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Short description of Startup: Easy course registration for college students

What do you do in detail: 

We have developed a course search engine which allows students to very easily browse through their university’s classes. While browsing, they can save a class to a mock schedule and view that schedule on a calendar, allowing them to visually filter down which classes they want to take by time-conflicts. We present the classes in a "tile" format ( see here for example: http://unc.coursicle.com/#title=phy ), with hand-picked images for each subject, rather than a conventional table format. Students can also see what classes their Facebook friends are considering in real-time. Our product is necessary because almost every college provides slow, unintuitive, and ugly online systems for course registration that haven’t been improved or altered in decades. These systems are a huge source of stress and frustration. As most students have no alternative, they use paper and pencil or Excel to try to solve their scheduling problem. 

We also run a popular sister service which notifies students when a class they want to get into has an available seat. Across many universities, getting into the classes one wants to take is a major challenge. Students register for courses in stages, and those in the later stages often aren’t able to register for courses that they need to graduate. Their only recourse is manually refreshing a webpage over the course of months, waiting to see if a student has dropped that class. We automate that process for them. 

[optional if we don’t mention user count] We started at UNC with "UNC Class Finder," and very recently rebranded to Coursicle, bringing our services to other schools. During the Spring 2016 registration period, we had over 15,000 student users across our 5 supported universities (UNC, Brown, UPenn, Notre Dame, and App State). Since then, we’ve expanded to over 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. 

What's different/interesting about your Startup?
[very short limit]

We help students graduate. The 6-year graduation rate is below 55%. We help them plan a schedule that can satisfy more grad requirements.

[bank]

We’re helping students graduate. The 6-year graduation rate for 4-year colleges is an abysmal 53%. We help them plan and get into a schedule which satisfies more of their graduation requirements, obeys their non-academic needs (sleep, eating, etc). 

Moreover, a lot of startups we encounter are enhancements over an otherwise sufficient process. We’re solving a problem that students know they have, and complain about regularly. We know the need is felt. 

Product Demo Video
Describe yourself [Joe]:
I’m a tech guy who loves to figure out ways around obstacles, and I love making stuff that people find fun and/or useful. 

Something amazing you’ve built [Joe]:
Something that I setup which I thought was pretty cool is called a TCP-over-DNS tunnel. It mixed networking protocols in such a way that I was able to get Wi-Fi access on planes and hotels without having to pay anything. 

I’ve also done a few small side projects: 
6tracker (featured on Engadget, BGR, and some other tech news sites). 
trailrloopr.com (scrapes data from Apple’s movie trailer site).
estipaper.com (small tool for students). 

Describe yourself [Tara]:
Perfectionist, student of math and physics, designer from charcoal to pixels, self-taught coder in Javascript to Python, audiophile.

Something amazing you’ve built [Tara]:
An Android mobile application that transfers and graphs data saved on MIT D-lab invented temperature/smoke sensors via NFC. I coded ~75% of the front and back-end as a volunteer in a team working with the Kasiisi Project, an NGO that works to provide fuel-efficient stoves to families in Uganda. This app was developed to help monitor the use of these stoves. Prior to this project I had no experience with mobile development or NFC. 

What is your high level concept in 5 words or less (e.g., IMDb for restaurant menus)?
Netflix for college courses. 

Give us your elevator pitch in 50 words or less:
Coursicle has developed course scheduling software and a notification service to help college students plan their schedules and get into their classes. 

What problem are you solving, or gap are you filling? 
This was answered in “what do you do in detail”. Copy first two paragraphs here. 

Who is your primary customer?
4-year university and college students in the United States. 13.2 million (src: nces.ed.gov). 

What, specifically, are you developing? How does it work? 
Specifically, we have developed a course search engine which allows students to very easily browse through their university’s classes. While browsing, they can save a class to their mock schedule and view that schedule on a calendar, filtering down which classes to take in a given semester by time-conflicts. We present the classes in a "tile"-like format  (see here for example: http://unc.coursicle.com/#title=phy), with hand-picked images for each subject, rather than a conventional table format which tended to cause our eyes to gloss over if we looked at for too long. Students can also see what classes their Facebook friends are considering in real-time. On the backend, we’re scraping the university’s official course listing to populate our course databases. Our notification service, which texts or emails students about “Open” courses, also operates via screen scraping. 

Who is your direct and indirect competition? (please include URLs). How are you better/different? 
myedu.com - Pros: At almost every U.S. college. Cons: No product change in 4 years (they’ve shifted focus to getting students jobs), less (and outdated) school specific data, poor UX, just purchased by Enterprise Software giant Blackboard.

courseoff.com - Pros: Independent developer, around 30 schools listed. Cons: only 8/30 schools are functional, less school specific data (e.g. no course descriptions). 

ninjacourses.com - Pros: Strong adoption at the UC system schools. Cons: Sold license to Berkeley, no product change in 4 years. 

koofers.com - Cons: Schedule data hasn’t been updated since 2014, terrible UX.

coursepickle.com - Pros: Independent developer, decent UI/UX. Cons: only one school. There are countless others like Course Pickle (student-created and support only one school). These almost always die out after the developer(s) graduate.

