Progress Update: CampusBoard
For the eighth of our progress updates I sat down with Seva Baskin, founder of CampusBoard – a platform for students to buy and sell anything at their university. Seva first came up with the idea in spring 2012 during his foundation year studying Computer Science & Economics at the University of Exeter. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that Seva decided to move forward with the concept having gained some coding and programming knowledge, as well as selecting this project as the most viable business model from a range of ideas he had had during his foundation year.
The broad concept of the website came to Seva when he spotted an opportunity to create an online platform that modelled the likes of eBay and Gumtree but was tailored to smaller community of users. In this case, CampusBoard’s customers would be drawn together by their similar location and the fact that they were all university students, replacing the inadequate Facebook groups that were already been used widely by Exeter university student to trade items. Seva’s aim was to contrast his website to these Facebook groups, well known for their horrid search capabilities, unusual and changing orders of the item’s posted and the fact that it is impossible to know if an item had already been sold, by creating a clean and simple website that could be easily used by customers. After 7 months of coding CampusBoard was ready to be launched, being released in March 2014 through a soft launch to friends – a great way to test a website and see if it can generate interest.
The website user-base quickly grew organically as CampusBoard was shared between students and now boasts over 300 active University of Exeter users, 700 product listings and over a 10% sale rate. It is a website that really understands its users, with listings being anonymous and emails not being shared until both parties are ready (unlike Facebook), a price being agreed upon by both parties and the goods/money being exchanged on campus with no website fees (unlike eBay & Gumtree) – something that Seva cites as central to the success of CampusBoard so far! Boasting everything from second hand textbooks, printers and cardboard spacemen CampusBoard has really become the trading platform of choice for Exeter university students. Moving forward Seva would like to expand to other universities across the UK, building up a larger and more active user-base as well as beginning to build a model that can be monetised. For now, however, I would suggest that CampusBoard is one of the most exciting online start-up business we currently have at the University of Exeter.
Here at MGR Music Tuition this week it was a poignant moment as Matt Pocock, one of the first music teachers who I hired way back in early 2012 as the Singing Lessons Exeter teacher stepped down from his role to undertake a masters in vocal training in Guildford. Taking on his role will be another University of Exeter drama graduate Chris Harknett who will take over the Singing Lessons Exeter website! Within London I am pleased to say we took on a new guitar teacher, Nora Bite, for the Guitar Lessons Hackney page on the Guitar Lessons London website as well as additional teachers for Guitar Lessons Bolton and Guitar Lessons Solihull. We are still in the process of sorting out an advertising deal with a guitar store in London for the Guitar Lessons London website but hopefully this will come through soon!
Inspired by some of our entrepreneurial students like Seva I thought I would try my hand at creating my first eCommerce website as I had some free time over the weekend! Here I am going to talk through the process of setting up a website, something that can be done relatively cheaply and easily – even on shoe-string student business startup. While website designs can cost thousands of pounds each actually in the initial stages of testing a product and the market that product will work within a functioning website can be created for less than £75 all in. Jon Mill’s first Mammal Swag website is testament to this costing him the grand total of £20 to setup and start selling his t-shirts from. This meant he spent more time and money developing his product rather than diverting these resources to the creation of a website, before he knew how well his product would sell. Of course once you can start to gauge your sales and income then you can plough some of that money back into to improve on of the major routes to market which is your own website (my question to any student setting up a clothing company would be can you really justify spending £300+ on a website design before you have actually sold any products).
So how is a shoe-string initial website created? Well firstly pick your product/market, for my dive into the world of eCommerce I settled on silk pillowcases as my product of choice after a lengthy conversation with my sister into luxury clothing products. The next task was to think of a domain name (like www.exeter.ac.uk) and register that name, if it is available, with a domain register. Popular domain registers include 123-reg.co.uk, GoDaddy.com and my personal favourite DomainMonster.com where you can purchase .com domains for as little as £11.99 and .co.uk domains £6.70. Domain names work like leases, so you essentially you rent a name for a set time period before renewing it or losing ownership over it. For my weekend project I settled on www.mulberrysilkpillowcase.com for my fictional business. Next you need to host the website – if the domain name is the name of your radio station, then the hosting is the radio tower that sends your radio show/website around the world. Often the domain registers will also sell hosting, like 123-reg.co.uk which basic hosting packages can start from as little as £2.49 a month for a single website. So far the total cost of the creation of this website has reached the dizzying heights of £14.48 for month one and £2.49 each month thereafter.
Next on the list is to link up the domain name and the hosting, like connecting your radio mic via the soundboard to the radio tower. To do this you need to find the name-servers of your hosting (the name of your radio tower) and enter their details in the domain setting provided by your domain register. Following this you must create the template for the website, by far the most famous template system is WordPress, though Shopify is also popular with clothing companies. Since WordPress is free, whereas Shopify has a monthly charge we will stick with WordPress for our shoe-string setup – the first task is to complete their “Famous 5 Minute Install” where you download the WordPress package to your computer. Edit the “wp-config-sample.php” file, don’t panic it is easier than you think – simply locate the file and fill in the blanks with your database name, user and password that you have set up on your hosting cPanel via the MySQL Databases tab. Renamed this file “wp-config.php” and upload the entire WordPress package to your hosting via an FTP account (best one to use is Fire FTP, a plugin for the FireFox browser that can both be downloaded for free). Once that is all uploaded go to your domain name and it should help you to install the final part of WordPress there – then you are into the backend of the website where you can start to edit the website as you please! This is where the exciting part comes, now you can select your own theme for the website via the “Appearance – Themes” page, selecting from thousands of pre-made free designs (many for eCommerce websites) on WordPress as well as tens of thousands more from across the web. Into these WordPress themes you can add in the various eCommerce plugins that will make your website feel like your very own storefront!
While the free WordPress themes work well, for as little as £50 you can buy yourself a beautifully designed and less WordPress looking template that will enable your clothing business to distinguish itself more as well as injecting more of your own brand into the website. Next month I will purchase a template design that I like for the “Silk Pillowcase” website and continue to build it into a fictional clothing business with a great looking website that was setup on a shoe string as an example for other startup clothing businesses at the uni – current cost after month one is £14.48.