're
never going to have the opportunity to get an opportunity
to do it again, and you can struct yourself really thin. UM.

I think that's fine to cast a wide net to
at least understand like what the opportunities are. UM. But
I do think it's really important to try to like
hone in on one or two things that you want
to focus on, because, especially when it comes time to
reflect on your college experience in an interview setting, you
don't want to say like, I've touched all of these things,

but I haven't gotten deep anywhere. It's always more attractive
when a candidate can speak to something that they really
send their teeth into and invested their time and rather
than saying like, oh, I just wanted to put all
these things on my resume, so I tried all these things.
I think balance is important and no one's expecting you
to do it all. Have you always had the entrepreneurial
bug at heart? Or did this come about when you

were going to college. I don't really know how to
answer that question, because I think could be subconscious, But no,
I was not the type of person who said, I
want to be my own boss, I want to be
an entrepreneur. I want to figure out what I can
do in order to do that. It happened just more organically.

If there's a couple of different paths. So you might
be someone who goes through the college experience, they go
into a training program or you know, an entry level job,
and they learned quickly I really don't like working for
someone else. Like that definitely happens all the time, and
they might say, Okay, how can I work for myself?
That's one path. Then there's someone who is like determined

to be an entrepreneur, and um, that person could be
searching for an idea to pursue. So even if you
are one of those entrepreneurial type people, you don't have
to be the one that comes up with the idea necessarily.
That's where your network comes in, because you need to
be in the right environments or ecosystems to introduced to

people who could use someone like you as a partner.
All it takes is execution totally totally for me personally, Like,
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, so my parents
owned a business together. Um, it's kind of second nature
to me. So it wasn't as daunting or intimidating to

me because I just had that own sin your blood.
Yeah right, it's in my blood, That's how you can
say it. I'm very curious about product development because okay,
you guys have expanded and are creating a variety of things,
whether it's betting, posters, lights. Yeah, what has that process

been like? And how do you go about navigating something
when you didn't have any background in it? It's a
pretty crazy world. Um, we've learned everything along the way,
um from great partners who have held their hands where
when we didn't know anything. And I think that's really
the most important point here is you develop relationships, and
relationships are the most important thing in taking your business

from one step to the other. Um. This manifests in
so many different ways. Whether it's vendors that you build
a relationship with that will help you when you're struggling, um,
whether that's financially or operationally. And then you also have
partners that will walk you through the ropes when you
have no idea what you're doing, which was exactly the
position that we were in. So the way that we

did this, We actually um talk to many different vendors
because we had to essentially knock on doors and explain
what we were trying to build until someone said, like, okay,
I'll take a chance and work with you. As you
can imagine, we got a lot of nose. That's intimidating.
We got a lot of knows Like we didn't have
a webscape. Um, all we had was a pitch. And

that's fine, Like, you can totally approach these situations like that,
but it's the same way that you approach fundraising, Like
you might not have many results that prove out your
concept just yet, but someone's going to take a chance
on you because they believe in you. And that's all
about building relationships, selling your pitch and personality. Really, So,

we had someone agreed to work with us, and we
only worked with them for a year. They were not
the right partner to take us to where we are today,
but they at least got our foot in the door.
So perfection is the enemy of progress. I know, comparison
is the thief of joy, so progress would make sense
for that one. I was thinking that phrase while I

was trying to say it. But my point is something
that I get on a lot of the time is
we're not trying to be a perfect We're gonna try
to perfect and it's all about making progress and actually
getting things done. That's more important. Something that's interesting that
we did is we didn't have money to invest in

the product that we wanted to order inventory we wanted
to order. So what we started it was a product
line of posters where we didn't actually have to invest
in inventory upfront. We found a printer that was going
to just print the pieces on demand as they got
ordered that we only had to pay after something was sold. Amazing.

