Interview with Corey Cleek '00, Founder and CEO of Uloop

By Ferol Vernon '09; Originally published March 12, 2008

In this interview with Fuqua Alum Corey Cleek, Founder and CEO of Uloop, Corey talks about building a team, working at eBay and starting a web business based on college campuses.



Can you tell us a little bit about your latest venture Uloop and what exactly the site does?


Uloop is an online marketplace.  So, it’s a place where students can
come to connect.  To buy and sell goods.  Whether it’s textbooks, to find roommates and housing, to find part-time jobs, fulltime jobs, internships, to promote events around campus or find out about events around campus.  But it’s first and foremost an online marketplace for college students on campuses around the country.

And Uloop launched in January of 2007 at UC Santa Barbara.  That was our first campus that we launched on, and just took off from there.  And students really took to it at UC Santa Barbara and so we began to build up the functionality and expand it to 10 campuses in the spring of ’07, 20 campuses in the fall of ’07, and we’re on 50 campuses today.

Can you tell us a little bit about the business model of Uloop?  We know it’s a website, we know it is on college campuses, but give us a rundown of what services the site offers, and how you're monetizing those services.

Yes.  Uloop is free for students, staff, and faculty.  So anyone with a .edu email address.  When you go to Uloop you can register using your .edu email address.  And when you register, and you enter into Uloop, it’s exclusive for your campus.

So say for example at Duke University, when you register and log into Uloop it’s exclusively a Duke University experience.  Whereas if you're at another university--say University of Tennessee--then when you log in, your experience is specific to University  of Tennessee.

So it’s free for students, staff, and faculty and then we charge for those outside of the campus community to post into the campus community.  So for example, employers who are posting jobs, management companies or landlords who are posting housing opportunities, advertisers that want to advertise within the Uloop environment.

Tell us a little bit about how you got started.  What was the great story behind founding Uloop--how did everything get started?

Uloop started back in the fall of ’06 when there was a team of folks from the San Francisco Bay area that got together.  And I had worked at eBay prior to joining the team at Uloop.  And these are guys I knew from my time at eBay.  They had begun to build the platform for Uloop and I had done a bit of angel investing.

So they had approached me about investing in Uloop.  And when I learned more about the platform and more about Uloop, and what the vision was for Uloop, I realized that it was a good fit for me personally to join the team.  So that’s when I joined up with Mike Ho, Ryan MacCarthy, and Scott Lewis to launch Uloop.

This was, again, back in January of ’07 that we launched Uloop at UC Santa Barbara and then went from there.

Since started Uloop--how has it been going so far?  What kind of customer base, what kind of reaction in the popular press, those kinds of things?

The momentum has been great.  A lot of the key metrics that we watch are a combination of registered users, the number of posts on the site, and then what we call “market vibrancy.”  Just seeing the velocity of trade, and the number of times that students are coming back.  We watch those things closely.

One of the things we’ve been encouraged by is on the campuses that we launch--for example, UC Santa Barbara, our first campus that we launched last January--were between 20 and 25 percent of the student body there is registered and using Uloop.  The next 9 campuses that we launched last spring were anywhere from 10 to 15 and a couple of those are 20 percent penetration as far as students on those campuses that are registered users of Uloop.

And even some of the campuses that we just launched a couple of weeks ago are already 5 to 10 percent of the student body that’s registered and using Uloop.

One of the things about entrepreneurship that we all know is there's a ton of marketing that’s got to go on.  You’ve got to get your name out, you’ve got to really make your customers aware of your product.  So what has been the marketing mix for Uloop?  It’s an online business, it’s an online marketplace,--so what have you done to try to promote the site?

The marketing that we’ve done for Uloop is a combination of on campus marketing and online marketing.  On the different campuses we’re on, we have Campus Reps.  Campus Reps are fulltime students that work on average anywhere from 10-15 hours a week and they're out promoting Uloop on campus.

Everything from handing out flyers, to putting up posters, speaking in classes, meeting with fraternities and sororities, meeting with student government groups to share more about Uloop and to figure out additional opportunities for Uloop to work with each campus.

Because no one knows a campus like the students themselves on those campuses.  Combined with that on campus marketing we do online marketing.  The online marketing that we do is geo-targeted.  It’s targeted specifically at students at those universities. 

So for example, Facebook.  Facebook provides the ability to target by campus.  Google now has the ability to geo-target by zip code.  And so we can identify the zip code for each university and do Google AdWords specifically targeting students on those campuses.  And so our marketing mix is that mix of the online marketing as well as the on campus marketing that we do through our Campus Reps.

We talked about your founding team--and you can imagine that there are some technical backgrounds--these guys worked at eBay with you.  What kind of people have you been hiring since then in addition to a ton of part-time Campus Reps?  Who are you looking for these days?  Are you looking at MBAs?  Are you looking for more technical people to help build your site?

It’s a combination of technical folks and marketing folks.  We’re continuing to build our team of developers and product managers to build out the features on Uloop.com, but then we’re also building out our marketing team.

We have a number of fulltime Campus Rep Managers and each Campus Rep Manager manages 10 campuses.  They hire and train and work with the Campus Reps on campus, they schedule meetings, spend time on campus meeting with staff and faculty on campus that understand how we can better serve the needs of the campus community.

So it’s that mix of those who are adept at online marketing, working and building teams, working with campus reps, and then our development team and our team of product managers.

So what advice do you have for MBAs here at Fuqua that are looking to do something entrepreneurial that want to found a company--something like Uloop?  What advice would you give them while they’re still here at school?

For students at Fuqua in particular, this is such a great time to build and develop a business plan, build relationships with classmates you could potentially partner with to build a business.  And if there is something that you're passionate about, whether it’s a website like Uloop, or whether it’s another business that you're extremely passionate about and want to build, so much of it is about taking that first step.

Whether that first step is writing a business plan and getting feedback from folks or whether it’s building a website and launching it, and beginning to get input and feedback and users for that service.  Taking that first step--it’s amazing how momentum just builds once you take that first step.

So that’d be a couple things that come to mind.  Identify what you're passionate about…if there is something in particular that you're passionate about and you’d like to build a business around it, prioritize those first couple of steps and take that first step to get the momentum going.

So, just one last question:  Uloop sounds incredible.  Where do people go if they want to find out more information, they want to see what’s going on with Uloop, how would they get in contact with you, or how would they just find out more about the company?

Well first off for Fuqua students, for other Duke students, and even for students at other universities, come to www.Uloop.com.  Using your .edu email address, you can register for Uloop.

We’d love to get feedback from folks.  So as you log in and register, and as you participate in the Uloop community, and as you begin to post items and see results from that, we’d love to hear from you.

Original audio interview available here:
http://www.fevcommunications.com/dukebizcast/?p=23


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