StudentCity

Professor William Bygrave, Case Director

Carl Hedberg, Case Writer

Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship

© Babson College, 2006.

Abstract

After sixteen years of minor ups and major downs trying to build the Web’s first viable online student travel business, Mario Ricciardelli has finally hit upon a business model that can generate significant income and cash flow. With their first full season approaching, Mario and his partner are taken aback when their trusted strategy adviser suggests that now is the time to think about harvesting their venture. How could they possibly think about selling when it’s just beginning to get fun? Mario started his spring break travel business (originally called Take-A-Break) as a sophomore in his Babson dorm room. Over the years he suffered all manner of challenges and setbacks in, including having a charter airline operator go out of business—after leaving dozens of Mario’s student customers stranded in Mexico. He almost gave up; in fact, he had reason to quit many times along the way. But something kept telling him that this was an idea whose time would come. In the late 90s he aligned with competitor Jaqui Lewis, and changed the company name to StudentCity.com. When they were acquired by a ‘high-concept’ venture-backed Web business that was spending millions to create an online presence, it appeared their business concept was finally going get traction. Instead, Mario and Jaqui watched their paper fortune evaporate as their cash-strapped parent failed for want of a sustainable business model. They were able to exit with their business intact. Mario, now in his late thirties with little to show for his long ‘career’, decided to take one more shot. He mortgage his house to refinance the company, and focused all their efforts and creativity on owning the spring break segment. Amazingly, after a single ‘test’ season, they were on track to top $57 million in revenue, with a net income of $4.5 million. If they could stage that sort of turn around in 12 months, was it really the best time to sell?

Key Words: Career choices, Perseverance and focus, Web Business, Opportunity recognition, Online marketing, Partnerships, Mergers and acquisitions, The Internet wave; late 1990s, Sustainable vs Unsustainable business models, Valuation, Harvest strategies

Teaching Objective: To present an example of an undergraduate business student embarking on very long and arduous journey to develop a profitable web-based model in a highly fragmented industry.

DVD

There is a 27 minute DVD available for this case. Please place orders through ecch.

Teaching Notes

A 7-page teaching note written by Bill Bygrave is available for this case.