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Starting a business at university: Social network

Forget Facebook and Twitter, the student environment is the perfect place to launch a niche social networking site...

Why start a social network?

The last decade has seen an eruption in social networking, with giants like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube becoming some of the most visited global sites on the internet.

Provided you have a computer and the necessary skills, it’s entirely feasible to launch a social network from your dorm room. And, with their large populations of tech savvy, socially active students, universities are a perfect breeding ground to start a social platform. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg.

While it would be futile to compete with large global players, 2015 is the year of the niche network as more sites look to engage communities with specific hobbies and interests. You can take inspiration from your own extracurricular activities or university environment.

How to start a social network while at university

These days you don’t need complex coding skills to develop a social network, web builders like SocialGO and Ning can provide you with all the tools to create a professional looking website at an affordable price; making the platform provider all but invisible to the end user. The disadvantage of these sites is that they can be somewhat restrictive to design, and if you do have coding skills, or know people who do, then ultimately it would be more beneficial to build it from scratch.

You might think your site is ready to revolutionise the sector, but it’s nothing without users. If you’ve focused your platform around a particular local community or activity, you can start by getting people you know, or who are from that community to join up – you could even use another social network to generate interest. Then if you’re lucky there will be a snowball effect and, potentially, exponential growth of your user base as friends tell their friends who tell their friends.

To make your social network profitable, you’ll have to attract the interest of advertisers but this is unlikely to happen unless you’ve built up a significant customer base first. Again, a niche focus will help you secure advertisers that want to appeal to a specific market. Look at the likes of Mumsnet and other focused community sites for reference.

Student business inspiration:

Michael Venn

After starting a chicken farm at the age of 12, young entrepreneur Michael Venn dabbled in smartphones, iOS games and graphic design before launching social network Tagstr in August 2014. Venn says the platform is intended as a “social sanctuary” for people to “discover the world” by tagging photos, videos and audio – connecting with people based on shared “tags” rather than by following or becoming virtual friends.

Since launch, the app had amassed 500,000 downloads, with more than 20 million images, audio clips and videos uploaded to the platform. In March Tagstr received an additional $1m seed investment from a group of “high net worth individuals”, taking its total funding to $2.6m.

Venn plans to keep enhancing the platform, adding “new and exciting features that competitors don’t offer”, to make the app the service that will “connect people around the world”.

Henry Williams
Henry Williams

Henry has been writing for since 2015, covering everything from business finance and web builders to tax and red tape. He’s also contributed to many of our industry-renowned annual indexes, including Startups 100 and Young Guns, and created a number of the site’s popular how to guides. Before joining the team, he reviewed films for a culture website, and still harbours ambitions of being a screenwriter.


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