By Isaac Koffman
As communities across the nation begin the slow, arduous trek back to normality, the businesses built around college towns face a unique set of challenges. The American economy is in shambles, and even online companies have seen their bottom lines contract thanks to the pandemic. However, the economic realities of the coronavirus extend beyond mom-and-pop corner stores and campus bars near Tulane’s Uptown campus. Among the businesses affected is the student services start-up Oh Shoot.
Josh Weiner is the 21-year co-founder of Oh Shoot. In his first visit to Tulane’s campus at 17, Josh was struck by both the school’s and the city’s creative energy. During his subsequent four years at Tulane, Josh has worked with John Clarke, Robert Lalka, and the Lepage Incubator to develop his vision of a one-stop-shop for college students. Since then, Oh Shoot has grown from an irreverent screen repair mobile shop to the full-service provider that it is today. The start-up provides everything from tutoring services to summer storage, with a business model based on filling a student’s every need.
College start-ups are not unique. Over the past decade, hundreds of start-ups have appeared across the country supplying everything from job-search contact lists to late-night pancake delivery. On the surface, this trend is entirely understandable. College students have the time and hands-on experience to develop products specifically catered to their peers. Yet, as the market becomes more saturated, the margins for success predictably shrink. Furthermore, at the onset of quarantine in March of 2020, a usually predictable client base dispersed from campuses. This migration notably affected student-run companies that were not prepared to lose their clientele four months early.
Beyond Tulane’s friendly confines, Josh has utilized local talent to ensure Oh Shoot reflects the New Orleans community’s ingenuity and toughness. Josh credits New Orleans’ Idea Village, a non-profit venture accelerator, for coaching him into the leader he is today. Moreover, Oh Shoot has been an active fundraising partner for New Orleans based organizations Plant the Peace and NOLA Glass Project.
These forays into the wider NOLA community are indicative of Josh’s goal to build Oh Shoot into the model of a New Orleans start-up: tough and durable with the ability to seamlessly transition depending on the environment. Before the pandemic, Oh Shoot was growing at a breakneck pace, creating a cash windfall for the budding company. Josh and his leadership team decided to develop a mobile application to create a better user experience. Their stunning insight helped Oh Shoot to whether the storm before students returned to campus in August. Furthermore, the mobile application has given Oh Shoot the ability to provide its full range of products and services in a safe and socially distanced manner.
While Oh Shoot’s tremendous growth provided the start-up a lifeline for the pandemic, the company has still faced hurdles in returning to normal operations. Josh believes the most significant hurdle his company faces is returning to in-person tutoring sessions. Although Oh Shoot is currently providing online tutoring services through their app, online learning challenges have been widely discussed. Nevertheless, all of Oh Shoots’ tutors are students. In this volatile economy, online tutoring allows students to earn money when few industries are hiring.
Although Josh is confidant Oh Shoot is firmly back on the right path regardless of economic markers, the broader American recovery will have a profound impact on the survivability of many college start-ups. With many large corporations in hiring freezes, college seniors may look for other ways to make money. The more start-ups are introduced into the limited market, the harder it will become for young entrepreneurs to create profitable businesses utilizing their peers.
While it may seem that college start-ups offer a quick and easy way to make money, the market is becoming more competitive daily. The pandemic has only created more competition and forced legacy players like Oh Shoot to adapt with the times. Thankfully for Josh, coronavirus has not dealt a fatal blow to Oh Shoot. However, he acknowledges that other start-ups have not been as lucky. Josh is grateful that the resilient spirit of New Orleans is alive and well inside Oh Shoot, and he credits the mindset of the city with helping his company to survive and thrive.