Written by Andrew Seale
Mackenzie Scott was decluttering after his second semester at Oswego State University of New York when he came up with the idea for bgon, a trading app for students to buy and sell their stuff exclusively at their school.
Sure marketplace options like Craigslist exist, but for non-local students like Scott, who’d moved to Oswego from Toronto on a hockey scholarship, he suspected there was equity in a campus-specific app that could only be used by students at that school.
“Nowadays, it's so hard to start a business that hasn't already been started,” explains the bgon founder. “It’s about making a better version of what's there… how could we better the experience for a college-aged user?”
Scott was studying business at Oswego and had no idea how to code, so he outsourced the app development to a firm in Toronto. When the app was completed he hired Seyan Kumaresan as CTO, and together they built out the team and launched in beta, testing it out in 500 schools across Canada to see where there was organic traffic.
“After one college year, we could really see what schools were growing and taking to it,” he says. “We made some changes, rebranded and delved deep into the design, making it a cooler app and better experience for the user.”
The research pointed to seven schools, Osqego and Ohio State in the U.S. and University of Guelph, Humber College, Ryerson University, York University and the University of Toronto.
“There’s an option for students when they're signing up if they get on the app and go, oh my school is not here, you can rally for your school,” he says. If bgon gets 100 or so users rallying for a school they consider adding that college or university to the app.
“We want to have their demand,” he says. “One thing we don't want to see is opening up to a school and then one user goes on and nothing is for sale.”
That’s what makes organic growth so critical, it helps generate demand. It also allows Scott and co. to concentrate on adjusting new features like the recently added forum for students to connect in the summers between semesters.
Scott’s been every bit as selective about his own team’s growth. Coming back to Toronto, Scott says he wasn’t sure he truly understood the scope and size of the startup community. He relied on his fiancée who works in human resources and has more familiarity with the tech scene.
“When I started this, I had to ask her simple questions like what's a UX or UI designer?” he says with a laugh. “I didn't know what I was looking for and if it wasn't for her I would've known nothing about it.”
That’s changed now. Scott says any time they are hiring for a role, they're overwhelmed with the breadth of talent.
“It's unbelievable… I've only been in it for two years, but the trajectory has been really fast,” he says. “Our team is the reason we are where we are.”
Photo credit: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)