CourseCafe, the “Other FaceBook”


Coursecafe_250x40 is for Students’ Academic life what the FaceBook has become for their Social Life.

One of the privileges of moderating the SVASE VC Breakfast Sessions is that I get to meet interesting startups before they “come out”. JustStudents, founded by CEO Puneet Gupta is definitely one of the most promising ones – so promising in fact, that I better hurry up writing this, before they become well known:-) No kidding: TechCrunch recently profiled their main offering, CourseCafe – within days an entrepreneurial senior from Pepperdine University contacted Puneet, and in a matter of two weeks set up a pilot launch at his campus.

A very simple way to define a new product / business is by way of comparison to an existing one: calling CourseCafe the for students does not do it justice, but is a good first attempt. We could also define it as a combination of vertical search, social tagging, networking, personal productivity and collaboration tools. The key tenet is to make every aspect of college students’ academic life – yes, that remaining small percentage they don’t already spend having fun on the Facebook – easier, more productive.

To begin with, CourseCafe uploads all departments and course information of the participating Universities, then helps students’ research on the Net, incorporating their tagged results in it’s knowledge base. Over years this builds up an immense knowledge base: students get the most relevant results by seeing what their peers taking the same courses at previous semesters tagged appropriately. They get better results in less time. Unlike the FaceBook, which is an online replica of real-life campuses, I tend to think it will make sense for CourseCafe to extend their reach outside individual campuses; after all students of the same discipline can enrich the knowledge base, even is their course syllabus isn’t exactly the same.

Puneet has a few other tricks up his sleeve: StudentVision is a personal productivity product that should be a must on every student’s laptop. It allows for more extensive course management (tracking syllabus, activites, instructors, assignments, deadlines, grades..etc), provides a self-updating calendar for both course-related and personal use that communicates to mobile devices, and has a powerful note-taker (drag&drop, import/export, pen support for tablet PC’s… etc), and facilities to organize one’s research data on-and offline. StudentVision will be fully valuable when it’s completely integrated with CourseCafe, but even then I see it as a powerful tool, somewhat of a Microsoft-killer that saves students a few hundred $ … who needs Office, OneNote, when you have this?

A third element of the “grand scheme” is FacultyVision, which … well, you guessed it right:-) Eventually all the three pieces will seamlessly work together, but for now, as every startup JustStudents needs a singular focus, and that is on rolling out CourseCafe to more campuses. SignUp for CourseCafe on their website. Those interested in using StudentVision can download it for free.

The individual productivity tool will be useful from day one, the network – knowledge-sharing effect obviously kicks in as more and more students use the system. This points me to another comparison: The only asset FaceBook has is their members – quite significant asset, over 5M users, 70% of which use the system every day – that said it’s still just members, and students being quite experimental, there’s not much to hold them back when another, sexier system comes along; just check out XuQa, claiming to be present on 7500 campuses. (Update: see Paul Kedrosky on lack of stickyness in Social Networks)
CourseCafe, on the other hand build intellectual property: the cumulative knowledge of generations of students will be an asset hard to leave behind, in case a “wannabe-site” arrives. No wonder this startup has already been approached by a major scientific / technical publisher as well as a leading portal/search engine.

Keep an eye on them …

Update (12/04): David Hornik writes about “Social Network 3.0” in Ventureblog.

Update (12/06): In the week since writing this post, CourseCafe went live on 6 more campuses. The list is now: Drexel, Pepperdine, Rose Hulman, RPI, SJSU, Stanford, UC Davis. Wow!

Update (1/22): Puneet started his blog. High time!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. CourseCafe is Taking Off

%d bloggers like this: