For four months, Andrew Citores lived on one footlong Subway sandwich a day, cutting it into three pieces for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
At $5 a sub, the struggling 24-year-old college dropout turned startup owner couldn’t complain; that’s all he could afford. It was the fall of 2011, and Citores had less than $100 in the bank.
He had spent the last year trying to launch JusCollege, a travel outfit focused on helping large groups of college students organize trips to the big game, a spring break hotspot or a Las Vegas rendezvous.
Unable to afford an apartment, he often slept in his Los Angeles office or crashed on the couches of friends who would take him in. He kept his homelessness a secret, unwilling to worry loved ones.
But Citores eventually told his parents he needed help and moved back to San Francisco to live with them. It took about a year from the time Citores moved home for JusCollege to generate $800,000 in revenue. That’s when he stopped worrying about having a place to sleep.
“I refuse to eat Subway now,” says Citores, now 27 and sipping a Red Bull in a conference room at the company’s offices in the InNEVation Center, a growing start-up co-working space in Southwest Las Vegas.
Citores moved the company to Las Vegas last year because of the city’s reputation as the world’s largest hospitality hub. The low cost of living and forgiving tax structure helped too.
It’s here, on the bottom floor of a converted bank, where 18 employees peck away at their desktops to keep JusCollege running. On a recent night during the World Series, most of them did it wearing San Francisco Giants shirts.
On any given day, you’ll hear electronic dance music emanating from stereo speakers, forcing the buttoned-up officials at the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance upstairs to close their doors. From the balcony of the LVGEA offices, you can lean over and see the JusCollege team at work. They’re often there past midnight.
“We can be loud,” said a laughing Citores, who dropped out of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles during his sophomore year to build JusCollege, which then focused exclusively on college events like fraternity and sorority parties.
The company has since expanded its services. If you’re a college student interested in bringing a group of 300 friends to a San Jose Sharks game or to Cabo San Lucas for spring break, JusCollege can help book transportation, hotels, dining and VIP club access.
The company’s online booking system means students never have to pick up a phone and because of special deals with universities, they can use the service to get discounted travel rates.
The company makes its money through commissions from vendors. Citores said the deal is often a no-brainer for those vendors because JusCollege drives a customer volume suppliers otherwise wouldn’t reach.
Since Citores founded the company in 2010, JusCollege has boomed. By the end of 2013, the company tripled its revenue to more than $3 million. By the end of 2014, Citores projects the company will be pulling in $7 million.
And in 2015? Citores expects to double revenue to $14 million and partner with 173 colleges. Once that happens, he plans to expand the company beyond the college market. That means corporate travel, conventions, weddings, club events and summer camps.
In the meantime, Citores keeps his energy high, sipping more Red Bull. It's 4:30 p.m. and there’s work to get done before a 5 p.m. ping-pong tournament.