College Students – The Craigslist Alternative You’ve Been Waiting For Is Finally Here And It’s Called VERTO
Despite its archaic design and non-existent vetting process, Craigslist has become one of the world’s biggest platforms for buying and selling used goods. The site supports more than 80M new advertisements every month for all types of products, services, and jobs, culminating in over 450M page views each year. That’s some serious traffic. Yet, there are many ways the platform falls short for users who want to avoid engaging with unverified strangers and prefer a more personalized experience. Fortunately, a team of students out of Boston University’s BUild Lab is working on a convenient new user-friendly alternative that has the potential to spread across college campuses all over the country.
Meet VERTO, a newly launched eCommerce platform designed specifically for college students that enhances the online buying and selling experience by incorporating machine learning, door-to-door delivery, and tighter user verification into its platform. We had a chance to speak with one of the startup’s founders, Pablo Ferreyra, who gave us the inside scoop on VERTO’s story and its exciting vision for the future.
A Differentiated Offering With Promising Pilot Results
How Is VERTO Different From Other e-Commerce Sites?
VERTO is a mobile and web-based digital marketplace that improves upon existing platforms in a way that resonates specifically with college students unlike e-commerce sites like Craigslist.
“Craigslist is great, but they don’t offer you any help, they don’t offer delivery or vet their users before they are allowed to use the platform.” -Pablo Ferreyra, VERTO CEO
Unlike traditional e-commerce platforms, VERTO requires a .edu email address to sign up, creating a baseline commonality amongst all users and warding off imposters and scam artists. Secondly, VERTO uses photo recognition technology that can label items based on uploaded pictures which helps students list products in under ten seconds.
“We do cool things like this with our tech to reduce friction so users can upload one photo and they are good to go. -Pablo Ferreyra, VERTO CEO
The engineers behind VERTO have also enhanced machine learning algorithms that enable the app to not only display products that are relevant to the specific user but also give more specific information about the products themselves.
“We use the product titles to feed into the recommendation algorithm, allowing us to increase the speed of transactions and the improve the overall user experience.”
-Pablo Ferreyra, VERTO CEO
Rather than having to sift through every product for sale, students just see results based on their search history and behavior on the app. Finally, the company partners with Postmates, a logistics company with mobile couriers, to enable same-day and door-to-door deliveries of goods which allows both buyer and seller to complete a transaction without having to leave the comforts of their homes or dorms.
How Has Early Adoption Been For The Platform?
On September, 13th 2018, VERTO launched a pilot for BU students that has attracted hundreds of users and thousands of product listings. To start, the platform is focusing on electronic goods which tend to be smaller, easier to transport and too expensive for college students to purchase new in-store, but users can upload anything. VERTO is free to use and doesn’t take any commission on transactions which helps get cost-conscious college students on board. Postmates’ delivery fee is also integrated seamlessly into the platform so that users don’t have to worry about paying for delivery separately outside of the app when their goods are delivered.
VERTO’s Mission: Safe, Affordable, Easy-to-Use
What Inspired VERTO’s Creation?
VERTO was founded by Pablo Ferreyra and Soon Sung Hong, two Boston University engineers (‘19), who were moved to action after hearing about a college friend’s horrible Craigslist experience. Ferreyra and Hong had already won four hackathons together and decided that improving eCommerce for college students was a challenge they wanted to tackle. The two interviewed hundreds of other students and gathered intel on their pain points with existing platforms.
Find the problem, then create the solution!
“We quickly learned the importance of customer interviews. We literally stood in front of Marsh Chapel and did everything to get people to talk us…gift cards and all! After a couple hundred interviews, we found that most students didn’t feel safe using Craigslist- for example, girls don’t feel safe going to Summerville to meet at random buyer with $500 in cash in their hands without someone to go with them.” -Pablo Ferreyra, VERTO CEO
Through this process of data collection, the founders learned that safety, affordability, and ease-of-use were all important, none of which are addressed well with existing secondhand eCommerce sites.
How Has Boston University’s BUild Lab supported the startup?
VERTO has been supported by BU’s BUild Lab which has connected the startup to mentorship, a capital network, and other valuable resources like $13,000 of funding when they joined the BUild Lab Summer Accelerator Program.
“The BUild Lab runs year round with 100’s of workshops during the year, a legal clinic every Thursday, and experts in resident and executives that will dedicate hours of their time to talk about something specific. These are people whose rates our startup would never have been able to afford!” -Pablo Ferreyra, VERTO CEO
As a result, Ferreyra and Hong were able to carefully build their team and move successfully towards a pilot launch. Today, VERTO’s founders are focused on creating an unparalleled user experience before scaling to other universities, a primary goal for 2019. In the future, Ferreyra and Hong believe there is potential for VERTO to expand beyond the current target market and compete with other secondhand eCommerce giants like Craigslist and eBay.
Learn From What Already Exists, Don’t Reinvent The Wheel!
This Untold Business University Spotlight reminds us that there is rich opportunity in refining an existing business model so that it better supports a smaller sub-segment with unique needs. Secondhand eCommerce platforms are not a new concept, but the VERTO team has created a solution that is much better for college students who want to safely engage with other students who face similar economic limitations and share the desire for a more personalized app-based experience. See if you can identify a niche population that is overlooked by familiar, widely used services or platforms and build something that better suits their needs. This way, you aren’t starting from ground zero and you have an excellent benchmark from which to measure your progress. And for our college student readers, be on the lookout for VERTO in 2019 and beyond!
November 12, 2018 | Chaz Hermanowski – Untold Business Content Director