Last Thursday, over 100 of Boston’s most well-known investors, entrepreneurs, company leaders, and researchers gathered at the Wellesley College Club in Wellesley for the invite only daylong Future Forward retreat. EqualApp won the coveted GameChanger award – a free ticket to the retreat and an opportunity to present at the conference. The public voted on the winner of the GameChanger award, and EqualApp beat out many well-known Boston companies such as SCVNGR, MyPunchbowl.com (now Punchbowl.com), and uTest. EqualApp heard about the contest on (where else?) BostInno. “We saw it as an opportunity to gain some exposure for our company and put our business in front of the most influential investors and entrepreneurs in the New England area,” said Marc Zawel, one of EqualApp’s co-founders.
So what is EqualApp and why is it a “game changer”? EqualApp, which launched in August, levels the playing field so that all students can have access to high quality, affordable college counseling. At public high schools, the average student to guidance counselor ratio is close to 500:1, so many students do not have the support they need. Zawel met co-founder Stephen Friedfeld when Zawel was an undergraduate at Cornell University and Friedfeld was a dean; they worked on an admissions office outreach program together. A few years later, Zawel graduated and wrote Untangling the Ivy League, a college admissions guidebook to ivy league schools. “I’ve always had an interest in admissions but also an interest in social media and working with internet startups,” said Zawel. Friedfeld began working in the admissions office at Princeton University and started his own private consulting practice to help students navigate the college admissions process. EqualApp’s online curriculum was developed by former ivy league admission deans and vetted by a board of advisors that includes guidance counselors, students and parents who have gone through the college application process, and former admission officers from both public and private colleges around the country.
EqualApp takes what Friedfeld did as a private consultant and brings it online so that a larger demographic has access to a service that has traditionally been limited to those with big pocketbooks. The program offers students and parents insider knowledge as well as the personalized support they need to successfully navigate the college admissions process at a fraction of the cost of hiring a private admissions consultant. According to Zawel, college admissions consultants cost between $4,000 and $15,000, whereas EqualApp programs start at just $99 a year. The basic program offers students and parents access to an interactive college search tool, some lessons, as well as forums moderated by former college admission officers. Run on a freemium model, students and parents can purchase everything from essay review to a private consultation with former college admission officers for around $300 per year.
“We feel very strongly about the need to increase access to these types of resources – it is the core mission of our business,” said Zawel. EqualApp currently has several hundred free users with a pretty high conversion rate. They hope to grow that number substantially in the coming months. EqualApp’s biggest challenge right now is proving its program produces the results students and parents want since it only launched a few months ago. “We are confident in the program and its ability to deliver results because it has been developed by the folks that know admissions and have worked in admissions,” said Zawel.
At the Future Forward conference, Zawel had the chance to speak with Niraj Shah, a co-founder of CSN stores and one of the presenters. “The company is doing some really amazing things, and they’ve been able to build their business in a very smart way. We’re both Cornell grads, so we were able to connect on our love of Ithaca, which was kind of fun as well,” said Zawel. The conference has given EqualApp exposure within the entrepreneurial community, and they will be speaking with several investors in the coming weeks. EqualApp is currently bootstrapped. Zawel’s favorite panel was an afternoon session on teens and technology. “Teens today are online and more connected than any other demographic in the country, yet most of them still collect information and make decisions about applying to college using guidebooks, and it’s just not really an efficient way to navigate the college admissions process. EqualApp is exclusively online and was planned with students in mind so it was validating to hear that students are looking to technology for solutions to challenges they’re facing,” said Zawel.