Take a Million Dollar Road Trip
Posted by The Editors on May 10, 2011
Walter and Patrick Hessert
Age: 27 and 23
Title: Co-founders, Million Dollar Road Trip
Degree: B.A., Notre Dame, 2006, and B.S., Notre Dame, 2009
Like many students, you may have considered embarking on the iconic, cross-country road trip after graduation. Unfortunately, once the realities of paying off student debt, finding a fulltime job, and moving out of your parents’ house hit, this American rite of passage can seem like just another pipe dream.
But if you’re Walter and Patrick Hessert, two industrious brothers from southern New Jersey, you find a way to make it happen. The Hessert brothers are founders of Million Dollar Road Trip (MDRT), a cross-media marketing business with the mission to “celebrate the American entrepreneurial spirit.” Since July 2010, they’ve been touring the country in an Airstream trailer (which acts as a mobile billboard) searching out advertisers, and awarding grants to budding entrepreneurs.
As you can glean from its namesake, MDRT aims to sell $1 million in ad space on the exterior of the Airstream. (So far, they’ve made $65,000). With the ad revenue, the Hesserts finance their travels and award “Inspiration Grants” to young entrepreneurs. Recipients have included a stay-at-home father opening a gym, a 26-year-old starting a paper crafting business, and a college student with his own bottled lemonade business.
Walter and Patrick say running a business while on the road has been a welcome change from the classroom. Both have learned a lot—besides how to parallel park the Airstream. Most important, says Walter, has been learning the art of negotiation, which comes in handy when speaking to potential advertisers. Take, for instance, Walter’s dealings with Jimmy John, the founder of Jimmy John’s gourmet sandwiches: “We were going back and forth over email for a couple of hours, and ultimately, he turned us down. I was left sitting in my trailer, outside of his office, thinking, do I keep pushing him, or should we revisit this later? It’s a gut feeling—what you should do—when it comes to those situations.”
Looking back, if there is one course Walter wishes he’d added to his college curriculum it would be a class on social media. “College was kind of a bubble, and there’s no need for you to master social media skills, besides throwing some photos up on Facebook.” He now realizes social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, and blogs are an instrumental part of building a brand and gaining a following.
We touched base with the Hesserts for a week during their travels from Missouri to Texas to get an idea of what life is like on the road.
Tuesday, October 5, Missouri
11:15 AM Patrick: Stopping into a coffee shop for lunch and some Internet. I just called Jason Jameson to let him know he won an Inspiration Grant for his work with Crossfit Epic (a gym) in Iowa City. That’s our fifth grant awarded since July Fourth!
8:28 PM Walter: Patrick is driving and I’m sitting shotgun, finishing up a proposal for ecreamery.com, an ice cream website. We met the owner in a coffee shop two days ago in Omaha—we really want this sale to come through.
Wednesday, October 6, Tulsa, OK
2:32 PM Walter: Just finished lunch with local restaurateur, Elliot Nelson. Took photos and had a casual interview.
9:00 PM Patrick: Hitting the road to Dallas after dinner with some friends in Tulsa. We are aiming for Pops 66, a service station 90 miles away. A friend saw our location and recommended the stop on old Route 66.
Thursday, October 7, Dallas, TX
5:30 PM Patrick: Just pulled into Dallas. We stopped off the highway a couple times for food and took our time getting here. Who could pass a row of billboard signs simply reading, “Ham Sandwiches,” without stopping? Not us.
Friday, October 8, Dallas, TX
6:50 AM Walter: Up early after a late-night event in Dallas. I’m updating the MDRT website and social networks with photos and stories.
11:45 AM Patrick: We’re running late to a Notre Dame Alumni luncheon. Walter and I were offered a shower at the home of Cupcake Caps founder Brooke Brooks and couldn’t pass it up. We rushed in there, cleaned up, and had a cup of coffee. What a scene! Saturday,
October 9, 20 miles North of Dallas
6:15 AM Patrick: Up early despite a late night event at LaGrange in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas; we have to beat the crowds and get the best parking spot at the Texas State Fair. Last night we sold $600 in ads to Jersey Mike’s Subs, WiZard the DJ, and a band called Nuggatron.
5:55 PM Walter: After a long morning promoting two of our clients at the Texas State Fair, I am in the passenger seat en route from Dallas to Houston. I’m multitasking, following up with various media and business contacts, as well as organizing a news story and planning a detailed itinerary for the week ahead.
Sunday, October 10, Houston, TX
11:30 AM Patrick: Grabbed breakfast to go and heading to downtown Houston. Today Fox Sports is featuring us during the Astros' final home game. The game is at 1 PM, but we have to get there early so we can meet with the producers and camera guy.
Monday, October 11, Houston, TX
12:30 PM Patrick: Finishing up a blog for The Huffington Post. I was selected as a featured blogger for their new series, Small Business America. Pretty wild. This is a great opportunity for MDRT.