UCSB Students Head to Silicon Valley to Launch Swaapr.com
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
by JONATHAN LAIRD (Santa Barbara Independent)
Christian DeHoyos, Justin Kasad, and Jason Vianna wanted to create a visual approach to the virtual marketplace that gives students more options than just buying and selling items as one would on craigslist or eBay. What they designed is swaapr.com, a free service that allows students to buy, sell, rent, swap, request, or deliver just about any item, service, or lesson one can reasonably imagine.
The website is still in beta mode and is being upgraded frequently to add new features and to improve the user experience, but it is currently open to college students at UCSB, UCSC, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and Stanford, with new campuses being added in the near future. Currently with about 250 users, the creators have high hopes for their new service.
Swaapr’s inception grew out of a much simpler idea — a smartphone app that would allow students to easily arrange carpools with each other from Isla Vista to downtown Santa Barbara to avoid paying for taxis. DeHoyos approached Vianna in interests of starting a company to build this app, and Vianna agreed with the stipulation that his roommate, Kasad, be involved with the programming efforts. Just like that, a company was born. They changed their idea from the carpooling app to a different service that would allow students to rent and share textbooks for classes.
The new service, dubbed 1nightMe, seemed like it had a lot of potential, so the creators took their idea to an event last spring in San Francisco called Startup Weekend in which new tech companies competed for business resources and corporate sponsorship. Pitted against students from Stanford and MIT, these three UCSB students and their 1nightMe idea — designed and programmed in 72 hours — won the contest and the resources they’d need to build their company. “We got a few hundred dollars from each company that was sponsoring the Startup weekend to get free hosting, get set up legally, basically all the resources that we’d need to start a company, but we burned through that in two months,” chuckled DeHoyos. “It’s been a learning process the whole way. Just like for any other tech company, we’ve had our ups and downs.”
Since Startup Weekend, 1nightMe has evolved into Swaapr.com with some help from corporate sponsors SBPrinter.com and Cheeg.com. Swaapr.com goes far beyond textbooks and carpools.
“What we’re trying to do with Swaapr is reinvent the marketplace so you don’t have to just rely on buying and selling,” said DeHoyos. “You can do swapping, renting, you could teach lessons, you can do everything that a normal marketplace or ecosystem like Isla Vista would allow you to do through text and email, but to actually have that information organized on a map. It’s infinitely more valuable to be able to see that the person you want to buy an item from is only two blocks away, rather than searching through unordered lists. We wanted to be something drastically different.”
Swaapr.com also enables students to pocket some extra cash making deliveries for others. That idea originated when one inebriated student in IV expressed his longing for an In-N-Out burger and said that he didn’t care how much it costs. The “request” feature of Swaapr.com connects those who desire items they would like delivered with students who don’t mind delivering for a negotiated fee. In today’s economy, students aren’t likely to turn down a new opportunity to make some extra cash.
“We’re definitely not the stereotypical Silicon Valley start-up by any means, explains DeHoyos. “UCSB helped us in the sense that it shaped how we wanted to build the company. Not necessarily the technology, but the people and the ethic behind it. We want students to be able to make money. We’re not taking a cut of it; it’s absolutely free. I think that’s drastically different from all the other companies out there that just focus on making money and expanding internationally.”
The next big step for Swaapr.com is getting more users in on the action. So, if you’re a student looking for a new virtual marketplace to connect with fellow students and to potentially make some extra cash, consider checking out Swaapr.com. “We just think it’s different and it could potentially be big,” DeHoyos said. “We just want to expose it to as many students as possible and to give them a side way to make money. We’re just going along for the ride.”