By Daniel Um
A burgeoning field and its place on Harvard College’s campus.
By DANIEL UM
Akshar Bonu ‘17, who launched his iPhone app Masquerade on September 1st, says he was “pleasantly surprised” by the overall campus receptiveness to the app. However, he is not the only Harvard undergrad to find app success.
With its low cost and high profits, mobile app development is fast evolving as an appealing option for college-aged entrepreneurs. At Harvard, many students across all years are hard at work, developing applications for community members on campus. With the rapid evolution of Silicon Valley and the “start-up” as central fixtures in our collective imaginations, many have argued that institutions like MIT and Stanford, with their emphasis on tech entrepreneurship, are all set to be the educational Meccas of the 21st century. It is only appropriate that Harvard is following suit and students are leading the charge.
Masquerade allows you to chat anonymously with people on campus. After chatting for indefinite periods of time, the application allows you to reveal your identity. This platform could serve many purposes, including dating where instead of physical appearance as the initial appeal, one’s personality can shine as users share funny stories, news, and experiences.
In addition to Bonu, the Masquerade team consists of Elliot Safo’17, growth team lead, Jason Dong’17 and John Stubbs’17, members of the growth team, and Mark Yao’16, development lead. Before the launch, Bonu and his team advertised with a booth set up at the activities fair and disseminated fliers during CS50’s and EC10’s first lectures. Although numbers remain confidential, Team Masquerade is optimistic about its future. “We have been thrilled by the app’s engagement and reach from Massachusetts to Texas and everywhere in between. The feed is full of banter and revelation,” says Bonu.
Bonu is pleasantly surprised by the campus receptiveness to Masquerade saying that students have been “very enthusiastic” about the app. Claire Spackman‘19 says that the application is an “innovative and entertaining way” to get to meet new people as “it is likely that you share some common interests with your match-up.” Nate Hiatt‘19 also thinks that the app is an “interesting concept.” However, he says he won’t frequent the application until more of the Harvard student body is hooked.
Interestingly, this is not the first time Bonu has launched an iPhone app. In spring of his freshman year, he launched Instanomz, a student-run food delivery service that provided late-night fast food from Felipe’s, Pinocchio’s, and Shake Shack to freshmen living in Elm and Ivy Yards. Unfortunately, Instanomz ceased operation after an unresolvable conflict with Harvard administrators and Harvard Student Agencies (HSA). There was a breakdown of negotiations with Harvard Student Agencies and administrators said that the app must partner with HSA in order to operate on campus. Team Masquerade has not interfaced much with the administration yet, but the app’s entire online platform has given administration little reason to intervene.
Another upcoming student-developed application is “Drizl.” Founder Ryan Fortin’16 and head of development Mitchell Foster’17 describe the app as “a piggy bank with a math degree.” It is a mobile budgeting application designed to help one manage loose change from debit or credit cards. Fortin says it is “similar” to Bank of America’s ‘Keep the Change’ program, but is optimized for Harvard students. With Drizl, “loose change from transactions will be put into a user’s app.”
The inspiration for the application came from a conversation between Fortin and his mother, who believes college students are too “loosey goosey” with their money. She asserts that spontaneous purchases and subscription-based products are the biggest obstacles college students face when budgeting. The app is targeted at all young adults in order to help them budget and manage their money.
Fortin said that in recent years, Harvard has become a great place to launch projects and ventures. He is currently enrolled in a startup class that is offered in the engineering sciences department and has consulted with numerous professors regarding his idea. Bonu has also taken the course.
Fortin sees Harvard allowing him to receive credit for the class as indicative of how “dedicated” the administration is to improving startup culture. Furthermore, he feels that students “seem very interested and excited when presented with startup ideas,” putting the startup culture in the 02138 in a “pretty good place.”
Daniel Um‘19 (email@example.com) hopes to have his own app start-up in the near future.