(Photo courtesy of Mac Nagaswami)
Mac Nagaswami knows the value of hard work.
The 23-year-old spent his high school summers in Newark, Del., scooping and serving customers at a local ice cream stand.
His work paid off. By graduation, he bought his first car — a 1994 Dodge Spirit which, though hardly glamorous, gave him the freedom to do what he wanted when he wasn’t in class or studying at the University of Delaware.
While still in college, Nagaswami founded Carvertise.
The premise, according to the company website, is simple: “We pay everyday car drivers, $100 a month, for driving with an advertisement on their car.”
“I was sitting in traffic on Kirkwood Highway, looking at the surrounding billboards, taxis and DART buses with ads,” Nagaswami told Technical.ly Delaware. “Thousands of cars we’re driving by and it didn’t make sense to me why no company had figured out how to connect brands to customers.”
At first, Nagaswami let the thought linger. But once he realized he was spending time after class drawing up diagrams and writing a business plan, he knew things were getting more serious.
“This thought kind of stuck with me, like an itch lodged in the back of my head,” Nagaswami said. “Two or three months later, I’m sitting on a binder the size of three Bibles stacked together and thought this could be an interesting project.”
During the spring of 2012, Nagaswami also happened to be enrolled in UD professor James O’Neill’s economics of entrepreneurship course. This is where Nagaswami found the courage to discuss his business idea with his professor, who he said, taught him how to see things in a new light.
“He re-geared my mind,” Nagaswami said. “We were taught to look at problems differently — to look at problems as opportunities. It was just a small switch in mindset.”
With newfound confidence, Nagaswami hit the streets of Newark that summer to do grassroots market research. He went door-to-door in several communities, asking residents a series of 10 questions that focused on whether or not they would be interested in using their car to advertise for various brands.
In Nottingham Green, for instance, an upper-class neighborhood chock-full of UD professors, one in 10 said they would be interested in wrapping their own car with an advertisement.
But in Brookside, a lower-middle-class Newark neighborhood, nine out of 10 said they would use their own car for advertising.
“This confirmed my suspicions that this is definitely going to appeal to a certain demographic,” Nagaswami said. “I ran the model by my professors at UD. By then, the positive virus of entrepreneurship spread throughout me.”
That year, Nagaswami switched to part-time student status and went all in with the business. At the time, he said, he had $7 in his bank account. Nagaswami built the website himself using Weebly and began to network like crazy.
Now, two years into the business, Carvertise continues to recruit drivers. Currently, 25 cars are wrapped, according to Nagaswami.
A driver must fill out an application and meet four requirements:
- Each driver must have their own car, a valid driver’s license, insurance and a clean driving record.
Drivers must also drive frequently in high traffic areas. Drivers are compensated $100 per month to have their car wrapped with an advertisement.
Once drivers are selected, a user’s car is wrapped and a GPS is installed inside the vehicle.
The GPS is crucial to the process, since Nagaswami and his team use this data to show each client (and at whatever frequency they request) where cars with their ads are driving. Data is also produced for clients giving them accurate information as to how many cars were on the road at any given time when one of their wrapped cars was out and about.
“We’ve really gained a track record here for providing services,” he said. “These guys were early adopters here and we’re extremely grateful for these clients for giving us our first shot.”
Six months after Nagaswami founded the company, he returned to O’Neill’s entrepreneurship class to discuss his journey of creating a startup from scratch on little to no money.
After class, student Greg Star asked Nagaswami if he could intern for him. Six months later, Nagaswami hired him full time. The two now run the company together.
“Greg is an amazing worker and his heart was right there with it. He was getting paid peanuts. What was driving him was the vision,” Nagaswami said.
Nagaswami and Star currently work out of The Loft in Wilmington. Since their company has the ability to advertise and monitor campaigns from afar, they hope to grow and expand to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., sometime in the future.