How I Used Lunch Trays to Make $3000/month as a Full-Time College Student

How a college student earned $3000 a month while a full time student with lunch traysEditor’s Note:
I read and participate on a lot of blogs and online forums where entrepreneurs and small business people hang out. I learn a lot from reading and interacting with these guys and gals. One of the places I frequent is a sub forum on the giant social media site, Reddit, named r/Entrepreneur.

And the other day I came across a post by a Redditor who was sharing his story on how he was able to create a nice side business, with a $3000 monthly revenue, while still a full time college student. I’ve talked about this before. There are tons of easy ways to make money in college. But his idea was just genius. So I invited him to share his story and how he managed to make money while still in college.

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What you read below is his story.


When I was in my first year at University I secured an Internship at an organization which encouraged students to start their own businesses while at university.

After helping numerous students start their own ventures and watching their successes unfold, I soon started asking myself “why am I not doing this myself?”

So, during years 2-4 of my University studies I started a business “Adspad”. Adspad enabled businesses to engage with the student population by offering targeted advertising opportunities within the university environment.

It did this by producing paper placemats which appear on trays in university canteens. (You can see a picture of it above)

How I Came up with the Idea

The idea was conceived one day whilst sitting in the University canteen at lunch.

We were discussing the limited marketing opportunities for external businesses within the campus. Sitting in front of the blank, empty tray suddenly made us realize there was a huge opportunity sitting right under our noses.

Laying the Ground Work

Over the next couple of weeks we pulled together a simple business plan, a prototype placemat, sourced a printing supplier and set up a year agreement with our University to allow us to supply them with placemats every month to place on the trays.

This was as simple as setting up a meeting with our canteen services department at the university and pitching the idea.

Once we had this in place we went out to local advertisers and sold space on the placemats.

Getting Started and Operation

It only took a few months to progress from initial concept to first placemats on the trays which was one of the reasons the business model is so appealing.

We learnt a lot in the process and improved the business every single month.

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Very early on we recruited a graphics design student at the university to pull together professional and eye catching designs for the placemats to improve their effectiveness. By engaging local students we were able to keep costs down and they were happy to receive experience and material for their portfolios.

We also started using FSC paper very quickly to reduce the environmental impact of the business.

How We Made Our Money

The business model was simple…

Each month we would produce a new placemat which had 10 advertising slots. Each slot was sold for $150 ($1500 total per university per month at full capacity).

Our printing costs were around $600 per university per month (10,000 A3 paper mats).

Within a few months we expanded to the other university in the city, turning over $3,000 revenue each month.

Tips for Student ( other) Entrepreneurs

I was asked to give a few tips based on this and other personal experience I developed through out the years of being an entrepreneur.

Here are somethings that have helped me personally:

1. Start

The best thing you’ll do is start a company. Too many people have great ideas but do nothing about them. University is also a great time to start a business for many reasons.

2. Don’t give up

The hardest part for us was getting our first advertisers on board. It’s very challenging at the start without much credibility or reputation behind you. No one wanted to be first so we had to speak to hundreds of people to get our first sale. As it happened, our first customer stayed with us to the very end and was our largest account. Everything seemed to fall into place after this.

3. You don’t have to start the next Facebook or Uber to be a successful entrepreneur

Some of the best business ideas are the most simple. Furthermore, the non financial benefits of Adspad far outweighed the financial gains from the company, don’t lose sight of this.

What’s Next

After University I sold Adspad and it continued to run for a few years under new ownership. This allowed me to work on a number of other startup projects as well as focus on progressing a graduate career.

Most recently I have been working on a project called Sonder which allows users to record and analyze their past sexual partners and will look to help reduce STI rates which have been trending upwards due to the rise of dating sites and people settling down later in life.

I’m also actively mentoring two businesses who have launched similar placemat advertising businesses in Ireland and London.

Guest Writer Bio: Glenn Taylor Buchan started Adspad, the original placemat advertising whilst studying a business degree at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. Since selling the business and leaving university, Glenn has been developing a number of other projects as well as working as a Senior Analyst in the Oil and Gas Industry. You can communicate with Glenn directly on LinkedIn .

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