Students rush big business
By the time he reached high school, Kiley Williams was familiar with business. He had started creating his own programs at age 9 and had already been tapped by technology companies with job offers. He often held down two at a time.
Last summer, the junior in information systems started (FrontListings.com) as an alternative to the popular MiscMarket, an online bulletin board where users post “buy” and “for sale” listings. Williams thought MiscMarket was useful but difficult for users to manage, so he created a program that would instantly take information sent over MiscMarket and format it in a more readable way. When friends Nick Bannister, a senior electrical and computer engineering major, and Uday Singh, a junior information systems major, looked at it, they encouraged Williams to turn it into a service others could use. The trio is working on their first round of marketing.
FrontListings isn’t Williams’ first taste of success. He was also the creator of CMU Connector, a network which allowed users on the Carnegie Mellon campus to chat in real-time and share files. The site was dismantled in January, ending its 18-month run.
Williams created the program to honor his best friend, a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who had been sued by the RIAA for illegal file-sharing. When he was unable to pay the $5000 tab, RIT took away his scholarship, which forced him to transfer to a community college.
Connector attracted attention again last month, when computer science professor Richard Pattis posted an e-mail he received to his class discussion board. The e-mail decried the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials and reported that a complete answer key to a calculus textbook was available on the network.
In a separate instance, Williams was summoned to the assistant dean’s office, not to shut down the network but to discuss whether the program had any potential large-scale uses that were legal. Williams decided that it had none, and rather than risk a run-in with the RIAA, made the decision to end the service.
Williams’ unhooking of Connector was a blow to the program’s 2800 users, who traded rumors of the reasons behind the downfall in the following weeks. A few weeks later, Williams submitted a post on MiscMarket which promised users a full explanation of the downfall of CMU Connector on his new site, (FrontListings.com). It was a move credited by junior information systems major Paul O’Shannessy as “a slick way to launch.”
Another group of friends has been working since last fall on a project that they believe will change the way people buy and offer services. The founders of (mymave.com), who met as members of the track team, are now members of a company, which they operate from the basement of the “Track House” on South Neville Street and incorporated last month.
Mave was envisioned by junior business major Mark Tressler, who last July composed a 30-page plan for the project in one night and sent it on to his friend. Tressler’s concept was to create a service that would allow every person to operate as his or her own business — users would list their abilities and allow others to bid on their services. Tressler even planned out how the site would be an equal opportunity enterprise by allowing users to only see first initials of names and preclude personal information.
The project has grown to four students who operate the system “in every free moment,” Tressler said.
Sophomore computer science major Breck Fresen has opted for a minimal courseload to concentrate on the project, while senior electrical and computer engineering major Geoff Misek balances his Mave work with a full courseload and a girlfriend, who is “very supportive,” he quickly added.
The company owes its marketing prowess to Misek, who dressed up like a Sherpa on the coldest night of the year to chalk sidewalks and post fliers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh promoting the service.
Tressler came up with the company’s “Facebook is fun” slogan, and junior economics major Will Lutz, the group’s fourth member, explained that it’s a jab that while Facebook may be fun, it doesn’t have much functionality.
But Mave does. The site has over 1100 registered users with 485 businesses promoting their services.
Tressler believes that everyone has the ability to market him or herself.
“Really think about what you’re good at doing,” Tressler suggested. “If you write in a journal, sign up to be a creative writer.”
Tressler’s Mave profile, for example, boasts that he can cut hair or give you tours of local colleges, services not yet offered by other high-tech executives.