Menus at Your Fingertips

It started as a hobby for four fraternity brothers at Penn State. Now it requires long days, as one co-founder recounts

I am a co-founder and chief financial officer of YNot Advertising, an Internet company that provides comprehensive dining guides for nine college towns. Students can read menus, find coupons, get information on local bars' drink specials, and order food online or over the phone.

Based in State College, Pa., with a branch in Gainesville, Fla., YNot has 18 partners (including the four founders) in the locations where we provide service.


I helped begin the original model at Penn State University, where I was attending college, in 2003 with three of my fraternity brothers. The idea made sense, especially with increased Internet use at the time.

We knew there had to be more menus available than the few we had strewn around the house. It started as a hobby; in fact, all four original partners took a break and went abroad right after the launch.

However, after attending a career fair senior year and handing out résumés, we realized none of us wanted to work for someone else and we should give the company a serious go. A few of us also took time off from school to focus solely on YNot before graduating.

Now, I am responsible for keeping track of all of financials and accounting statements, maintaining budgets, invoicing, and overseeing collections. I also handle client relations to make sure everyone is happy with YNot's service.


At YNot, we are laid-back yet hard-working. Even though the company started in a fraternity house, we understand that it takes professionalism to get to the next level.

This lesson was tough to learn because only one or two of us had had internships. We learned more from the Smeal College of Business professors we spoke to and on-the-job training.

Before going ahead with YNot, I was wary of what my future would hold. I was living paycheck to paycheck but remained focused because the other founders and I believed in the idea 100%. We are now growing exponentially and are financially stable. In the next 10 to 18 months, the plan is to expand to 10 to 15 more schools.

Here is an outline of a typical day:

3:30 a.m. -- I wake up thinking about a new way to sell advertisements to increase sales. I write it down on the notepad next to my bed.

8:30 a.m. -- I roll out of bed, throw on a shirt and shoes, read the morning news, and follow up on e-mails from the previous day. My roommate and business partner Dave Laiderman wakes up about the same time, so we can share ideas we had from the sleepless night.

9:00 a.m. -- Dave and I spend 30 minutes going over the day's game plan.

9:30 a.m. -- I analyze Web site statistics and available advertising real estate, using that information to compile sales documents for prospective clients. By this time, 5 to 10 phone calls have thrown my "schedule" off course.

11:00 a.m. -- I open the company bank accounts to make sure there are no mysterious charges from the past few days. I also write a few checks and get some bills paid. This is a great time to analyze financial documents because most restaurants are busy for lunch and cannot call me about advertising or placing their menu online.

12:30 p.m. -- I check my e-mail again to see what other issues have come up. My two partners in State College need a financial report ASAP for a restaurant client.

1:00 p.m. -- I make a sandwich and discuss a few new ideas with Dave regarding expansion. We get into an argument about an idea that one of our other partners has. We spend some time researching and arguing our cases.

2:00 p.m. -- I make sure all documents are prepared for my afternoon meetings. This is where I essentially sell a client on an ad or sign up a client for online ordering -- our two streams of revenue.

3:00 p.m. -- I leave for my afternoon meetings. On the drive, I receive two more phone calls from clients requesting meetings to discuss advertising.

5:00 p.m. -- I return with a successful sale and a new client. As I sit down to check my e-mail, my eyes get heavy. I take a quick power nap before starting the second half of my day.

5:30 p.m. -- This is a great time to take a jog, so I lace up and head out.

6:00 p.m. -- I make a simple dinner before a conference call at 6:30 p.m.

7:45 p.m. -- Dave and I go to the gym to enjoy some free time away from the office.

9:00 p.m. -- I begin to put together our new advertising program. Once I get something going on paper, I will send it out to the other partners and advisory board for recommendations.

9:30 p.m. -- I have a conference call with the other partners about current sales, new clients, expansion market progress, and new revenue-generating ideas.

11:30 p.m. -- I get back on my computer to go over the day's orders and do a brief analysis. I also review my to-do list from the previous day and create a new one for tomorrow.

1:00 a.m. -- Dave and I both hit the sack. It takes a good hour to fall asleep with all the ideas running through my head.

2:00 a.m. -- I finally fall asleep, but then wake up throughout the night with a few more thoughts.

I landed my job by being friends with three great guys and being at the right place at the right time. However, that was only the start of YNot. Without Penn State's Smeal College, the founders never would have met, and the concept might never have taken off.

I believe that college is not about taking classes to get qualified for a job, but rather an opportunity to surround yourself with individuals who can help you achieve your lifetime goals. Smeal's professors and advisers were remarkable and provided us with much support.

If I were to enroll at Penn State again, I would take more accounting courses. YNot has spent a few dollars on accountants, so it would have been nice to have handled some of these issues ourselves. When it comes to startup companies, saving is always a good thing.

Chris can be reached via e-mail at