Could Your Biz Idea Win $200,000? These Guys Would Know…

UPDATED: May 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 12, 2014

College kids are always looking for an extra buck or two, right? So it made sense when a group of buddies started a small student moving service at Auburn University. Some pocket cash and a lot of heavy lifting later, they graduated. But the guys had an itch that this was an untapped market they could keep tapping.

Sure, there are professional movers available for hiring, but that’s not what some people want. What some people want are a few trustworthy, strong kids capable of moving heavy couches up stairs. Voilà: the Bellhops launch experiment.

“Pretty quickly, we realized the rest of America [students and non-students] was a much larger market but still had the same needs: cheap, simple, reliable moving help, on-demand,” Bellhops co-founder Cameron Doody says. “Forty-five million Americans will move this year, and 75 percent of them are considered ‘do-it-yourselfers’ when it comes to moving.”

With $2,000 in their budget, they built a website and purchased a $1,000 advertisement in a college orientation booklet. Their investment paid off—with 250 reservations—and they quickly rounded up some old fraternity buddies to smoothly execute each move-in.

Now, three years later, Bellhops serves more than 135 cities in 42 states and has more than 10,000 employees, or student “Bellhops.”

Early in 2014, they caught wind of the Miller Lite Tap the Future contest—a business competition allowing teams the opportunity to pitch their businesses to a panel of entrepreneurial judges, including Daymond John of ABC’s Shark Tank.

Bellhops was selected as one of the 25 semifinalists to compete in one of the live pitch events held in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia. The company swept away the competition at the Atlanta contest and won the prize of $20,000.

And it didn’t end there. The winner of each city then competed in Chicago at the national competition for a grand prize of $200,000. Bellhops competed against Enso Ink, a product designed to improve and protect tattoos; Million Dollar Scholar, a social business helping students gain financial aid; SnkTrd, an online marketplace for sneakers; and Snowgate, a service providing secure storage for an active lifestyle.

Bellhops won it all—the prize money and priceless new perspectives on business.

Here, Doody shares with SUCCESS four lessons he learned through Bellhops’ experience in the Tap the Future contest:

1. Look for the big picture.
“The contest caused us to really dive in to better understand things that investors would want to know about our company—things that you don’t think about on a day-to-day basis while building and running a company,” Doody says. “We learned a lot about our company when preparing for the national pitch and that really helped us get started with our round of funding as well.”

2. Make decisions and move on.
“Every day comes with 50 new problems,” Doody says. “The best thing you can do is make decisions and move on. Every decision is important in a startup, but they’re never as important as you think. You just can’t get hung up on things. Make a move and keep moving.”

3. Customers first.
Rather than coming up with ways to expand their business and attract new customers, Bellhops wants to focus on the customers they already have. “Keep the customer first, build a great service, be cheaper, easier, better than the current options our consumer base has.”

4. Keep your business philosophy simple.  
“Our concept was simple, and the resources were there (college students),” they state on their website. “Someone just had to aggregate them, incentivize them, hold them to ridiculous standards and release them to the marketplace. This is the future of employment: Train awesome people on your culture and system, give them opportunity and let them go free. Good things will happen.”

Find out what not to do when pitching Shark Tank’s Daymond John—advice right from the shark himself.