From College Hustle to $200 Million Business: The No. 1 Tip from Insomnia Cookies CEO

Starting a business in college can be incredibly rewarding and provide a solid foundation for future entrepreneurial endeavors. The CEO of Insomnia Cookies offers valuable advice for college students aiming to launch a successful business right from their dorm rooms.

From College Hustle to $200 Million Business: The No. 1 Tip from Insomnia Cookies CEO

For anyone aspiring to start a business in their dorm room and grow it into a multimillion-dollar company—or even just to help cover tuition costs—Seth Berkowitz has valuable advice.

Berkowitz, the 43-year-old co-founder and CEO of Insomnia Cookies, began his journey baking cookies in his college house at the University of Pennsylvania. He delivered them around campus as late as 4 a.m. Today, he manages over 260 Insomnia Cookies locations, which generated more than $200 million last year.

 Here are his top tips for budding college entrepreneurs looking to turn their ideas into thriving ventures.

‘Get a Mentor’

Seth Berkowitz emphasizes the importance of finding a mentor, a lesson he wishes he had learned earlier. Running a business can often be lonely, and having someone to offer advice and reassurance can make a significant difference. This was particularly crucial during Insomnia Cookies' toughest years following the 2008 financial crisis. Berkowitz had to downsize the company's corporate staff and took on more responsibilities, including frequent trips between his home in New York and Insomnia locations in Philadelphia, Syracuse, and other cities.

A mentor can help you navigate challenges because, as Berkowitz puts it, "You don’t know what you don’t know." He experimented with different business models for nearly a decade before discovering the right formula to make Insomnia Cookies profitable. He admits that his initial arrogance led him to rely on trial and error, but learning from experienced individuals helped him avoid significant pitfalls.

Finding a reliable mentor can benefit anyone, not just entrepreneurs. If you're a college student, your school might help you connect with professors or alumni with relevant experience.

Just ‘Do It’

Berkowitz advises college students to take advantage of their time in school to experiment with different ideas and ventures, but he doesn’t recommend dropping out. "There’s a lot to still gain from college," he says.

Many students don’t realize how much time they have to explore new opportunities. "You are taking lots of classes and there’s lots of work, but there’s so much more time than you realize," he says. College is a unique period where the risk of trying something new is relatively low compared to post-graduation life.

Running a business or even a side hustle requires balancing your course load and social life. "It could be too much for some," Berkowitz says. "But if that’s your personality, where you love the action, it’s really a great fit."

How to Pick Your Dorm Room Business

When choosing a business idea, Berkowitz suggests starting with your own interests. He loved sweets and staying up late, which led him to the concept of late-night cookie deliveries. "It’s so critical that you do something that you’re passionate about," he says. "You don’t want to spend your time working on something that’s not interesting."

He also advocates for adopting a lean mentality. Instead of seeking funding before generating revenue, start small, develop a business model, and ensure sustainability before scaling up. Berkowitz spent about $150 on baking ingredients and supplies to test his cookie delivery concept. This initial experiment earned him $10,000 in profit during his first semester, proving the viability of his idea.

Managing costs, such as paying employees and renting real estate, became more challenging as the company grew. However, starting small allowed Berkowitz to validate his concept before involving investors and opening physical stores. "If it didn’t work, it wasn’t a lot that I was going to give up," he says.

By following Berkowitz's advice—finding a mentor, seizing opportunities in college, and starting small with a passion-driven idea—you can set yourself up for entrepreneurial success.


Launching a successful college dorm room business requires a clear vision, strategic planning, and a willingness to learn and adapt. By following these expert tips from the CEO of Insomnia Cookies, you can lay a strong foundation for your entrepreneurial journey. Remember, persistence and dedication are key to turning your college business into a thriving enterprise.

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