Interview with President

A while back, Megan Parker from SS.PR contacted Chris Pund suggesting an interview with Abdullah Yahya; President of   Chris forwarded this to me and asked if I would be interested, I agreed, and so here are the results of our interview.

Summary: is a college course search engine, primarily marketing towards community colleges and those interested in improving their own personal skills.  The site launched in October 2008 and currently is only in the California region with 50,000+ courses.  Definitely keep an eye on this site!

1)      What was the “ahh haa” moment for you? How did you decide to start this site?
A few years ago I (Abdullah Yahya) wanted to find a French course to take in my spare t me. I first tried searching Google for courses but it didn’t give relevant local results. Then I visited the college websites in my area. Not only did I not know all of the schools available in my area, I found that searching them was very time-consuming and frustrating as I had to conduct separate searches. I figured if there was a search engine for jobs, cars and real estate, there should also be a search engine for courses. This led to the birth of Courseopedia with co-founders Jawad Ahmad and Haseeb Qawam.

2)      When did you start / how long did it take you to develop the site?

We started Courseopedia in October 2008. It took a few months to develop and a few months to populate it with the 50,000+ course we currently have in it from various California community colleges.

3)      The tough thing about starting any website is the “Catch 22” problem between Conent vs Traffic vs Advertisements.  A site will not receive any traffic without adequate content (IE students will not visit Courseopedia if their school and courses are not listed).  No one will advertise or pay to be on the site without adequate traffic.  How did Courseopedia manage this constant challenge?

We realize that this is a problem so we aggregated course information from various California community colleges to seed the database so that prospective students will find results in their searches. We currently have a little over 50,000 courses on Courseopedia. We hope this will lead to colleges and private instructors to post their courses themselves (which is currently free) to generate more content for search users.

4)      What is the business model of Courseopedia?

Currently, Courseopedia is free for colleges and instructors to post course information. Eventually we will charge a nominal per-course posting fee. We may also sell ads.

5)      If a student is already enrolled at university___X___, why would they use your system to search for classes; when they can use the system provided by the school?

Courseopedia’s primary purpose is for the general public that is interested in finding continuing education courses such as real estate, art, weight training, French, Java programming, etc. Many of these types of courses are offered at community colleges. Courseopedia is not intended to replace a school’s own course search engine but rather to help them market their courses to the general public to increase enrollment.

6)      How is the site funded? (Privately, loans, credit, investors, etc.)

The site is currently privately funded.

a.       What are the top questions you would suggest to others to practice/know before seeking funding.

What’s your business model? How much traffic do you have? Who are your competitors? What’s your go-to-market strategy?

7)      Explain the process of how you got the first couple schools on-board.

We presented Courseopedia at the ACCCA (Association of California Community ollege Administors) conference and the TechEd (Technology in Education) conference. We also had a booth at the TechEd conference and emailed some college marketing directors. These efforts eventually resulted in a few early adopters coming on board as launch partner colleges.

8)      How do you go about expanding to other schools?

We plan on manually aggregating college course information until we generate enough traffic to the site which would interest colleges and instructors to post their courses themselves. Our expectation is that the more courses and traffic to the site, the more schools and instructors will want to post their own courses resulting in continuous expansion. /span>

9)      How do you get the word out about your website to the students at the 17 schools your currently at?

Courseopedia caters to the general public, not just current college students. As such, in addition to our publicity efforts, we plan on using social media and local advertising to reach out to the areas where we currently have many courses.

10)   How do you:

a.       Get the data

We have custom-built scrapers that aggregate course information.

b.      Maintain the data (and ensure it is accurate)

Every semester we aggregate new course information. Most college course information doesn’t change. We inform search users in search results that course information is subject to change and encourage them to verify the accuracy of course information with the course provider. Schools and instructors who post courses themselves can log in and update their course information to ensure accuracy.

11)   Do you plan on adding the ability to register for classes also in the future? (One stop searching, one top registration).
We currently don’t plan on adding a course registration feature because that would require integration with college registration systems which vary from one college to another and contain confidential student information. Colleges can include course registration links directly in course detail pages on Courseopedia for students to register directly at the college’s website.

12)   What top 5 resources do you use or would you suggest to other student entrepreneurs currently in school?

1. Use a shared web hosting service to initially keep costs low
2. Use open-source technologies to keep costs low
3. Use social media to help spread the word in a low-cost way (e.g. youtube, facebook, myspace, twitter, etc)
4. Read tech blogs, e.g. TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, etc, to keep apprised of other web startups, potential competitors and the startup community in general.
5. Attend free or low-cost entrepreneur meetings to network with people in the field.

13)   What is your favorite quote?

Don’t worry about what anybody else is going to do. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. -Alan Kay

This was a guest post by College Town Menus (CTM).  CTM enables restaurants the ability to dynamically control every aspect of their menu on one central website that targets students from their respective college towns. With CTM acting as the official restaurant portal for local universities, students are able to quickly identify what and where to eat, without having to search multiple websites or scuffle through their menu drawer.

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