It is not just hearsay when people state that Drexel University’s party scene is as dreary and dull as Death Valley. Finding things to do or places to go to can be a gargantuan challenge during the weekends. It’s either that people on campus genuinely prefer holing up in their rooms to speed through their Netflix queue, or it’s a matter of communication failure. Two Drexel pre-junior students are setting out to prove that the latter is the case having introduced a new mobile app named Kegg.
Dan Eberhart, marketing and entrepreneurship major, and Jon McDaniel, a software engineer, have created the iOS app that acts as an event aggregator, where users can submit events for people on campus to see. Now, “Is there a party?” has been replaced with “Where is the party?”
I had the chance to interview the duo just before the winter break to find out more about the app’s beginnings and where it is heading.
The Triangle: So how did the idea for the app come about? Was it during a specific course or was it something that emerged outside the classroom?
Dan Eberhart: I came up with the idea a little over a year ago. It was because Drexel’s social life is a lot poorer than the majority of campuses. I don’t know if that’s because of our curriculum structure, or the way co-op fits into our structure. Either way, the party or event scene is relatively low compared to other schools. So I thought of a way to fix this and came up with an idea for an app that acts as a singular database. My issue was that I didn’t have a technology background or anyway to build it. So I reached out to Jon on Halloween of last year and ran this idea by him. From there it sort of just kicked off, and we’ve been building it ever since. We launched it this past Halloween, and right now it’s only on the iOS app store.
TT: Are there any plans to expand the app onto other mobile platforms, such as Android for instance?
DE: Android development is in the works, and it’s handled by an external team because I handle the majority of business development and marketing whereas Jon oversees iOS development. It’ll hopefully be out in the next month or two, maybe three. We found out that a lot more people are Android than we thought, so it’s in the works.
[Aside: They took a quick look at my phone on the table which I was using as a recorder, and quipped that the Windows app store is never going to see Kegg reach its meager platform, so I would have to rely on my roommate’s iPhone well into the foreseeable future.]
TT: Was the initial plan to just have the app promoting parties on Drexel’s campus? I’ve noticed other events been listed on the app through its current run.
DE: We initially just started off with campus parties, but we’re broadening the spectrum so that it includes all campus-related events like Greek life, fundraisers and sporting events. Our idea is to replace Facebook groups and social media and create a single platform for all Drexel related events. If we have just that one set of events, we’re kind of closed off then, and we don’t really have any room to grow from there besides adding some more app features. I think by broadening the app —
Jon McDaniel: It will become a more sustainable business model.
TT: How about off-campus events and those listings that would appear to be trivial? On December 9, there was a listing for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, where the guys on the 12th floor of Millennium were watching the show and invited anyone interested to join them.
DE: We’re taking a light approach because right now we’re just at Drexel and testing. If we find that a user is posting an event that’s offensive or doesn’t exist at all, we’ll take it down and potentially remove their account. With the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, we found that no one would be going to the 12th floor of Millennium to watch it and it was humorous, but eventually, we’d want a campus ambassador program as we expand to other universities. We can’t monitor the events 24/7 and I don’t think either of us wants to do that. We’ll get someone to monitor the events to make sure that they’re legitimate.
TT: Since you mentioned that you are just starting out, what measures are you taking to promote the app, ignoring this interview and the already established Facebook page? Not too many people knew about the app’s existence.
JM: Right now we’re doing a tiered release that’s manageable and easy to keep an eye on, so the marketing is mostly word-of-mouth, and based on the marketing we’ve done, word of mouth has been pretty successful I think. Considering how many users we have, I think it’s better than what we expected. We post on Facebook and Twitter and get our friends to share and retweet our posts and so on.
DE: We’re having an update coming in January that is relatively big and has a few more features, and definitely further down the road the app is going to become more social. So there won’t be a massive need for marketing, and word of mouth should be sufficient, especially since we’re only at Drexel for now. Right now it’s referred to as the Drexel party app, which is pretty cool.
TT: Are you willing to reveal the figure for total downloads of the app, since you seem pretty content with the results so far?
DE: I would say… Let’s put it this way, we launched the app right around Halloween; we only launched it in the app store and would have reached around 40 percent of the Drexel market. We’re seeing way more success than we thought we would, and since the launch, our user ownership has increased tenfold.
