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1Mby1M Deal Radar 2011: Uloop, Chicago, Illinois

Posted on Monday, Jul 18th 2011

Anyone who’s ever gone to college knows that college students have a lot of needs. They need internships for real-world work experience in their chosen fields. They need scholarships to help pay for their education. If they want to live off campus, they need to find apartments in safe, nearby neighborhoods; and then they’ll need to find roommates. Uloop, Inc. was founded in 2007 to meet those needs and others through localized college classifieds. It does this with its two primary business units: Uloop.com and CampusAve.com.

Uloop.com is online college classifieds with student users at more than 1,500 colleges and universities throughout the United States. Through the Uloop.com classifieds platform, students can connect to buy and sell textbooks, find jobs and internships, search for housing, look for roommates, and so on.

CampusAve.com is Uloop’s white-label classifieds platform for college newspapers. It powers online and print classifieds for more than 175 college newspapers, including Arizona State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Oregon and Rutgers University.

In 2007, college bulletin boards and kiosks still thrived as ways for students to share information about on-campus and off-campus happenings. Students also used Craigslist.com and their local college newspapers to search or post classifieds for textbooks, apartments, jobs, and so forth. At that time, few companies targeted college students exclusively, so Uloop went after the market. Anyone with a .edu email address could post classifieds free. Users without .edu email addresses had to pay to post ads for housing and job listings on Uloop.com. This approach eliminated much of the spam that can be found on similar sites.  As a result, students consider Uloop.com a safe and trusted marketplace for searching and posting ads.

The top target segments for Uloop are the 18 million college freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students around the U.S., of which Uloop currently reaches 20%. That leaves 80% as yet unexposed to Uloop.com and CampusAve.com. The team plans to expand Uloop’s reach by setting up more strategic partnerships with college based websites, developing new product innovations on the existing Uloop.com and CampusAve.com websites, further search engine optimization of the existing sites, and creating a public relations campaign to help increase brand awareness. Toward that end, the management team meets each week to discuss trends on the Web and new technological innovations they have come across.

In the beginning, Uloop hired campus representatives at more than 70 colleges nationwide, including UCLA, Ohio State University and Penn State University, to promote Uloop.com. The campus representatives were responsible for distributing posters, chalking sidewalks, and talking to students, local businesses, and landlords about the site. Uloop supplemented the campus representatives’ efforts by placing Google and Facebook ads on the respective campus’ pages to entice new posters — students and paid posters such as local businesses and landlords – to visit Uloop.com. The go-to-market strategy for Uloop was to create strong brand awareness of Uloop.com on each college campus while simultaneously talking to local businesses and landlords about buying job and housing ads, respectively.

The company used hyper-local marketing (campus representatives and Facebook or Google ads), inviting students to visit Uloop.com and interact with the website. The average cost for Uloop to acquire one registered student user was $10. The average cost per business owner or landlord acquisition was $20. Uloop’s current customer acquisition costs are 20% of what they were in the early days.

Unlike more general classified sites, including Craigslist.com, Oodle.com, and Backpage.com, Uloop focuses solely on college students. Listings are posted at each individual university rather than at the city level, which makes it easier for students to interact with one another. Listings posted on Uloop.com display the poster’s name, which helps to engender an even greater sense of trust and safety.

Scott Lewis and Ryan McCarthy came up with the idea for a nationwide online college classifieds platform when they noticed the abundance of localized online marketplaces on college campuses. The founders wanted to create a single college classifieds website that would meet the needs and wants of college students by providing localized ads for student jobs, housing, textbooks, roommates, rideshares, or planning spring break trips, among other things, which is the service Uloop.com currently provides. Prior to founding Uloop, Lewis and McCarthy founded MetroFreeFi in 2003 and sold it in 2005 to AnchorFree, Inc.

Lewis is responsible for leading Uloop’s email marketing strategy, managing the HR department, coordinating customer service efforts for all Uloop.com listings and heading up the Uloop.com database infrastructure. McCarthy spearheads the programming for Uloop.com and manages the programming team. He is responsible for the information architecture, HTML cutup and PHP programming for Uloop.com.

Lewis and McCarthy brought on Corey Cleek as Uloop’s CEO, six months after the business started. Cleek is responsible for setting up strategic partnerships for Uloop and spearheading new project innovations. He has held various U.S. and international marketing and business development positions at eBay, CitySearch, and Amazon.com. He got his start in business as a door-to-door book salesman for Thomas Nelson Publishers during his college summers. Cleek has a B.S. in accounting from the University of Tennessee and an MBA from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

Greg Edson started CampusAve.com to power classifieds for college newspapers. He merged CampusAve.com and CampusBlvd.com with Uloop in 2010 because he, Lewis, and McCarthy saw and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to increase the online college classifieds network. Edson is responsible for managing everything CampusAve.com and CampusBlvd.com related, including programming, sales, marketing and integration with Uloop.com.

Uloop is a $2 million to $5 million company with an email database comprising 3.5 million college students. Together, Uloop.com and CampusAve.com receive more than two million page views each month and have more than 500,000 active listings. Both receive paid ads daily from local businesses and landlords throughout the country.

Uloop.com pricing is as follows: For housing, a landlord pays $40 for a 30-day house, condo, or small complex listing. It costs $125 for a 30-day apartment listing. For jobs, an employer pays $125 for a 30-day local job listing, $175 for a 30-day regional listing, and $275 for a 30-day national job listing.

CampusAve.com’s online and print classified pricing is set by each college newspaper but it generally ranges from $10 to $50 for a 15-day online classified or from $0.50 to $2.00 per word for a one-day print classified.

The founders bootstrapped for much of the company’s early life, supporting it with earnings and money from the founders’ own pockets. Then in 2007, Lewis and McCarthy raised a very small seed investment from friends and family. In 2008, 2009, funding from a strategic investor helped the company to increase its user base. The most recent funding came from a group of angel investors who came together to help Uloop grow its revenue channels. Uloop has no immediate plans to raise additional monies and is not currently seeking any kind of exit.

Recommended Reading
Top 10 Online Advertising Trends of the Decade
Deal Radar 2008: Regent, Frederick, Maryland

This segment is a part in the series : 1Mby1M Deal Radar 2011

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