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Chris Brusznicki '08 says his Kellogg experience was indispensible in helping him understand the basics of entrepreneurship. Today his company is booking about $2 million annually in rentals, roughly doubling year over year.

Chris Brusznicki '08

Start me up: Chris Brusznicki ’08

Out-of-towners looking for a place to stay during big college sports events need look no further than GameDayHousing, Brusznicki’s fast-growing sports vacation brokerage

By Deborah L. Cohen

6/25/2012 - Chris Brusznicki ’08 is no stranger to the real estate market.

As a kid growing up in New Britain, Conn., he helped his parents and grandparents run sideline businesses renting houses. During his stint in the Army, Brusznicki managed to pull in extra cash with his own rentals.

“It was one of those things I took as a part of everyday life,” says the 32-year-old entrepreneur, who did everything from collect rents to help with repairs. “My family had always done real estate.”

That background provided a solid primer for GamedayHousing, the startup Brusznicki founded in 2008 with then-Northwestern Law student Geoff Polk while working on his MBA.

Fixer-uppers
Avid football fans, the two knew firsthand what a hassle it could be to find a decent place to stay during big football weekends, especially for families. So they began buying up cheap properties in South Bend, Ind., renting them to Notre Dame enthusiasts, and turning a profit.

“We saw how all the hotels were booked up,” he says. “Next to the campus, there were these houses that were a little bit in disrepair but nice enough and we could fix them up.”

The concept morphed into Gameday, a promoter of high-end rental homes to families and groups of professionals. The inventory now includes private homes available for rent. Properties rent for about $2,000 and up per weekend.

“We literally walked door to door and knocked on the doors of the nicest houses we could find,” recalls Brusznicki.

Service, he said, is the key selling point for both homeowners and renters.

“We'll market your home on our website, take care of all the contracts and be there for you,” he says. “All those houses got booked up for every single game well in advance of the season, and it worked.”

Scaling the business
The licensed real estate brokerage business has pushed well beyond South Bend into 32 popular U.S. sports markets.

Brusznicki, who earned his master’s degree in engineering through the MMM program, says his Kellogg experience was indispensible in helping him understand the basics of entrepreneurship, including the incremental development of a business model and the inevitable setbacks. Entrepreneurship Professor Steve Rogers was particularly influential.

“He was always talking about how you’re going to scale your business,” recalls Brusznicki. “I was always running models and projections just to see if this was going to work out.”

The bet paid off. After gaining initial momentum, Brusznicki left his job with Goldman Sachs to work on the venture full time. Gameday, which has no outside investors, is today booking about $2 million annually in rentals, roughly doubling year over year, he says.

Spinoff in the works
Karen Beekman offered up her five-bedroom home outside Ann Arbor, Michigan for the first time last football season, making a handy $5,000 in several weekends after turning over a 20 percent commission to Gameday.

“I was kind of nervous,” she says of the first time she left her house in the hands of strangers. “We didn’t have any bad experiences.”

Even so, the seasonal nature of sporting events and the fickle popularity of teams based on performance makes Gameday somewhat vulnerable, Brusznicki says. To grow more rapidly, he and his partner are expanding the idea beyond sports rentals to the broader vacation market with the launch this summer of a sister site, Getaway Housing.

“This spinoff should have been the parent in the first place,” he jokes.

Read more in the Start Me Up series: