Jeff Nobbs has taken the benefits of online shopping to a whole other level with his website Extrabux.com, an online store that provides users with a myriad of different methods of saving money when making purchases from various big name department stores and websites. His brilliant creation features numerous coupons and 1-%30 cash back offers for several brands and stores ranging from Uggs to Kmart to Bed Bath and Beyond.
Nobbs co-founded Extrabux when his proposed business plan won a $25,000 cash prize through the University of Southern California where he was studying at the time. What first began as just a coupon site has become a useful tool for anyone who wants to save an incredible amount of money from literally every different kind of store. Elite caught up with Jeff to find out more about the fruitful journey this ambitious college kid embarked on that would eventually lend a helping hand to bank accounts everywhere.
In the beginning, what motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
My summer before college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. A few weeks before my first semester started, I decided I'd give business a try. About six months into the school year, I found that business classes weren't all that time consuming or demanding, so I needed something else to pique my interest. When asked the question, "What are you passionate about?" I never had a good answer. My passions and interests would change and I'd get bored of one thing and move on to another. So when it came time to deciding how I wanted to spend my free time, I was stuck. So I looked to my father. He had been an entrepreneur for most of his life and I decided to follow in his footsteps. Soon enough, it became clear that was the best decision I ever made.
Tell me about your first entrepreneurial experience as a kid.
Looking back, I realize now that I was born to be an entrepreneur. As is typical, my first entrepreneurial endeavor was to setup a lemonade stand. However, this wasn't your typical lemonade stand. My secret weapon at 12 years old was Sprite. I sold lemonade for $0.25 (my loss leader), and then ask them if they wanted a Sprite instead for a few bucks more. Tons of people went for the Sprite. The Sprite was almost as cheap as the lemonade so my margins were great! Next up, at 13, right around the time that personal CD burners became affordable, I sold custom CD's to my classmates and charged $15 for "over an hour of music, any songs you want, all on this one CD. I'll have it to you tomorrow." My upfront costs were substantial since the CD burner was a few hundred bucks, but nothing a few more Sprites couldn't pay for. Other than that, the variable cost of each CD was minimal, since the songs were "free" for my to download on Napster. In high school, I would list the next unreleased Harry Potter book on eBay for pre-order (I was usually the only seller since it was so far in advance). I would mark the price up about 25% from what I expected Amazon.com would list it for. I'd get a bunch of pre-orders and then a few weeks before it was released, I'd pre-order the books on Amazon, have them delivered to my house, and then repackage them and send them to the buyers. Soon, others caught on and I was no longer the only seller for the next book, but it was good while it lasted. Too labor intensive on my part anyways.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Starting Extrabux.com as a college freshman, surrounding myself with amazing team members and advisors, and raising close to a million dollars while building a successful business in the worst recession since the Great Depression.
What does a day-in-the-life of Jeff Nobbs consist of?
No two days are the same, that's why I love it!
What were you like in college? I mean, were you as hungry then as you are now? Was it more of the typical college experience that the average joe has, or were you hustling away, engaged in business endeavors?
I think my college experience was atypical. Having started Extrabux as a freshman, I looked at classes as a way to learn more about building my business as opposed to my resume. I absolutely did all of the things that typical college kids did too, though. I joined a fraternity, went to parties, traveled to football games, etc, but my eye was always on the prize. My third year at USC, Noah (the other co-founder) and I entered the USC Business Plan Competition. It was open to undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. We won the competition and a $25k check from the University. I went on to graduate a year early at the age of 20, but I stayed at USC and continued to party, go to football games, etc, this time without any classes. I assume everyone thought I was a senior, but really I was a graduate! My college bedroom became my office and I literally rolled out of bed into "work".
What is your take on college in 2012? Many successful entrepreneurs are skeptical of how much college actually prepares students for the real world. Would you advise an entrepreneurial-minded youth to go to college today?
I think that skipping college is an easy way out for an "entrepreneurial-minded" youth, because what does that mean, really? If you have a great idea that you're dying to pursue, you can do it while in college. Just spend less time studying for classes you don't care about (as an entrepreneur, no one is going to be looking at your GPA anyways) and spend more time on your business. Depending on the college, you can leverage your professors for legal help, startup advice, hiring questions, etc. Seek out a college that has a strong entrepreneurship program. Push yourself to make friends, network, and have a work-life balance. It will all come in handy down the road.
3 tips of success?
1) Read, read, read (books, blogs, Quora, whitepapers) everything you can get your hands on about company culture, customer focus, entrepreneurship, raising money, management, sales, hiring, etc. Most colleges don't offer classes in these areas and they are vital. 2) Hire slowly, fire fast. Give equity and meaning to your team members. It's easy for competitors to build similar features, spend more on advertising, and focus on the same markets. Your company will be defined by your team. The competitive landscape changes quickly and no problem is unsolvable with the right team in place. 3) Focus on your customer, relentlessly. For the most part, if your customers are utterly happy, nothing else matters.
What is the most important aspect of a company that determines its own success?
The people that drive your business, team members and customers.
Looking back, what's one thing you would do differently?
The thing with regret is that it's one of the most powerful teachers. You dwell on things you wish you would have done differently to the extent that you'll never make the mistake again. The earlier you can make those mistakes, the better, which is why starting a company at a young age is so important. When you're selling lemonade, a huge mistake won't cost you much. When you have a team relying on your vision and execution and customers relying on your product, there's a lot more on the line.