The fact that Larry Page and Sergey Brin had been students at Stanford when they conceived of Google has been chewed and regurgitated so many times that now it has started sounding like a monumental cliché. Then there is Mark Zuckerberg who gave birth to Facebook while he was still in college; Bill Gates and Michael Dell are also famous for having started very young. So can we then make the case that in order to make a mark in technology, you need to start young? The cycle of innovation in the tech industry does seem to favor the fast movers. Now, a few university students have come up with savvy business strategy of reaching out to smartphones users through two mobile apps - Fountainhop and Scoop.
Though these applications are yet to reach out to larger community of students, they have already created an ample amount of buzz. Could this be the Next Big Thing of the tech world? As of now the target audience is confined to college circles, but then even Facebook used to be a college-only phenomenon once. Like Facebook, Fountainhop and Scoop too could one day expand to rope in millions of users from every walk of life. The thing is that smartphone usage is on the rise; in colleges almost every student worth his salt flaunts a smartphone, a few lucky ones even flash a latest iPhone or one of those Android powered devices. Applications like Foursquare, which provide location based networking mostly through smartphones, have already made a mark.
Fountainhop and Scoop must also be seen in light of the fact that users these days are constantly looking for new ways by which they can share their ideas and build their networked groups. The campuses of larger universities have turned into a laboratory where new ideas and theories on networking can be experimented with before being released to rest of the society. If Fountainhop and Scoop are successful in attracting large number of users in the months to come, then they will become ripe for the next stage of their development.
You can reach Fountainhop by pointing your browser to http://www.fountainhop. com/public.php. The main idea behind the application is to let smartphone users in college be part of a closely networked community; everyone is seamlessly updated about campus events. The four co-founders of this application are Zavain Dar, Salik Syed, Stellios Leventis and Nikil Viswanathan. The short profiles that they have posted on the website make them seem like typical youngsters, but it is also clear that they are gearing to make a mark in highly competitive mobile apps space. So how did they come up with this quaint name "Fountainhop" for their application? In the blog on their website, this is how they try to explain the significance of the term - "The collegiate tradition to tour the college by exploring and jumping in all the fountains the campus has to offer -literally hopping from one fountain to the next."
Fountainhop makes networking easy by allowing users to automatically make their locations public on the app itself, or by posting a status update on Facebook profile. At all points of time, the users, and students in this case, enjoy complete control on how much information they want to reveal and how much they want to safeguard. When quizzed about his foray into mobile app space, Zavain Dar, who is a student at Stanford says, "I'm particularly a fan of just doing it." Another co-founder of Fountainhop, Nikil Viswanathan, who is also at Stanford, elaborates, "Currently we don't have a business point of view, and we just want to make something that's extremely useful to college students. We have started offering Fountainhop for free and we do hope that from here it will spread to other colleges around the country and beyond."
Unlike the smartphone application called Foursquare, which is open to anyone, Fountainhop requires a netID of Harvard, Princeton or Stanford for users to post events. All the updates get automatically sorted according to the time, and they are color-coded by category to make it easier for users to understand their relevance in a quick and easy manner. However, a lot of tweaking is still going on in the application and it is still too early to say how things are going to evolve. You might even be confronted with a completely different looking avatar of Fountainhop by the time you read this.
Chat with Nikil Viswanathan, Co-Founder, Fountain Hop
What inspired you to start Fountainhop?
Fountainhop actually started off as a class project for one of my entrepreneurship classes at Stanford and we ran with the idea over winter break after the class ended. We realized that even with all of the amazing technology we have today, there is still no good way for college students (and people in general) to find out what's going on around them especially in terms of events and their friends.
Fountainhopping is a tradition here at Stanford - basically we run around and jump around and play in the fountains at all times of the year. It's a lot of fun and one of my favorite traditions at Stanford. The first day of classes my freshmen year, our dorm staff woke us all up at 5 AM and our entire dorm went jumping and playing from one fountain to the next through all of the major fountains on campus - it was absolutely amazing!
Right now Fountainhop seems to be confined to college students. What about the rest of the world?
We'll see; all we care about right now is that it's useful to college students.
What role did your education play in developing Fountainhop?
