How far do you think you could go with $5 in 5 days? Maybe you could buy some ingredients for cookies, bake them, sell a few, and repeat to make more money. Or maybe you could buy a rake and start raking yards. But what if you needed to make thousands of dollars? Well then you would need to do more than just sell your time — you need to create value. You need to push yourself beyond the boundaries of what you thought was possible.
Lucky for us, that’s what we’ve always had to do.
We came to Canada for university with no more than a handful of cash in our pockets. We are Ribat and Sana. This is the story of how we took $5 and snowballed it to raising $900,000 and building a company that’s igniting the local scene.
The $5 Challenge
Trent University sends busses to the airport at the start of each school year to pick up doe-eyed international students, and brings them to their new home. It was on that bus that we met years ago, and soon realized that we had a lot more in common than our immigrant status. We had the same classes, we were both business majors, and we never settled for second place in anything we did (let’s say we tied for first).
In our final year, as part of Entrepreneurship Week, our university organized The $5 Challenge. The rules were simple: each team had only $5 to build a business in 5 days. The team that makes the most money wins. We had always wanted to be in business together and this was an opportunity to test if we made a good team.
We watched as our peers did interesting things with their $5, from selling popcorn and lemonade to shovelling snow. But they were selling their time, and 5 days isn’t enough time to make a lot of money. So we thought hard about what was around us and where we could add value. Time was ticking.
During the short time we were in Canada, we fell in love with local shops in our university town. From quaint coffee shops to curated boutiques, these independently owned places welcomed us and made Canada our home. Their authenticity captured our hearts much to the surprise of our Canadian-born friends, who watched us shy away from North American brands like Starbucks & McDonald’s.
That’s where we found our idea. We wanted to strengthen local shops by bringing them closer to each other and the community.
So with our $5, we went to the university print shop and asked them to print out a pocket sized booklet.
Our pitch was simple: “Your marketing is getting lost in the clutter and not reaching the consumers in the community. You can participate in our booklet and give a deal or an incentive of your choice on one of its pages. We will distribute 1,000 booklets, which in turn will bring customers to your door.”
Simple, but effective. For 1000 potential customers, we asked for $150 from each business.
Once we nailed our idea and had the sample booklets in our hands, it was like clockwork.
We each took one side of the street and began pitching to merchants. Sometimes they weren’t in. Sometimes they were busy. Sometimes we were reminded that in Canada, November is early-blizzard-season. We had mid-terms coming up and full time jobs to fit in between.
This is how each of the 5 days looked:
7am-8am: Plan the day — which businesses to approach and how
8am-1pm: On the street pitching
1pm-10pm: Go to classes or work
10pm-12am: Study for midterms
12am-exhaustion: Create the next day’s booklet proofs to show merchants for approval and to collect our money
Our feet were swollen and fingers frozen — but we kept pushing through. Five brutal, sleepless, backbreaking days later, we reached the end of the competition.
4 pm Friday, it was showtime! One by one the teams came up on stage and presented their business and the money they made. 14 teams in front of a panel of judges so far — the leading team sitting at $165. And then it was our turn.
In 5 days we turned $5 to $6,300 with a simple idea to celebrate local. We signed up 42 merchants at $150 each, shattering the record for the most money made with just $5.
We were beaming in front of a wild crowd and speechless judges. We had generated a return of 1,120 X with $5 in investment. $700 went towards printing the booklets, and just like that, two (previously) broke students walked away netting $5,600 in their pockets.
The Birth of Ribitt
To us, the competition was a successful test of our partnership — we make a great team! Knowing we could work together, we agreed we both wanted to pursue tech. But every time we popped into those local shops, the merchants would say, “Hey you’re the coupon guys! That was the best $150 I have ever spent in marketing. When are you doing it again?”
We kept hearing this from merchants who had participated in the booklet. So we had to ask ourselves — what was it about the booklet idea that was sticking with people? We began reaching out to people who used the booklet who gave us a key insight. It wasn’t the discounts, but the fact that we had brought together 42 local merchants on a single street. It was accessible to consumers with a single touchpoint, and that’s what created the unique value.
That’s when it clicked: local shops have a tiny footprint and no one is looking at it as a macro-problem. Everybody is selling them individual marketing tools that further fragments their tiny presence. Their strength is in coming together and creating combined value to consumers. This is what created Ribitt.
We walked away with more in those 5 days than we did with 4 years of business school! It’s what laid the foundation of what we do today. It uncovered hustle and grit we didn’t even know we had, proved we make a hell of a team, and became the story with which we raised our $900,000 pre-seed round!
3 Things to take away
- Give 110% to every opportunity: When others toyed with The $5 Challenge as another university gig, we didn’t. We pushed ourselves to the limit and discovered more than just our ability to work together — we realized our dream to build a company.
- Necessity is the mother of invention: The constraints of the competition were directly responsible for forcing us to create an idea. Embrace the hard things, because they will always drive you forward.
- There’s $5 in everyone’s wallet: No one thinks five dollars is enough to start a business, but everyone has a five dollar bill lying in their wallet. You can do anything you set your mind to. Just don’t let the blizzard put out your fire.
Thanks so much for reading our story. It’s been a wild ride and there’s plenty more to come. We’ll be sharing more of our journey and how we raised $900,000 in our next article. See you next time!