When most kids start a business, they build something minor and temporary, like a summer lemonade stand or lawn mowing business. When Scott Friedberg began a business in seventh grade, he ran a snow removal company with employees and recurring clients who paid competitive market rates each winter through Friedberg’s senior year.
“We had a team of people working for us and dozens of clients that we’d service every time it snowed,” says Friedberg. “It was not the typical, ‘It’s a snow day. I’m going to try to get $10 from a couple of our neighbors,’ but recurring clients that were paying us market rates. The same prices that landscapers were charging, we were charging for our services.”
Friedberg’s entrepreneurial spirit wasn’t a fluke. After high school, Friedberg attended the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. He met his future business partner Ross Lazerowitz. Lazerowitz was an iSchool student who thrived on the technical side of the business. In contrast, Friedberg, a finance major and child entrepreneur had expertise in sales and marketing. Together, they made the perfect business partners.
During their sophomore year, the two started GILDED SOCIAL. Initially, the company focused on building an indoor digital billboard network. They placed dozens of television screens through the Syracuse area and charged companies for advertising space on the screens. They eventually pivoted and evolved into a digital signage software network which led to their first national contract with Fleet Feet corporate during Friedberg’s senior year.
From that one contract, the business catapulted to the next level. “We rolled out our digital signage solution to more than a hundred of the Fleet Feet stores,” says Friedberg. “And rather than relying on advertisers to earn revenue, we charged corporations a monthly fee for the software. After a few months, we quickly realized that software as a service model was something a bit more attractive and scalable than the advertising network we started with.”
GILDED SOCIAL continued to evolve into assisting clients with all areas of marketing from video production and website development to social media management and influencer marketing. “The past five to six years, I’ve been bringing on new clients with marketing services, and I’ve been continually hiring full-time employees as the business expands our marketing expertise,” explains Friedberg. “Initially, we were experts strictly with social media. We’ve now expanded our expertise through all aspects of marketing, both digital and traditional. That’s outgrown our initial business. Our marketing services make up about 80 percent of our revenue, and the initial digital signage business, which is still running and doing great, is about 20 percent of our revenue.”
The success in GILDED SOCIAL provided Friedberg with the opportunity to expand the GILDED brand beyond marketing services. In 2018, Friedberg partnered with Rich Burns and longtime GILDED client Robb Bidwell to start GILDED CLUB, a speakeasy in the heart of Armory Square. “My vision is to extend the GILDED brand into new industries, sort of like what Richard Branson does with the Virgin brand,” explains Friedberg. “GILDED CLUB was that first step toward expanding that brand.”
The 2030 vision is to continue growing with clients. GILDED has already partnered with another long-term client to break into the collectible sports industry and hopes to keep finding new niches to infiltrate. “The number one thing is finding opportunity,” says Friedberg. “We’re relying on our clients’ years of experience, knowledge, and relationships, and fusing that perfect combination with our digital marketing and branding expertise to come together and hopefully create successful businesses.”
Friedberg’s inspirational journey from child business owner to building the GILDED brand through college is primarily due to his drive and innovative spirit. But Friedberg also credits his time at Syracuse in helping him reach the next level as an entrepreneur. “I’m certain my path would’ve been different if I didn’t have all the tremendous resources Syracuse University has to offer their students,” says Friedberg. “I have a huge amount of appreciation for Syracuse University as a whole. Both Whitman and the iSchool were a major help to getting my business off the ground. They gave us that push, confidence, and validation while also helping us navigate through tough times.”
After receiving an iSchool fellowship, Friedberg wants to support future entrepreneurs, recognizing the importance of his time at Whitman and the iSchool. In 2018, he started the GILDED SOCIAL Rising Entrepreneur Award, which is presented at the Panasci Business Plan Competition at the Whitman School of Management annually. Friedberg has already committed $25,000 to this initiative.
He hopes students at Syracuse will continue to find support at the university as they start careers and build a business as he did. “The school is very important to me, and I’m always happy to support students in their businesses, whether it’s mentoring, providing complimentary services, and that sort of thing. By far, the most important thing that any student can do who wants to build their own business is to start the business. Build the product. Start talking to customers. Be persistent but also patient with your business. Let it evolve over time. You need to work hard every day, but you also need to understand good things like creating a business take time. If you want to be successful, you need to be patient and passionate to make that success happen.”