March 12, 2013

Freenters extends its imprint

After a trial period in the fall, Freenters is on the rise.

Five months after the campus printing service was launched, Freenters has 1,800 registered users, 40 advertisers, and prints 7,000 to 8,000 pages per week. They recently opened a new printer in Stuart Hall, bringing the total number of printers up to five.

But their achievements stretch further. They currently have 18 people on the team, including two original founders, two long-time staff members, and 14 interns, divided into four teams: sales, marketing, technology, and expansion. Freenters posted an advertisement for the positions on Chicago Career Connection (CCC).

Third-year Hyesung Kim, Freenters’ CEO and cofounder, hopes to impart some of his start-up knowledge to the interns.

“They’re really interested in the start-ups, but they don’t have an item [to sell]. They don’t want to take a risk,” he said.

For fourth-year Paul Park, an original Freenters team member, working with the interns isn’t like working with employees. “How I like to think about it is, as the marketing chair, I’m more of the interns’ friend than boss,” Park said.

One of the biggest challenges in working with his interns, Park said, has been to insist that Freenters is a business, not an RSO.

“Even though we’re a close-knit group,” Park said, “a business is a business.”

Park expects interns to arrive on time for meetings and to carry out their projects in a timely manner—especially sales interns, who have to visit local businesses and pitch the product. There’s a steep learning curve, and professionalism is important, Park added. Only the sales interns receive commission, based on the number of advertisers that they are able to get on board.

Two different parties have expressed interest in investing in the company, but Freenters is still waiting before making them an offer. According to Kim, the team has been attempting to find different ways to reduce the risk of investing and make the company more attractive to the investors.

One of their tasks in accomplishing that goal has been to prove that the Freenters business model can work on other college campuses. Kim said that they are planning to expand to Northwestern University next month, where they already have a manager and team in place.

Cornell University sophomore Han Ko, a childhood friend of Kim, is the manager of Freenters’ first expansion outside the Chicago area. He has been talking to Kim about the project since he came up with the idea, but he only decided to pursue the venture after visiting UChicago in November to see how Freenters was working here.

At Cornell, Ko will use the patents and licenses obtained by UChicago Freenters, but his sales and marketing will be completely separate. According to Ko, his operation will be more of a partnership than a franchise.

Ko is awaiting approval from Cornell University before installing printers and setting up their services. Officials have expressed interest, Ko said, and even if Cornell does not allow them to set up on university property, he is committed to the idea and will try other places in Ithaca.