If you’re running a business void of millennials, it can be tricky to predict what the young folks find hip these days. So how do you get inside their heads to determine how they really feel about a product you’re designing just for them?
Brothers Riley and Stephen Soward (endearingly known to one another as Riles and Stevo) have it covered. Their venture Campus Insights helps tech companies and development firms get the most genuine, candid feedback on their apps from college students. What’s the startups trick? It’s thrown traditional focus groups out the window, opting to have laid-back and open student-to-student interviews instead.
From one coast to another
The Soward duo has been after it for about a year and a half, and Campus Insights has already seen great traction. It’s taken on clients like Venmo and Intrepid, in addition to expanding their network of college student critics across the country. But it’s been a journey up until this point, and the co-founders know they still have much work to do in building up their business.
Tech has surrounded the brothers since they were young. Growing up in Silicon Valley (we forgive for that), the Sowards had ample exposure to innovation and the startup culture. And they were eager to voice how they felt about different tech coming out of the Valley.
Riley, who’s now a student at Boston College and a member of the Dorm Room Fund team, explained, “Growing up, my brother and I would use apps and send feedback to the companies that made them. We liked to share what we thought with them.”
While interning at a startup in high school, Riley was able to see what his youthful feedback really meant to a company designing an app. He was a member of the startup’s user demographic, so he’d be peppered with curious questions and asked to share his reactions to different aspects of the app.
“The CEO loved to sit down with me and just ask me questions,” Riley told me. “It was exciting for them because they had a live millennial they could talk to.”
During that time, Riley would also consult his peers for their feedback. It’s with those informal discussions about whether his friends liked an interface a certain way, or whether they’d be intrigued by other features, that the Soward brothers knew there was a business opportunity there.
So when Riley entered college in 2014, he and Stephen started working on the foundation for Campus Insights. They began with BC. On the Chestnut Hill campus, they had students hold qualitative interviews with other students to test apps’ usability in an casual setting. Because the interviews are essentially among friends, college students are more willing to divulge blunt feedback, which is ultimately more constructive for the people developing the apps.
Scaling up the insight
Since those early days, Stephen explained that Campus Insights has evolved and is now gaining international traction. The startup has expanded beyond the confines of BC so there’s a broader, more diverse network of students sharing their thoughts on apps. Its database of college kids spans throughout the U.S. and, more recently, overseas.
But that’s not the only thing going global for these guys. They’re beginning to work with different app companies abroad, particularly in Asia. Stephen believes that startups in countries like Singapore are curious about what our young population is into. He said, “They want to know what college students in America are thinking, too. Especially if they’re looking to come into our market.”
Stateside, Campus Insights is picking up pace in terms of clientele and volume of work. The brothers explained that they’ve recently been experiencing an uptick in sales meetings and calls. And, looking forward, they’re exploring ways to loop in more millennials into the feedback and usability testing process. They have college students down, they intend to eventually get companies access to what high schoolers and young professionals are thinking.
“Our goal is to partner with app development firms and become a natural part of the development process every time,” Stephen shared.
Image on file.