Hack: Undercuttig Is a Foot-in-the-Door


I am currently sitting on an Amtrak train between DC and New York. By sitting I mean that the train was oversold so I am sitting on the floor in the aisle. A suitcase has just fallen out and cracked my knee. Sweet! I’m glad I only paid $94 for my ticket; I could have saved 30 minutes and taken the Accela for $130…sarcastic sigh.

Don’t get me wrong, I love trains. I do. They are just expensive… and because they are terribly managed, they’re frequently subject to overbooking issues on poular routes.

My other frequent method of travel between DC and New York is the Chinatown Bus. Any young person living on the east coast, especially a resident of one of the big three: DC, Boston or New York City is probably well aware of the Chinatown bus. This INCREDIBLY cheap transportation alternative travels between these three cities for $20 per trip. And, yes, there are bathrooms. Yes, they make stops. No, you cannot drink alcohol on the bus.

I have traveled via the Chinatown express probably 20+ times in the last year and it strikes me that the business model – to undercut its competitors on price, while offering only slightly lesser quality – is very pertinent for students and grads looking to start a business.

A very successful sales technique for a young person is to find a service that you can do (computer repair, auto repair, accounting) and market yourself by undercutting everyone else. Explaining that you use the money to “offset the cost of textbooks,” rather than admitting you will be spending the money on kegs and iPods is also a smart move.

Once you have an established relationship with a client (e.g. proven yourself) you can slowly increase your prices. This a great way for a young person to win business and jumpstart a profitable venture. It has been successfully implemented on a larger scale by such companies as College Pro Painters,College Hunks Hauling Junk and my former college summer employer (no longer in existence) Flying Colors Painting.


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