By Jou Pabalate
From a simple idea of building college pride, the team behind The College Experience (TCE) stumbled upon an entrepreneurial gem that’s going to change the way you view t-shirts.
Who’s the team behind TCE?
We are a group of friends from Alfaisal University. We graduated from different colleges; Adel Helmi and Karam Hamweyah from Medicine, Ammar Awaad from Business, and Nayef Alsuwailem from Engineering. Not only are we from different educational backgrounds, but we are also quite culturally diverse as some of us have spent time living abroad. It really translates into a unique cocktail of thoughts and ideas highlighted by our distinct designs and products.
How did the idea for your business come about?
We were one of the first students at Alfaisal University. We took it upon ourselves to shape what the college experience in Saudi Arabia should be like. What we noticed was a lack of pride in the college and traditions.
We started with apparels in the college colors. People loved the great quality products and the demand for something more fashionable grew. Our core founders also attracted colleagues who could collaborate to create something better. We extended our focus towards pop culture and incorporated it with the social movement we were trying
We realized we needed to stand on a more solid ground to move forward. We researched what students across campuses were looking for and produced high quality products tailored according to the students’ preferences.
The administrations took notice. We began presenting ourselves as an enterprise and held meetings with PR and marketing departments. We were now giving our service to both universities and students. We became the official clothing sponsors for charity events like the Mount Everest climb for Breast Cancer Awareness. Now we have our characters Abu Faris and Tamra representing our enterprise.
What are the things you’ve learned since you started TCE?
Nothing comes easy or free, believe you can and you will achieve. Resistance is proof that you might be on to something great. It’s best not to be too headstrong. A startup can break if the team is weak. Always aspire to fix problems to help the team move forward.
You mentioned that some of you are pursuing your careers alongside running TCE. How are you able to manage and sustain the business? Is having a 9 – 5 job helpful for startup entrepreneurs or is it a distraction?
It’s difficult and we struggle at times. The key is to set clear parameters for each one of us. Our 9 – 5 jobs are definitely important and provide us with financial stability, but they leave us with less time to focus on our own business. Those nights when we had to stay up until 3 a.m. were totally worth it.
You’d be surprised by how much your job could complement and enhance your startup. Whether it’s contacts and networking or just learning how to run a business, a 9 – 5 job may seem entirely separate but at the core it’s a learning experience.
If you were to give advice to other aspiring young entrepreneurs, what would it be?
You need a committed team, you can’t do things alone. There will be mistakes and messes but you have to get through them. Once an entire batch of clothes came in the wrong color but we didn’t let it bring us down. Always be positive and enjoy what you do. The positive effect your mood has on your business is invaluable.
What’s next for TCE?
We want to expand to the rest of the Kingdom. It will surely benefit us but it will also benefit the community by creating jobs and streamlining the production. We’re also infusing the Saudi culture into our products. We want to become the service people turn to.
We’re working on a few apparel lines. We plan to expand our range of products and also become a source of passion for artists and a driving force in evolving the culture enveloping our youth.
To TCE, t-shirts are more than just a piece of cloth to cover your back; they are blank canvasses and an underrated form of expression that we look to highlight for the years to come.