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Alumni Newsmakers

Entrepreneur Feeds Late-Night Cravings

Matthew Mandell, BS ’04, is the founder and CEO of DCSnacks, a late-night, online convenience store that delivers food, household goods, and more to the college crowd and busy Washingtonians.

Jessica McConnell

Night owls don’t have to leave home to grab a tasty treat, pick up household goods, or find a late-night flick. DCSnacks, the brainchild of Matthew Mandell, BS ’04, will deliver these items and more to doorsteps in about 30 minutes.

The delivery-only convenience store, which caters to college students and busy Washingtonians burning the midnight oil, offers everything from Haagen-Dazs to hookah supplies. With a click on its online ordering site, DCSnacks sends any of its nearly 500 items—Frosted Flakes, baking soda, cork screws, cold medicine, previewed DVDs, or Ping-Pong balls, to name a few—via one of its bike delivery riders until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. There’s no need to stand in line at a store, set aside that important report, or miss a tempting television show.

Typical customers are anyone from “a GW student who is relaxing or studying to people who are writing briefs for the Supreme Court—it’s exciting when the person you’re delivering to could be potentially shaping history,” Mandell says. Chatting with customers keeps the work interesting and helps him find out what customers want and need, he says.

“I like the idea that we are in the background of lots of students’ and professionals’ lives, and our company enhances their experiences,” he adds.

Mandell’s business, which operates from a 1,000-square-foot warehouse in the Foggy Bottom area, employs a staff of some 30 to 50 students and professionals. Six years ago, the company started with fewer than 100 products. With its growth, Mandell is always looking for new items to keep up with customers’ requests. Need a kosher or vegan food option? No problem. What about a pack of smokes? They’ve got it. Batteries, laundry detergent, a deck of cards—check, check, and check.

DCSnacks is the most recent in a long line of businesses the 27-year-old entrepreneur has nurtured from idea to money-maker. Mandell says he’s inspired by opportunities to “create something from nothing.” As a business owner, “you have to be comfortable with risk and ambiguity,” he explains. “You’re dealing with everything from issues with technology to order trends, marketing, human resources, and scheduling.”

Mandell’s initial taste of entrepreneurial energy came when he started his first business at age 13 in northern New Jersey. He and a friend became party deejays, at first using only his parents’ stereo, then branching out to live music, cotton candy machines, and other entertainment specialties for hire at events and parties in New Jersey and New York. He grew the fledgling business through his teen years but abandoned the venture when he started college at GW.

During his junior year, Mandell started—a company that allowed students to sell textbooks to one another directly. To cover overhead costs for the dot-com business, he and a few business-partner friends dreamed up Campus Snacks, which sold and delivered snack foods. They drummed up business by putting flyers under dorm doors, and hungry college students came to depend on them.

The textbook business fell apart, but Campus Snacks grew. As it expanded, Mandell changed its name to DCSnacks.

In 2004, Mandell also created—after friends complained about service at a local summer storage company—to store belongings of some 200 students each year. In 2008, Mandell sold the company to the Allied Van Lines franchise.

To share his entrepreneurial wisdom, Mandell has talked about the DCSnacks business model to GW marketing and finance classes. Sometimes students study his marketing plan and do research for the company as a project, he says.

Mandell’s own undergraduate schooling wasn’t in business and finance, but in psychology—a discipline he uses to make day-to-day business decisions, such as who to hire, what colors to use, how to set up the Web site, and how to respond to customers, he says. Today, Mandell is back at GW earning his Accelerated MBA and gaining better formal business understanding and financial background.

He is receiving much of his education from the real world, too. By growing his business, Mandell says he has learned invaluable lessons about how to market to and approach an audience, what services work on college campuses, and how to gain market share. Mandell also must make decisions quickly, keeping many plates spinning at once. “There are days when I wake up and have no idea where I’m going to end up,” Mandell says.

Always ready for a new challenge, the young entrepreneur says he has the itch to start a new company, and he’s scouting possible new business opportunities ranging from a wireless Internet company to cosmetics, real estate, or technology. “It’s a wide net right now,” he says. Unlike when he started DCSnacks, this time he’s researching markets and carefully selecting his new start-up idea.

To guide his choice, he’s using wisdom culled from past business ventures: “If you provide a quality service that people enjoy and you provide value to other people,” he says, “then money will follow.”

—Carrie Madren