Emily Fernandez grew up in Rohnert Park, graduated from Rancho Cotate High School in 2007, and went to Sonoma State University for two years before attending Santa Rosa Junior College. In January of 2011, she began MyCollegeDiscounts.com with partner Kacee O’Daniel. The site lists the Sonoma County restaurants, beauty shops, and other retailers that offer special discounts to college students.
She was kind enough to explain a little about the discount site and her aspirations for the future.
How did you get the idea for MyCollegeDiscounts? What prompted you to take that idea and turn it into a business venture?
It started when I was a student at Sonoma State University. I was standing in line at a restaurant when a college student handed his school I.D. to the cashier before paying and automatically received 10% off his meal. I realized that he got a discount for being an SSU student. I, on the other hand, had been eating there for the past two years and never received any discount. I then scoured the Internet looking for a single website that listed all the discounts SSU students receive. I realized pretty fast that there was no such resource, so while taking a five hour drive down south, I told my partner about how I wanted to create this website that listed all the businesses in Sonoma County that offered discounts to SSU students. After talking with my partner about the website, we came up with a business plan, and when we got home from our trip, the first thing we did was buy the domain name mycollegediscounts.com.
Please explain a little how college students can use your website. What are some examples of the kinds of discounts they can obtain?
When designing the website, we wanted it to be very easy to use, so right now you pick your school you want to see discounts for, and then pick a category. Whether it is food, beauty, health, shopping or car repair, we have something for every student looking to save some money. Some of our personal favorite discounts are free pool on Thursdays at Buffalo Billiards, and 20% off labor at DK Computer Systems. Even businesses like Fresh Choice offer 15% off your meal. All you need is a valid student ID to receive your discount.
What are your growth plans? Where do you want to expand?
As quickly as we’d like to expand, our primary focus at this point is Sonoma County. Once we create a successful business model, we would love to begin expanding throughout California and possibly beyond.
What’s been the best part about starting this business? What’s been the most challenging part?
The best part for me has been getting such positive responses from both business owners and students. We love going to a local business and have them create a discount on the spot for all college students. Currently there is no way for them to share with their local students that they are willing to support them, so we designed the website to act as a middleman of sorts. Now students can support their local businesses while businesses are supporting their money-conscious college students. I think everyone wins.
The challenge has really been being patient while waiting for every aspect of the website to come together. I would like to be working more on the website, but time is always an issue.
What are your own goals for education and career? What are your next steps for reaching those goals?
My end goal is to finish with a degree in business, and work full-time on our website. I would love to make a career out of this idea, but school is just as important and I fully plan to use the discounts I have listed on my website to save some money.
What lessons have you learned for others who are thinking about starting their own business?
The best business ideas stem from what you would want or need. So if you feel as if you or the world is missing something, then do your research and give it a try. We have learned to accept our mistakes as opportunities, and we are learning everyday how to work with businesses and our local community a little better than the day before.
Thanks, Emily. To learn more about MyCollegeDiscounts, click here.