Some problems are so minor that they’re not even recognized as existing until a solution is found. And the solution is often so simple that it all it takes is an encounter with said problem. This is how ALA alumnus Brian Ngugi relieved a headache for students at Jacobs University in Germany.
“As a freshman slowly furnishing my own room, I closely watched my e-mail looking for ads from other students selling things that were often in fairly great shape and reasonably priced,” Brian explains.
“The more ads I saw, the more I realized how inefficient the infrastructure was for what students were trying to do.”
As the year progressed Brian, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at the university, started sending e-mails out to buyers and sellers, gathering information about their experiences and pain points. This feedback, he says, informed the design of an e-commerce app Brian built to ease the arduous process of buying and selling goods between students.
The Jacobs Store app allows users to take photos of items, post them to a feed of things on sale, keep track of transactions and chat with interested buyers about a pick up time and location. Within two months of launching (on 1 September, 2017), Jacobs Store has grown to over 350 users (25% of the university’s population) – and has now become the marketplace for Jacobs University students.
“We ended up with over 100 downloads within our first week.”
“When we launched the app, the reception was far better than we expected. As I was coding out the app and getting the final details done, I really expected less than 20 people to give it a try. However, we ended up with over 100 downloads within our first week and had people posting items, finding buyers and completing transactions all on the app,” says Brian, who is now in his sophomore year.
After graduating from ALA, Brian followed his passion for technology to Silicon Valley where he attended Draper University, Silicon Valley’s leading entrepreneurship program. While at Draper, he and other promising young entrepreneurs networked with successful startup founders, pitched seed-stage startups to seasoned venture capitalists and learnt from industryexperts about building meaningful technology for the world.
“Every decision we made was always focused on our users”
He brought that learning into the development of the e-commerce app: “Every decision we made was always focused on our users and trying to solve a problem for them. We beta tested the app for over a month with a small group of users who were able to help refine the app to what it is now,” Brian explains.
He is continually working on improving the product, and keen to potentially expand the platform to other universities.”As we grow the platform and our team, we would like to deepen our understanding of e-commerce within communities and find ways to potentially expand it to more communities outside of our university. For now, our team is focused on refining our Android app and website as we build for iOS users.”