Campus Society: Social Hub Goes Viral among University Students
Campus life can be pointlessly complicated. Between course advising, tutoring, filing complaints, flat-hunting, book auctions, event posting and a heap of other things, students often feel lost and at a disadvantage. However, it was only a matter of time before some tech-savvy entrepreneur with his share of campus hassle thought of a solution.
Campus Society is an online social platform that started out with one simple goal: to make campus life easier in the bureaucratic American University of Beirut (AUB) institution. After garnering 20% of AUB students in the first two days, the London-based startup was quickly embraced as the most efficient “go-to” social platform for students who just want to “get things done,” track events, post jobs, rate professors and reach out to their peers. Word quickly spread last week to the 14 other universities located in Lebanon, who did not waste any time contacting the tech-savvy graduates. So far more than 2000 students have signed up, 15% of them from AUB.
Cousins Rashid Ajami, a Georgetown graduate and music producer, and Oliver Muller, an AUB graduate with a Bachelor in Economics, knows how hassling campus life can be. “It was a real issue getting things done on campus.” Muller said, recalling his student days in AUB. “Finding housing, tutors, events… it all seemed a bit difficult and outdated. Lebanon is a few years behind with technology.”
The AUB Facebook page - or pages actually - was too cumbersome and crowded to cater to the students’ growing inquiries. Muller and Ajami were quick to spot this disadvantage and work on filling these gaps. “We have detailed filters, hashtags, and search options. We break down our users by major, university, graduation year...we're really trying to cater to the students,” said Ajami. Students registered in Campus Society use the network to post comments, inquiries, polls or events that deal with following topics: sports, buy/sell, class talk, complaints, housing, I’m-looking-for, politics, Professors, jobs, Music/film, tutors and others.
On first glance, Campus Society may seem like a throwback to Facebook’s legendary success story, when the then-Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg created a social student network that went epically viral. However, Muller and Ajami aim for a more functional platform that solves the online overlap between the academic and social aspect of universities. “We like the service that [Facebook] started out with. They initially targeted universities, but then they changed direction. We are trying to go back to that model, because we see a lot of value in it.”
The tech-savvy co-founders soon intend to make the platform exclusive to college "edu" addresses. They have received requests from universities all over the MENA region, and they already have plans to grow big. “We will take it one step at a time,” said Ajami. “By 2016, our plan is to extend to all universities in MENA.”
The London-based startup had their own bevy of challenges before things finally worked out in the direction they wanted. After several hiccups with outsourced firms who did not seem to share their enthusiasm, the tech-savvy cousins decided to hire a full team of top-niche employees. “We found it very difficult with outsourced teams,” said Muller. Misguided communication, location barriers, and cutting corners on costs ends up hurting you in the long run. The work was not done properly.” Hunting for suitable employees with the same vision was not easy either. “We spent three months finding the right talent,” said Muller. “Building such a platform is a 24/7 challenge. It requires dedication, real passion a good vision… and someone whose heart is in it.”
After self-funding their project with a modest $20,000, the two tech-savvies secured a fund of $500,000 from big international investors and are looking for a few million in the next round. These will definitely come in handy, considering that a mobile application of their website will be available by next year. If its success rate is anything close to the website version, we have good reason to believe that it will hog the headlines.