It's been absolutely invaluable; I've gotten a lot of experience building various different pieces of software and am extremely glad to have had this opportunity to study here at Stanford. Really, it's been all about the people though; the friends that I've met here have been immensely inspiring and have made me reach out to try my best.
Any inspiring words for college students in India?
Just go for it. The best advice I've gotten is to just do it. Build something, try it out, and try launching it. If it works, great! If it doesn't work you just got a lot of experience. Seriously just try building something, release it and see how it goes, that's my main piece of advice.
When you point your browser to http://inthescoop.com, you're faced with a rhetorical question, ': Are you in the scoop?" As of writing this, the application is still under development, but it might be released in a few weeks. According to a report published in Venture Beat, a venture-capital investment firm owned by Google CEO Eric Schmidt has made an investment in Trumpet Technologies, the Palo Alto-based start-up currently engaged in developing Scoop. If it is the profile of the financial backers that makes an impression on the critics and users, then by garnering funds from someone like Schmidt. Scoop has already entered into the big league. Corey Reese, the CEO of Trumpet. has recruited Nick Simmons and Michael Akilian, two inimitable college students to develop Scoop.
Nick Simmons says, "In the world of Facebook and Twitter we still find out about what is happening on campus predominantly through word of mouth. This information should be spread more efficiently and should be at our fingertips. Scoop allows people to talk about this information in real time." Once a sufficient number of students are armed with smartphones, which are running this application, then it will become easy to hold a campus wide conversation. Everyone can be updated about formal or informal student events immediately. Scoop is also thought to be quite interactive as compared to other mobile apps. Initially Scoop will be launched as an iPhone application, but down the line the product is expected to become compatible with other popular smartphone models. While taking about the expansion strategy for Scoop, Nick Simmons says, "We would like to launch Scoop at one school initially. Then we want to learn from our mistakes, tweak the service to respond to user feedback, and launch at campuses across the United States and hopefully other countries"
The expansion strategy that those at the helm of Scoop are envisaging is a lot like the one followed by Facebook during the initial days of its inception. The application is going to be rolled out in many campuses across America and according to the feedback that is forth-coming from students the application will be tweaked and improved. Quintessentially this is going to be another case of students building a service for students. Finally when everything is set in place, the application will become available to the much larger section of humanity living outside the college campuses. The home page of Trumpet Technologies (http://www.trumpet.io) carries this interesting slogan, "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish." As of now the promoters have not explained what this slogan means, but the company's mission is listed as, "Mobile Local Search."
Chat with Nick Simmons, SCOOP
What inspired you to start Scoop?
We've seen several online communities catch on at my school and at my friends' schools. This has made it clear that students want to talk about what's happening on their campus.
What does Scoop stand for? We mean why is the application called Scoop?
When we decided on a name for our product we were not completely finished defining the product-and it will continue to evolve as we receive feedback from users. Therefore, it is imperative to think of a name that accurately describes the scope of the product in a compelling way. The word "scoop" makes me think of a service that provides me with useful information in a fun and social way. At its core that is what we want our service to do.
Right now Scoop seems to be confined to college students. Is there any chance that in future it will become a global phenomenon like Facebook?
We are focused on designing an exciting product for college students at the moment. But, as I mentioned earlier, Scoop's core goal is to provide users with useful information, about what is going on, in a fun and social way. It is not hard to envision a future in which Scoop provides this service to any group of people, whether college students, high school students, people that live near each other, etc. Scoop is about creating a conversation for a community of people, not necessarily just college students.
How has the education that you have received helped you in developing Scoop?
The most helpful aspect of my education has been the social one, not the academic one. My friends on campus and affiliations with certain groups really help me to spread the word about Scoop and make sure that the right people are using it.
If a college student in India wants to start a social networking application for mobiles, what advice would you like to give him?
Create a product that is simple and social! Users love simplicity, especially in a new service and, as Facebook has taught us, they love to be social.
There is no doubt that as 3G and 4G networks continue to expand across the world, the popularity of smartphones will skyrocket. Mobile apps such as Fountainhop and Scoop must be seen as a harbinger of a future, which is just round the corner. This is a future in which people will be extremely mobile, and yet they will be closely networked with their loved ones through some innovative applications running on their smartphones. But what's most promising is that the primary users of the apps are the ones developing them in the first place!