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Embracing the hustle

Lucas DiPietrantonio

By most standards, 2023 was a huge year for Lucas DiPietrantonio (BSBA ’19). By his standards, it’s just the beginning.

In 2023 alone, Darkroom, the marketing firm co-founded by DiPietrantonio and his best friend Jackson Corey during his junior year at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, earned major accolades. Inc. magazine named it one of the fastest-growing private companies in America. Forbes selected the founders for its Top 30 Under 30 list of top young professionals in North America, and Varos called Darkroom one of the country’s best performance marketing agencies.

Since its launch in 2017, Darkroom has greatly expanded its footprint, with over 70 employees working in its hubs in New York, Los Angeles, Lisbon, Sao Paulo and Cape Town, and the team garnering over $1 billion in revenue for its clients, which include household names like Crate and Barrel. The company recently launched its own suite of software tools and created Darkroom University, an online marketing education platform offering strategy classes for its employees and the public.

“We have a multimillion-dollar business, serious clients and a great team, but it still feels like we’re just starting this journey,” says DiPietrantonio.  “We have high expectations. We push ourselves a lot. So it’s easy for me to look at all that we’ve built and say that we need to go further. We need to build more.”

That’s always been DiPietrantonio’s philosophy. Long motivated by an innate entrepreneurial spirit, he has never thought in terms of whether he would launch his own company but when he would start one. He never considered whether the company would be a success, but always how to bring it to the next level.

“I’m a self-starter and always have been,” he says. “I like to create, to produce, to go through the process of growing and building. That’s one part of entrepreneurship that’s interesting to me. The second part is that I don’t know if I could do anything else.”

UNC Kenan-Flagler was one of the main reasons DiPietrantonio, a native of Rye, New York, came to Carolina, and led what he calls a “double life.” While deeply engrossed in business, entrepreneurship and accounting classes, he was busy developing what would become Darkroom.

He had looked for a top business school offering the kind of academic rigor he needed to launch his businesses. He found it but didn’t stop there.

By his sophomore year DiPietrantonio was already running two companies — one was a productivity app geared to college students — and by junior year he was attracting digital marketing clients.

His first client was a student at New York University who paid him $800 to help build the user interface for an app.  Another early client was UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Undergraduate Business Program (UBP). The team reached out to DiPietrantonio, still a UBP student, to develop a marketing strategy for Spark, the UBP’s approach to engagement with newly admitted students.

Lucas DiPietrantonio Spark

From left: DiPietrantonio (left) with Professor Shimul Melwani and Darkroom co-founder Jackson Corey at a Spark event at UNC

“Lucas is defined by his innovative mindset and his ability to enact change,” says Shimul Melwani, UBP associate dean. “He looks at situations with unusual clarity and thinks differently about any problem, seeing straight to the crux of where the friction is, and how to solve it. He couples this with a strong bias to action. Teaching him enriched my life because it taught me how to look at problems differently and to always keep innovating.”

While in school, DiPietrantonio also participated in Global Immersion Electives, studying business in Copenhagen, Hong Kong and London and focusing on such topics as strategic management and consumer behavior.

He also visited Business School alumni-turned-entrepreneurs across the U.S. through the School’s former Adams Apprenticeship, and an MBA Program alum Alex Waters he met became an early Darkroom investor. DiPietrantonio frequently fit in meetings with potential clients who didn’t know he was a student in town on a school program. He was a senior when he traveled to Los Angeles, where Corey was studying at the University of Southern California, to meet with Dany Garcia, the business partner and then-wife of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. He was 21.

They closed the deal. Garcia is still a client today, and Darkroom has helped her launch her lifestyle brand,, and ZOA Energy for Johnson.

Lucas DiPietrantonio

DiPietrantonio and Corey give a presentation for Dany Garcia (far right)

“I was very fortunate to go to UNC Kenan-Flagler. It gives you the toolset to make your entrepreneurial dreams happen,” says DiPietrantonio. “But you also learn, in general, that if you work hard enough, you can make anything happen. It was a big period of personal growth for me. The School has an amazing support system. People at UNC take care of their own.”

DiPietrantonio is now part of that support system. He never ignores an email or a call from a fellow alum or a student, and he regularly recruits for Darkroom at the Business School.

“Some of the best people I’ve hired have come from UNC Kenan-Flagler,” he says. “They get it. They know what needs to be done and how to do it.”

And DiPietrantonio knows exactly what he wants Darkroom to do after its big year — have an even bigger one.

“We’re very much in a mode of heads down and growing,” he says. “In 2024, we want to cross that 100-employee threshold and do the work that is going to put us on the map even more.”