So that's a really great way to get started, especially
in low quantities. Is um almost like testing a small
quantity of pieces and having um someone who is willing
to make like a small group of samples even just
to get some product feedback. And you know, talking to
customers at all times, especially in the early days, is

really really important. If you didn't have that bed bath
and beyond moment, Yeah, what do you think you would
be doing now? I think that I would probably I
think I would probably have gone into something in the
hospitality world. Like I was always into creative and I
was a graphic design and marketing major, So I already

kind of knew that outside of Dormify, because I decided
I was going to do these majors before dorm If
I started, I wanted to do something that was creative,
art oriented, and then I wanted to also back that
up with like the business understanding, so that I wasn't,
you know, just an artist or a designer, but I

understood the business behind it. Um. But I've always loved
like hospitality, meaning restaurants, hotels, like any sort of hospitality environment,
bringing those spaces to life. So it is kind of
similar to dorm ify in a way of transforming a
space to create an experience. It is I would probably

be doing something like that, or I would have taken
over my parents advertising agency. That was definitely something that
was intriguing to me, but I wasn't sure if I
wanted to do it. Wow, it's it's so interesting how
that one moment changed your entire life. I find that
so fascinating. Can I add a fun fact because please,
Even even though I was always interested in design, um,

the truth is, when I was little, what I wanted
to be I wanted to be a meteorologist. On the
way to jail. That's so specific. I know I wanted
to be like a storm chaser in hurricanes and tornadoes,
and like I love the movie Twister. So why this
is funny is because that's like my fun fact whenever

people ask me what I wanted to be when I
was little. Um But then when I was in college,
the one like random class that I could take because
I was a double major, I didn't have a lot
of time for um like elective type classes. I took
a natural disasters class and it was like exactly what
I needed to fulfill that desire that I had. So

in college, take the fun classes that like could just
kind of satisfy any sort of interest that you have
because it was fun. Yeah, random, We have to take
one more quick break. But when do we come back.
I wouldn't talk to you about the future of Dormify,
the art of decision making, and so much more. We'll

be right back and we're back. What are your goals
and plans for Dormify in the future. How do you
hope it to grow and expand and evolved. There's so
much that we want to do with dorm if. I
I think first and foremost being able to offer a

wider assortment is kind of like yes, of course it's
not like a huge idea, but we want to have
more of a selection for um, for guys, for more
of a gender neutral type of aesthetic. UM. We want
to collaborate with more brands and with more artists that
we really have the most unique and exclusive assortment of

products that you can't find elsewhere. We also want to
get back into the pop up shop world and be
able to bring experiences in person to our customers. So
whether that's in a store that's open for a few
weeks or something that pops up for the weekend. UM,
we really want to connect in person and ultimately, like

where I want to take it is having like a
shop and shop experience at a great retailer. So some
of the ones on the top of the hitlist are Norade, Drum,
the container store we actually partnered with last year, so
that was a huge, like check off the list was
a major accomplishment. That's a big one. Yeah, and we're

continuing that partnership this year, which I'm really excited about.
But to be able to be like a store within
a store where a brand is featured in a huge
retailer that doesn't have a big like home assortment that's
dedicated to gen z that would be ultimate. There's a
lot that's just the beginning. You're still at the beginning

of it, and I'm so excited to see where dorify
evolves and grows. And because frankly, learning about this and
getting your thoughts and guidance on what your story was
is super helpful, not just for me but for the
other people listening, because it can be so intimidating knowing
where to start or how to start, um, But it's
really just finding a problem that you can fix and

it starts there and knowing that it is super helpful totally.
And also keep in mind the like bad phrase that
I coined about perfection, I need to have a better
way of saying it. But the more that you strive
to be perfect or to get something done perfectly, the
slower that you're going to move and time is money.
You have to feel okay and secure about the fact

that it's not going to be to your highest standards
of perfection. Um, but that's just gonna hold you back.
And what advice do you have for making decisions? That
is something that I personally struggle with because I'm an
indecisive person. Okay, I'm a very indecisive person too, So okay,
that makes me feel better. I am a very indecisive
Like I'm I'm telling you, when I'm out to dinner

or something, I like really struggle to make a decision
on what I'm gonna eat. Like that's how bad it is.
But tell me more specifically, like where you struggle, and
I can try to help impart some advice. I think
it's the part of being confident within a decision and
noting that that's the right one I could have made
for that time, and not like not going back being like, well,

that was that the decision. I think that's one of
the things that I struggle with most. Got it. Okay,
So you're saying that, like you might be able to
make the decision, but you almost have like anxiety over
whether you made the right decision correct, So then that
flows you down from actually making a decision because you're
so afraid of like what if it's the wrong decision. Yes, yeah,

I mean that's like a really important skill to work
on throughout your early professional career because being decisive is powerful,
very very powerful. Um and I think I've learned a
lot about that over the last few years. But making
the decisions equals progress. So overthinking something is just going

to like weigh down on everything that's going on in
your head, and so it almost like inflates the importance
of the decision a little bit. Yeah, you just need
to learn from your decisions. So make the decision, don't
overthink it. Try to practice this with like things that
are not a huge deal. So practice the quick decision
making with things that aren't going to make or break

something big. And then once you get like the easy
stuff out of the way, then at least you're creating
more brain space for the things that are more involved
decision making. Um, think about the worst thing that will
happen if you choose X over Y, and then if
you're like, oh, the worst thing that's going to happen
is only this, Like okay, then I can at least

make the decision learn from that not being the right decision.
But the more you kind of have that practice, you're
gonna say, Okay, well I'm comfortable with the fact that, yes,
I learned. Now, this decision might not have been the
best approach, but I learned from it, and I'm going
to move forward and I'm going to use that in
my decision making down the road. That's very helpful advice.

I'm glad. I just need to do the mini ones,
the little mini trials to get me through the big ones, right,
I have to all the time, all the time. Like yeah,
And I think like if you're feeling stuck on what
to do, like walk away from it, come back to
it once you've put your hat a little bit. But psychologically,
we compound so much stuff inside our heads just to

start crossing things up the lists. I survive off of lists.
You have no idea. I write m I write everything down.
It's the only way it gets done. Well, I hope
you um take my my networking Google sheet to heart
and start that now. I am starting this on my
way back to school. I am going to be working

on this good and put me on it. I'm very excited.
You're on my list. By the way, Sammy, you're on
my list, Oh my good. First of all, I'm on it,
and I am going to go the extra mile and
color code and I will send you a photo. And
I really appreciate you giving all this advice because I
think mentorship is so important and having that guidance is

so knowledgeable. So I really appreciate you sharing and just
being so candid about everything. Of course, I mean I
talked to college students all the time, and I just
want to help in any way I can. And that's
really I mean, when I think about what's next for Dormified,
that's really where we want to take our ambassador program.
So we have about nine hundred eight hundred or nine
hundred ambassadors across the country, and I want to build

this into a network where you're making connections at all times.
So maybe you're a part of the dormachan and you're
applying all these internships for the summer between junior and
senior year, and you're trying to find someone who has
a connection to X, And how great would it be
if you could just leverage this community of people that
are like minded, um but diverse, and you can find

connections to the jobs, internships, uh, the contacts that you need.
So that's what we're hoping to build. That's amazing. You're
you're really building a community, and it's really cool to
see just how it's evolving and how it's growing and
how cute. It's all getting thank you, Thank you, And
if anyone who's listening wants to join the program, um

you can apply on our website and we'd love to
have you go shop at dorm if I support them.
They're amazing. You know, it's very full circle that you
said that you made your entire room after that urban pillow,
because I made my entire room freshman year around a
dorm if I rug, so I did that exact same thing.
I remember it well. Yeah, Sammy came into our show

room and she was like, you's the centerpiece in my room.
How do we build something around it? And we totally
mixed and match things and creating something really fun and unique.
And that's why it was so fun to work with you.
And it was just like so memorable because you had
such a distinct style and aesthetic and I love that
is how passionate you are about it. So glad you

liked your first freshman room of memories, and I'm excited
to visit and hopefully see you soon in person do
our catch up. I know, I know I'd love to
thank you for taking the time. I know how busy
you are with your schedule, so thank you. For making
this happen. Of course, happy to do it, so good
to talk to you.
Advertise With Us

Popular Podcasts

The Bright Side

The Bright Side

Start your day with The Bright Side, a new daily podcast from Hello Sunshine. Co-hosted by journalist, TV host, and podcaster, Danielle Robay and Emmy-nominated journalist, host, and producer, Simone Boyce, The Bright Side brings your daily dose of culture and inspiration – with the latest trends, celebrity interviews, and real conversations with women doing amazing things while navigating life’s transitions, big and small. The Bright Side is a talk show created to inspire, educate, and empower women as they tackle life each day and add joy to their morning routines. Join Danielle and Simone and the Hello Sunshine community every weekday for entertainment, culture, wellness, books, and more.

Ways To Win

Ways To Win

Winning is an everyday mindset, and the coaches are here to help. Hosts Craig Robinson and John Calipari use their on-court wisdom to solve your off-court problems. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.

Dateline NBC

Dateline NBC

Current and classic episodes, featuring compelling true-crime mysteries, powerful documentaries and in-depth investigations.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.