Meet Thomas Frank: “College Info Geek” Blogger, Doer of the Impossible
College can be stressful.
Ultimately, though, we all just want to make our time here awesome.
Thomas Frank, College Info Geek creator and blogger, knows all about awesome.
Despite his packed schedule, Thomas agreed to answer a few questions for the inquiring minds at ECU’s College of Business.
SQ: Where did the idea to create College Info Geek come from?
TF: Like the ancient Chinese philosophers did before me, I sought the wisdom of the gods by looking at the cracks in turtle shells. Where the Chinese found the symbols that would become kanji, I was presented with a message that said, “Start a blog about college and don’t write about your anime figurines.”
Ok, maybe that’s not true. All good stories deserve embellishment, right? The real story is that I actually never intended to start my own blog. When I was a freshman, I was a huge fan of HackCollege. This was back when Kelly Sutton – the founder of the site – was still running things, and I wanted to be just like him.
Well, my opportunity presented itself near the end of said freshman year. HackCollege announced that they were looking for writers, and that any student could send in their resume and a finished article to be considered. Boom. Tom’s hands hit plastic keys at lightning speed and HackCollege receives the best application ever a few hours later.
The KGB must have blackmailed them or something, though, because I got rejected. Yep. No writing on HackCollege for me. No being the next Kelly Sutton. Great dishonor.
However, I still had that guest post on my computer, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. I had been designing websites since high school, so I figured I could start my own blog. And that’s how College Info Geek came into being!
SQ: What sort of process did you go through in establishing College Info Geek?
TF: My blog launch process was incredibly straightforward. Since I already had web hosting space that I used to host my clients in high school, I just created a new account for myself, installed WordPress, and published my first post right away.
I knew nothing about blogging, social networking, or anything else like that at the time – I just wanted to share the things I’d been doing to “hack college”. I also figured I could use the blog as a portfolio of cool work to show to employers (this turned out to be a pretty good idea).
SQ: How do you balance school and work? Do you find it difficult to be productive since you are self-employed?
TF: Balancing school, work, and goofing off has been an ongoing science that I’ve been attempting to perfect for years. Besides running my blog, I’ve also been working part-time jobs since I started college, as well as participating in clubs. Google Calendar is my friend – big time.
I’d be lying to myself – and everyone reading this – if I tried to say I haven’t lost a fair amount of sleep during college. However, that doesn’t mean I’m always working. I just tend to stay up really late on occasion to finish big projects.
In reality, I work really hard and use proven (yet underused) techniques to get things done fast. Things like the Pomodoro Technique, daily to-do lists (with only 3-4 items, so I don’t get overwhelmed), and productivity races with friends.
Also, I just wear my Impossible shirt a lot. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDO42M389K8
SQ: What have you learned about business from maintaining your blog and acquiring sponsorships?
TF: That you should never hide under a cardboard box in the middle of the street.
…wait, that was a different lesson.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that opportunities start showing up when you start being remarkable. Once I became a better blogger, started acquiring an audience, and generally got myself on the map, the sponsorships showed up. They didn’t come just because I wanted them to really badly.
Another thing I’ve learned firsthand is that people are willing to give back when you help them. This seems obvious when you think about it, but when you’re running a business, the fear of failure is always there and you constantly expect people to reject you once they find out your make money from what you’re doing.
I didn’t start making money until about two years into running the blog, and when I did, I was honestly surprised. The way I make money is through referring people to products that I’ve found useful in my own life. However, since I still feel like just some college kid in the middle of Iowa (valid feeling), I’m surprised when the dolla bills actually come in.
SQ: What kind of impact do you hope College Info Geek has?
TF: My absolute biggest goal is to help students be awesome at college. If that sounds like a broad goal, that’s because it is. There are a lot of facets to college life, and I want to help other students be freakin’ great at all of them. However, my main areas of focus are:
- Personal Branding – The main goal of every college student is to land their dream job (or achieve some other career goal such as starting a business). Building a personal brand – basically the way in which you market yourself and your skills – is incredibly important for achieving that goal.
- Study Hacks – as students we have tons and tons of information we have to learn, and it takes a long time to do it. However, there are strategies for learning more stuff in less time (and being able to recall it better), and I try to make students aware of those strategies.
- Destroying Student Debt – I’m just about to pay off all of my student loans (while I’m still in school!) This has been a huge goal of mine ever since I started college, and knowing that I’m actually going to do it is amazing. I don’t want to be the only one to do this. Going forward, I will be creating lots of resources to help other students pay off as much of their own debt as quickly as possible.
- The Psychology of Being Awesome – I think about things like motivation, productivity, habits, and other psychological stuff all the time. A lot of what I write about revolves around learning how to squash all the negative influences in your brain and promote the positive ones.
SQ: You’re a senior at Iowa State University; what are your plans for College Info Geek once you graduate?
TF: Now that I know it’s a viable option, I’m going to continue to run it! I have some huge plans for new features, so I’ll be putting my writing and coding caps on simultaneously here in the near future.
SQ: Any parting tips for students looking to venture into entrepreneurship or the business world in general?
TF: First and foremost: What you think is impossible probably isn’t. Sure, some things are outside the realm of physical or mathematical possibility – but most of the things you want to do probably aren’t. If you query your brain for a solution and don’t get anything back, it’s probably because you’re a novice. Seek those who are experienced and persevere.
Whatever you want to do, it’s imperative that you start building professional relationships and establish your own personal brand. I even have a toolbox of resources coming soon that you can use if you’re not sure where to start (my newsletter subscribers get access). Seriously, the relationships you build now will open up so many doors for you down the road – just as you’ll have the opportunity to help out the people you meet as well.
Finally, if you’re starting a business, set aside money for taxes. I’m about to drop a horrifyingly large amount on taxes this year (since this is the first year I didn’t make most of my money through jobs), and it’s quite sobering.