[bank]

We’ve done a lot of research, digging into the history of the companies that have come before us. We’ve figured out what they tried, and what they said worked, based on interviews, articles, and even some personal blog posts from the founders. 

How will you monetize your product/service?
[Answered in YC]

[bank]

Could include the info on size of education market: https://www.quora.com/How-big-is-the-education-market-in-the-US. Education market is second largest market in the US after healthcare. That’s huge. 

Indeed has PPC advertising. $.25 - $1.25 for a click. http://www.indeed.com/hire/pricing

Better way to sell/buy textbooks from other students (including inter-school), not like Chegg and others who act as a middle man and markup 50%, more like eBay where we ask for 2% of every transaction. 

Advertise for Amazon Prime Student ($3 per sign up). 

Using strong position with what we’re currently doing, we could also have fringe service for students/parents who are trying to consider what colleges to apply to. 

Should look up adwords pricing for relevant keywords, and also see if can find something about adsense. 

How many potential customers have you spoken with so far? What has been their response? 
We’ve done user testing with college students who had not previously used the site, conducted online surveys across dozens of college campuses, and of course received a lot of feedback from many of the thousands of students who have used our products. The response has been very positive, primarily welcoming our product’s ease of use and design. Our notification service is especially well-loved. 

[bank]

Last summer, we attempted to sell our products to university administration directly, cold-emailing administrators at about 150 schools. A significant fraction don’t think the product was worth their money, while a few (Elon, Smith, Haverford, and some others) understand the benefit immediately. 

Describe the progress you've made to date. 
Our most recent milestone was expanding from the 5 schools we supported as of January to the 100+ we’re at now. Prior to that, we added a major feature, which allowed students to see what courses their friends were planning in real-time. During the last registration period, when we supported only 5 schools, we had over 14,000 students use our products. 

What do you see as the biggest hurdle(s) to accelerating your startup growth?
Undoubtedly, our biggest hurdle is seasonality. Existing students only register for courses 2 times per year while incoming students usually register over the summer, which across all schools covers around 6 months out of the year. Our notification service is relevant for a longer duration (about 8 months out of the year), but this is still seasonal. 

Where do you envision your startup in 1 year? What about 5 years? 
In 1 year, we hope to have at least 30% user adoption at each of the 100 schools that we’re currently supporting. In 5 years, we hope to be at every 4-year college in the U.S. and select schools in other countries. 

If your idea were to fail, what is a second startup concept you would pursue?
We have a few ideas that we’ve been interested in experimenting with, such as a music network that connects you with another random user based on music genre, and allows you to play and exchange songs you like with each other. 

Tell us about your relationship with your co-founder(s) and how you came to build a startup together. How long have you known each co-founder? How did you meet? Why do you work well together? Have you worked on a project together in the past? Describe it, and provide a link to the project, if applicable.

We met at a Physics and Math summer camp in North Carolina in 2010. We were both in high school at the time, and became good friends while working on physics projects together. We stayed in touch over the years despite going to different high schools, and exchanged emails and college-related plans. During my freshman year at Harvard, Joe wrote to me (Tara) about how terrible the registration system at UNC was and asked about Harvard’s. Some student developers had made a third-party alternative for Harvard students, and since Joe had just recently learned some basic web development for a side project he was doing, we decided to try to make an alternative for UNC students. After about two years of steadily increasing adoption at UNC, and after receiving emails from students at schools all over the country asking if we were planning to make our product for other schools, we decided to expand and officially found Coursicle in Summer 2015. 

We work well together because we are both intensely concerned with creating features and products that are of very high quality; we tend to rigorously test and perfect features before releasing them (a quality we’ve found sometimes clashes with others we’ve worked with). When we’re not working, we spend hours discussing things from philosophy (e.g. determinism vs free will) to gender politics to algebraic topology. 

This habit of intensely debating one another, while also knowing we have a lot to learn from each other, has allowed us to be brutally honest in our work on Coursicle. If one of us believes a feature is poorly designed or a monetization method is unfeasible, we are not afraid to fully voice our concerns, and this means that we can iterate our product faster than many founders who haven’t known each other for 6 years and grown up together. Moreover, our general attitudes and interests with regard to both technical and business development complement each other well, (e.g. Joe has a lot of experience with Python scrapers, while I am a veteran at building intuitive user interfaces). 

Where is your company headquartered now? Where do you plan to be located after the program?
We’re currently located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We plan to be located in Chicago, Illinois after the program.