The pandemic has created upheaval in many industries, causing previously secure businesses to shutter. On the other hand, it has allowed some companies to pivot and adapt by introducing fresh services to existing and new clients. One Day University has taken their successful event company, and moved it online much to the delight of people spending much more time at home.
This significant change in how the company has operated is a testament to the business savvy nature of Director Steven Schragis. In less than three months, Schragis and his team have ushered One Day University into a thriving online community.
“Our staff has been working around the clock to make this transition happen for our customers. They’ve been amazing,“ Schragis said.
It All Started with a Case of College Envy
One Day University started in 2006 when Schragis got the idea of creating One Day University when he was dropping his daughter off for her freshman year at Bard. When they arrived, the school had set up lectures around the campus for parents to experience what a day in the life would be like for their kids. Schragis, like many others in the room, thought it would be really great to spend some more time in a setting like this.
Schragis is originally from Westchester County, NY, and decided it would be a great place to test out the One Day University concept. Westchester was close enough to bring in the best and brightest professors he could recruit from Ivy League universities. He began by hosting an event with highly-rated professors lecturing about popular topics. “The first event was well attended and served as a validation that people would show up simply for the love of learning,” Schragis said.
Much to his surprise, Schragis found that getting access to highly esteemed professors was not as hard as he thought. Even better was that almost every professor he contacted was excited about the opportunity to participate. With traction in the educational community and a few well-attended events under their belt, One Day University closed their first year of business in 2007, grossing over $300,000.
Word of mouth began to spread. Attendees would tell their family and friends about their experience. For the first year, One Day University only recruited Ivy League professors, but by 2008, they expanded to include classes taught by beloved professors from all over the country. As the company grew, they paid close attention to the feedback and learned how to craft the program better. During 2008 the company made changes to incorporate a multi-room concept, with 20 professors, and a make your own schedule curriculum.
Professors from University of Chicago, Stanford, UCLA, and Notre Dame added to the esteemed list, and hordes of people started showing up to the events, sometimes as many as 4,000 people per event. People from all over the country would travel alone, with their spouses, and friends to spend a day of learning and fun.
2008 Recession Strikes a Blow
Just as the company was hitting its stride, the recession of 2008 hit. Programs like One Day University, were considered a luxury expense, just like Tiffany’s or Gucci, and were cut from people’s budgets. Demand for One Day University was cut by 50% and Schragis knew he had to do something if the company was going to survive.
Schragis used his leverage with Learning Annex, the largest online source of electronic education at the time, and merged One Day University into their large offering. Learning Annex was offered much needed back end support, but there were many differences in the way Schragis saw One Day University’s mission. By the end of 2013, the companies agreed to part ways.
Learning for learning’s sake, and honoring great scholars is at the heart of One Day University. When Schragis looked to what would be next for the company, he wanted to focus on this principle. Unlike other companies that promote learning to gain skills and obtain a better job, One Day University exists for those who love to learn. This is what makes One Day University unique, and what their next incarnation might look like.
Partnership with Newspapers Adds a New Dimension
In 2014, something unexpected happened. Schragis received a call from the Associate Publisher at the Providence Journal. The woman told Schragis that a few years back, she and her sister had attended one of the events and she couldn’t shake how great it was. She proposed the idea of her paper partnering with One Day University to host an event for their readers. Schragis agreed to give the partnership model a try, agreeing to a revenue split. Schragis had never been to Providence, but was looking forward to expanding the company. “Partnering with the local newspaper was a successful way to get the word out, with the help of the paper we were able to draw a huge crowd for the event,” Schragis stated. One Day University delivered their end of the deal by providing a high-end event, which left the crowd wanting more. Turns out, there is a 70% return rate of customers after attending one event.
Newspaper partnerships became a powerful force in the next phase of One Day University’s history. They were now able to reach audiences all over the nation through trusted local channels. Newspapers would do the promotions, and One Day University would put on the events. They would split the profits, and attendees left the events happy crediting both One Day University and their local newspaper for putting together the program.
As the company began to expand, so did the need for operations across the country. Schragis, and his new co-Director, Kevin Brennan hired local hosts in cities to help facilitate the demand. Schragis credits Brennan for organizing the national system and getting operations set up so the company could grow. With a core team of 10 employees, One Day University was soon in 61 cities in the US, and also expanded into Canada by the end of 2017. They closed the year grossing over $6 million. In 2020, the company was well positioned to have their highest grossing year, and continue their partnership with top tier newspapers. However in March 2020, One Day University found themselves in the same position many other companies did, canceling everything.
The Pandemic Leads to a New Online Subscription Model
In their biggest pivot to date, the team at One Day University decided it was time to make the move to online. They had been recording their live events for nearly two years, and decided to start uploading their content for viewing purposes. These recordings would serve as an additional bonus to all the new content that would be broadcast live from their site.
The idea of membership was born and has served as a great foundation for business on the site. In less than 3 weeks, over 5,000 people have signed on as members. Brennan and Schragis have worked tirelessly to get the site as top-notch as possible to keep with their high standards as if people were coming to a live event. The One Day University staff, all working from home, were able to launch the website and create schedules for all upcoming lectures.
The online membership program, which costs $7.95 per month, is modeled after that of Netflix or Spotify. You have access to a library of content, but will also have access to live events that are streamed five days a week. One Day University has a reputation for interesting topics, and has recently added many timely issues to the schedule including topics such as What FDR would do now, and learning from top professors about the Spanish Flu in 1918.
As more members subscribe – currently the count is 6800 – One Day University is adapting to make the online community just as welcoming as their in person events. With so many people who were previously unable to come to the in-person events, the company is glad to see an uptick in interest in the online learning concept. Many members opt to watch lectures as they happen live, but there is always the option to go back and view them later. One Day University continues to deliver a top-notch service for people looking to spend their time learning about interesting topics from the best minds in the country.
Now more than ever, people are looking for a way to spend their time while they wait out the virus. One Day University continues to partner with newspapers as their customers crave the type of services they provide. A service like One Day University is needed to keep people inspired and entertained. To find out more about upcoming online membership to One Day University, visit One Day University
I stumbled on One Day University and was attracted to the first month free. Now, just one week later, I am addicted. I just finished Jefferson and Hamilton by a Rutgers professor, outstanding. As a former school administrator of 50 years I am again reminded- it is not the topic ( necessary) it is the teacher.
The need for your subscription on line service goes beyond this pandemic for those of us who love to be interested but who may not travel to an in- person event.
I am so delighted with this One Day University site. It gives insight to so many issues and topics. It gives me a perk up at age 79 to reestablish myself in thought on so many levels…Thank You so much for the opportunity