Pamplin student,
serial entrepreneur

Nathan Latka shows off his moves

The business ventures of Nathan Latka

Nathan Latka’s summer of 2010 went something like this: Spoke to Loudoun County High School students about entrepreneurship. Auctioned off his social media expertise on Facebook, went to Richmond, Va., to help the winning bidder write a book on social media for dentists. Created a dynamic Facebook fan page for bestselling author and motivational speaker Bob Burg (The Go-Giver). Spoke at a professional women’s workshop in Chicago. Developed the Facebook fan page of Progress Network USA (“Working together to fulfill Hillary Clinton’s vision for America”). Flew to Toronto, Canada, to coach a business owner on social media techniques.

Oh, and accepted an invitation to speak at Texas A&M this fall, to an award-winning professor’s popular classes on creativity.

Social media veteran

In his junior year as a finance major in Pamplin, Latka is already a veteran of four entrepreneurial ventures in social media, which have, he says, made more than $45,000 in net income (as of end of August). His current main business, The Fan Page Factory, designs customizable Facebook fan pages. His clients collectively have amassed more than 600,000 Facebook fans.

There’s “a huge market opportunity” in social media, says Latka, who bills himself as “The College Entrepreneur” on his Facebook page. His generation is very adept at using social media, “but few know the importance of leveraging it to promote themselves in order to land jobs, build networks, or make money,” he says. “The more people you know, the better off you are. Not only will they provide you with more opportunities, they will also push you to grow to your maximum potential.”

Generational difference in Internet use

Noting the generational differences in Internet use, Latka says: “Young people don’t just consume information, they regurgitate it. When Gen Y folks go online to do a search, they tend to post their results on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz, and blogs. Older users tend to look for follow-up information online about news that they may have seen on TV or read in the paper. We would rather post the information found to our social profiles and get real-time feedback about it from friends and family.”

This different approach, Latka says, is why businesses need to invest in social media marketing to reach younger consumers. With 500 million-plus Facebook users, he says, “you no longer own your business, the people talking about it do. This is a fundamental shift that most of corporate America doesn’t get yet.”

Applying this theory to build The Fan Page Factory, Latka believes it’s the reason for the company’s remarkable sales growth in its first month. “It allows you to build relationships and business more effectively and faster,” he says — “like a moving walkway at the airport that helps travelers get from one point to another faster than those not on it.”

Robert Riggs, a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter who is now a media entrepreneur, heard about Latka from a speaker at a technology conference in Austin, Texas. Intrigued, Riggs visited Latka’s website to learn more about him.

Struck by the creativity and entrepreneurship

“I was struck by the creativity and entrepreneurship in such a young person,” Riggs recalls. An alumnus of Texas A&M, Riggs is a regular guest speaker in a course on creativity, innovation, and future studies taught by Rodney Hill, who holds the Eppright University Professorship in Undergraduate Teaching Excellence and the Harold L. Adams Endowed Interdisciplinary Professorship in Architecture at Texas A&M.

“I thought that Nathan would be the perfect speaker for this class on creativity — here’s someone doing it,” says Riggs. “Nathan brings such infectious energy to his writings and his work, and students could be inspired by him,” Riggs adds. He introduced Latka to Hill, and arrangements were made for Latka to address Hill’s classes in October.

The class, which has two sections, requires students, as individuals, to “come up with one soft innovation a week and do a patent search for it” and, as group members, to work on social entrepreneurship competitions and inventions, says Hill.

“I am trying to get my students to start new businesses and create their own future. If they don’t, they stand the chance of becoming a commodity and being off-shored,” says Hill. “Knowledge creators are the only people that can continue to map out their future,” he adds, “and that is the most important skill of this century. Creativity is the currency of the new millennium.”

Juggling school and business

Latka’s company is now at the stage where it needs only a few hours a week of his attention, primarily to oversee quality of the outsourced design and coding work. But juggling school and business in earlier months demanded many late nights and what he calls a “super efficient” approach to completing course work. Sometimes, it also required skipping classes entirely — to attend a business conference in Miami last spring, for example. “I think this idea of just getting up and taking action, taking risks, is what makes a great entrepreneur.”

In his parallel career as a motivational speaker, Latka likes to urge his fellow students to nurture their creative potential. “I found that breaking free of the class schedule, papers, projects, and other aspects of college was extremely tough, as all society proclaims the grave importance of being invested 110 percent in college. I have found a balance. While I see the importance of working for your diploma, I have also witnessed first hand the excitement and freedom running your own company brings!”

Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Magazine Spring 2010

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