[I tried to elicit an answer of some sort, but the duo continued to remain coy on the matter. While the app may have certainly done better than they had expected, I suppose there were aspects of the app and the business model that they still had to hone and perfect. I then decided to focus my attention on drawing another set of data, by turning my attention to their startup budget.]
DE: Our costs are low since we’re dealing with a digital product, and most of our costs have been connected to building the business such as the legal structure. We’re just making something digital that has to be coded and marketed. Fortunately Jon has iOS experience and he has someone else helping him build it so we’ve been able to keep the engineering costs relatively low. We haven’t received any sort of investor funding, so it’s all been either out of pocket or through competitions. We won the Drexel Business Plan Competition in March and we also received a grant, but right now, we’re not looking for a 10 million dollar investment.
[While I did gather some useful information, the two yet again refrained from mentioning exact figures. I must be an utter failure at interviews.]
TT: You mentioned that you’re at Drexel “for now.” Are there any plans for expansion and if so, which universities would you be keen on moving on to next, University of Pennsylvania or Temple University?
DE: I’d probably say UPenn, because they’re our direct neighbors. I think Temple’s party scene is definitely bigger and they already have a Twitter handle announcing all the parties, but whichever we do it should work out. We might even do the release simultaneously on both campuses.
TT: I noticed after sifting through the reviews on the app store, that all you need to sign up is a “.edu” email address and not an @drexel.edu address?
DE: By January, everyone will be able to make an account whether they’re from Drexel or not. Otherwise, if you’re at Temple, it’ll say sorry, Temple’s not available just yet, we’ll let you know when it is.
TT: On the topic of the email address, I found out that Drexel’s Public Safety officials also receive a “.edu” address upon employment at Drexel. Do you think that public safety would then use the app to bust parties, eventually turning your app’s mission against it?
DE: A lot of people who we talked with are party hosts. Let’s say that there’s a party on 32nd and Powelton. The host will inform Public Safety that a party is going to take place. So if that party gets shut down, it’s because they want people to leave and make it less rowdy and then let people in again; that’s why it happens again 20 minutes later.
We don’t have a fear of public safety using the app simply because we don’t think they would waste their time with it. It’s not a really big concern.
JM: The job of Drexel Public Safey isn’t to go around and shut people’s parties down. It’s just to make sure that people are safe, and it’s not against school policy to have a party except in the dorms because that’s Drexel property.
TT: But in light of recent events, such as the reported violations and the sexual assault off-campus, do you expect things to change or for officials to become more stringent?
DE: I’ll say that the people that I know host parties have been doing so less frequently, not because of that specifically but because state police are concerned about underage drinking. It’s not anything with Drexel Police, the people that have these “.edu” email addresses, it’s the state police who don’t have these “.edu” mail addresses. They don’t have access to the app, so in a way, it works out for us.
[This was by far the most fascinating part of the interview to me, learning how exactly the party planning works in universities. I couldn’t help but feel as if I was getting a peek into the world of organized crime, where the students and law enforcement work behind the scenes to ensure peace prevails … to some extent at least.]
TT: Any final thoughts that you guys have?
DE: We’re super excited about it, we’ve been working on it for a year and we’re a month and a half in, we got a lot of feedback. We’re going to make it more social and get it on Android. We see a ton of potential in the app especially as we add new features and expand to other schools, and we’re insanely excited about it. I run business development stuff and we have an engineer working on it so there’s a good cohesive mix.
For whatever reason, whenever I think of Kegg I can’t stop comparing it to Facebook. Both are college startups centered on a technological business idea. Both rely on the power of socializing and networking. When looking at the launch phase of the products, there is an emphasis on expansion by focusing on college networks. Facebook started at Harvard University, Kegg started at Drexel. The difference here is that we have two Mark Zuckerbergs instead of one, or the duo may not even represent Zuckerberg. They did mention an external graphic designer aiding them in their endeavors, and maybe she will pull a 360 on them making the two Drexel students the Winklevoss twins. Perhaps my penchant for the movies has dramatized this article beyond necessity and perhaps I’ve exaggerated the potential of the app as well, but the idea at work with Kegg is simple yet phenomenal. It may have started off as a method of helping a college student find a keg of beer during the weekends, but it can be more than just that.