Syracuse University is well known for its flexibility with multi-interested students. For many, dual major programs are the initial stepping stone to a characteristically rich, well-rounded professional career. For 2016 graduate Justin Hilgart, the dual program between the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and the School of Information Studies provided the skills and opportunities necessary to later found his own advanced Instagram growth service, Social Network Elite (SNE).
“When I first came to Syracuse,” said Hilgart, “I wasn’t sure sure how I would combine my interests in business and technology. I figured I’d go with the dual program and just see what happened!”
Now, Hilgart is thankful he made this decision. “Both schools were instrumental in the creation of SNE,” he said. “My company uses a network of Virtual Private Servers to support our software, and I gained important exposure to the uses of VPSs during iSchool lab assignments. However, I also do the majority of the accounting for SNE and prepare financial documents. The Whitman capstone project was definitely helpful in showing me how to keep a balance sheet and income statement!”
The company was started in the second semester of Hiligart’s senior year with co-founder Victor Garcia ’16. “We were caught up with all the things seniors are typically busy with such as final projects, job hunting and spending as much time as possible with our friends,” Hilgart said. “However, we both had a clear vision of where we wanted the company to go.”
The company was able to launch as a result of Higart and Garcia’s hard work, as well as the resources the pair found at Syracuse University. “There were countless nights during our senior year where we would work until 2 or 3 in the morning on ‘just one more thing,’ knowing that our time together as students was limited,” Hilgart said. “We wanted to lay the groundwork for the company to the best of our abilities because we knew that we had to finish as much as possible while we still had Syracuse’s amazing resources at our disposal.”
Of the opportunities presented to Hilgart during his time at Syracuse University, he was quick to credit his own creativity as well as work experience as catalysts for his current successes. “One summer I interned at JP Morgan as a Technology Analyst. Another summer I interned at EY in IT Audit,” he said. “From my experience, JP Morgan and EY were very by-the-book and close-minded. There was a set process to how things were done and that is how you did them. I, however, would rather live on the edge. Now, my trading compensation is almost entirely performance-based and my compensation from SNE depends on how well the company performs.”
SNE provides clients with Instagram marketing solutions, allowing them to push traffic from Instagram to their websites and help build overall brand authority – and the future is promising. “[Victor and I] have increased revenues 3x over this time last year. Our average sale price has increased and we have recently redesigned our website,” said Hilgart. “We have taken on an angel investor who has an equity position, an intern and a number of part time employees/virtual assistants/bloggers.”
Justin is definitely a model alum for passion and the power of perseverance. In addition to his responsibilities as the CEO of SNE, he currently works full time as an equity trader for Chimera Security in New York City. “Growing SNE has taught me to never give up. It took me and Victor three months of 10 to 20 hour weeks of work before we got our first paying customer. Now, we have over 500,” he said. “One day I hope to quit my day job and work on SNE full time!”
To current students interested in pursuing an individualized path in technology and business, Hilgart is encouraging, but practical. “There is no rule book to starting your own company,” he said. “It takes a lot of testing and you can’t be afraid to spend some money. You have to spend money to make money.”
SNE is present online and on various social media outlets, currently offering deals to advise and strengthen Instagram marketing techniques for their growing numbers of clients. Hilgart and his team have created a paid Technology Analyst internship position for the fall of 2018, and are interested in hiring Orange! The position can be found on Orange Link with ID#122123.