Featured Startup Pitch: Hatched at the University of Iowa, clusterFlunk facilitates real-time collaboration between college students

By Editor October 30, 2013
clusterFlunk logo

AJ Nelson and Joe Dallago, clusterFlunkBy Joe Dallago and A.J. Nelson, clusterFlunk co-founders

Elevator Pitch: Through its unique website, clusterFlunk assists college students enrolled in university lecture classes to form study groups and other collaborations.  

Product/Service Description

We are former University of Iowa students and co-founders of clusterFlunk.

clusterFlunk is an online hub for academic collaboration among classmates at the University of Iowa. The site bridges the gap between social media networking and the evolving educational sphere. clusterFlunk allows students to log onto our website and connect anonymously with students in their lecture halls.

Students also can access archived documents—old tests, quizzes, lecture notes, study guides, and more—from users enrolled in the same course, previous semesters. The site then serves as an online community with educational materials, as well as a means for students in a course to feel connected and more likely to succeed.

Founders’ Story

As students, we became frustrated by classes ranging from 200-to-400 people, a size that offers few chances to connect and learn with others. The ability to collaborate by sharing notes and joining study groups was difficult to navigate with such large classes and no class time set aside. We noticed this educational flaw in the context of the growing audiences using social networking sites and, consequently, co-founded and developed clusterFlunk.

In establishing clusterFlunk, both of us envisioned it as ‘the way our generation does education.’ clusterFlunk’s success came from our own interest in creating a disruptive educational platform that differs from a university’s top-down approach. We took our own natural ability to connect within social media spheres and applied this to our large roster of active users. Soon, we were becoming recognized as young entrepreneurs. Publications have picked up on our success, dubbing us Student Entrepreneurs of the Year and 2012 Rookies of the Year—titles we are very proud of.

Our work started at the University of Iowa because we are former students and grew up in nearby Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We are familiar with the University of Iowa class sizes and community of students, allowing us to develop our business plan before expanding elsewhere across the state and, eventually, outside of Iowa.

Marketing/Promotion Strategy

With clusterFlunk, we are serving a community that’s comfortable with using social media networks. As a result, a significant chunk of our growth comes from grassroots efforts geared toward word-of-mouth among users, and friends inviting other friends. Both of us, along with our incredible team, find it important to encourage users to share their activity and appreciation for the site. Users then have the chance to become clusterFlunk ‘celebs,’ or top users, with the website boasting about their activity. Peers have recognized these ‘celebs’ across campus in academic and social settings for their contributions to the site.

This marketing strategy proved successful in helping us grow, which in turn has assisted our investment efforts. Our recent Seed funding round raised $100,000 and attracted five key advisors. We were able to expand our user base through new technological efforts and invaluable guidance from leaders in the technology and startup spheres. At the beginning of this fall semester, we recorded a 100 percent return rate, with 25 percent of the University of Iowa campus enrolled. The university’s fall 2013 enrollment was 31,065.

clusterFlunk’s unique approach to supporting higher-education learning through technology is what helped us attract influential investors. Ben Milne, founder and CEO of Dwolla, joined the team as a lead investor in 2013. Milne supports clusterFlunk because he believes we possess “that built-in Midwest hustle and clarity of purpose you just don’t find very often.” Milne has been a huge supporter and teacher.

Milne’s involvement attracted others in the technology and startup fields, including Josh Cramer, CEO of Cramer Dev; Brad Dwyer, founder of Hatchlings; Dan Smith, Social Business Analyst at ACT; and Anthony Marlowe, co-founder of TMone.

How clusterFlunk Differs From the Competition

To date, clusterFlunk has worked with over 6,000 users and continues to grow by the hundreds. Our core team is eager to harness this growth and eventually expand further to other universities. clusterFlunk designed its website to serve as a ground-up approach, rather than the traditional way of working through the university’s administration to provide services. This allows clusterFlunk to differ from the variety of other college course web tools available and connect directly with the students.

Beyond the number of students who use clusterFlunk, the site counts other differentiators. It’s interactive, digital and consistent across platforms. Our motto, ‘how our generation does education,’ explains how clusterFlunk gives users the simplicity of uploading, sharing, and discussing course materials, while also browsing material from previous semesters.

clusterFlunk Needs

We are working to build a solid business model and strong confidence in clusterFlunk’s success so we feel secure in expanding beyond the University of Iowa community. We have retained a web developer, Joey Robert, based in Canada, who has helped us create a stable and consistent online platform for users. Much of our feedback comes directly from the users, and we strive to connect with them weekly to learn what they like and where they have issues.

The ability to establish our business plan and online platform will allow us to grow our team and expand our efforts, offering our services to many more students in Iowa and nationwide.

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clusterFlunk logoWebsite: www.clusterflunk.com

Founders: Joe Dallago, A.J. Nelson

Headquarters: Iowa City, Iowa

Year Founded: 2011

Investors: Ben Milne, Josh Cramer, Brad Dwyer, Dan Smith, Anthony Marlowe ($100,000 total)

Twitter: @clusterFlunk

Facebook: facebook.com/clusterFlunk

AngelList: angel.co/clusterflunk

CrunchBase: crunchbase.com/company/clusterflunk