Starting a Six-Figure Business While in College

While many people know Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook when he was a college student at Harvard, they may not know his success isn’t an isolated case. In fact, some of the world’s biggest online companies, including Modcloth, Reddit, SnapChat and WordPress, were all founded by college students.

The latest company to show a similar spark is Darling Authority, the online clothing boutique founded by new Bradley grad Natalie Konopka ’20 in her junior year. In the past six months, the company’s sales have grown nearly 1,500% over its first year of operation.

Already, the marketing major has leased 2,000 sq. feet in Orlando with office space and a warehouse section for packaging, processing and storing orders and merchandise. She’s also hired a marketing intern and has a bookkeeper and photographer on the payroll.

 “I have all these bells and whistles,” said Konopka. “I'm actually running a six-figure business at the moment, something I thought I'd never say.”

Darling Authority sells trendy clothing and accessories, aimed at teens and twenty-something women who “know they can have it all,” according to the company’s website (darlingauthority.com). There are lots of messages of female empowerment, with items like the “Trust No Man” dress, “Be You” top and the “Self Love” Sherpa.

“When I started the company, I immediately knew that I wanted it to be more than a clothing company. I wanted it to be a brand and something that people could really relate to, and I wanted to spread this bigger message. Our mission is actually to inspire the next generation of leaders through clothing that empowers them. That’s at the core of everything we do — inspiring girls to break the status quo.”

Now based in Orlando, Fla., Konopka has come a long way from Sleepy Eye, Minn., a small town of about 3,500 located in the southern part of the state. Her parents, entrepreneurs who came to the U.S. from Poland, encouraged their daughter to pursue her business dreams.

At Bradley, Konopka displayed drive and determination immediately. She joined 13 student organizations as a first-year student and had a leadership position in seven of them. The goal was to set herself up for success after graduation.

“I think I've always been very driven and very ambitious, even in high school,” said Konopka. “My mindset when I was in college was that I was there for four years, and I wanted to get everything that I possibly could out of the experience.”

That persistence paid off. As a member of Bradley’s Sales Team, she was a semifinalist at the National Collegiate Sales Competition (NCSC) twice. Konopka was a finalist at the International Collegiate Sales Competition (ICSC) and took 3rd place overall last year. She also had four internships and a paid position with Caterpillar. 

When the pandemic hit, so did the CAT job. Konopka lost her apartment and had to move back to her parents’ home, where she slept on a mattress in the basement. With $0 in her bank account, Konopka was determined to make Darling Authority a success. She rebranded the company and leveraged the power of social media with her Instagram account. Where Konopka really hit it big was with her behind-the-scenes Tik Tok videos where she packed a customer order on camera. The videos went viral.

“I was getting millions and millions of views and likes and comments from girls worldwide who were all of a sudden obsessed with my business and obsessed with my story. I sold out of every single thing in stock.”

What advice would Konopka give current students interested in becoming entrepreneurs?

“I know it’s so easy to think ‘Oh, I have four years, I just want to take classes and party with my friends,’ but I attribute all my college success and current success to being active and taking advantage of all that Bradley has to offer,” she said. 

“College is also a time to figure out what you don't like. Try everything, join every single club that you have a slight interest in, get leadership experience and learn what it's like to lead another individual. If you want to own your own business or scale the corporate ladder, that's definitely something you’ll need.”

— S.L. Guthrie M.A. ’20

Some media in Bradley University's current print, video and online materials was acquired before the COVID-19 pandemic. Media acquired after the pandemic began was done so in compliance with Bradley's COVID-19 safety protocols at the time. The ongoing safety of our faculty, staff and students is of the utmost concern during these unprecedented times.

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