New mobile startup Classy wants to facilitate campus commerce

(Photo by Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
(Photo by Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)

The startup factory Blade is unveiling its first project today: an iPhone app called Classy that wants to supplant Craigslist and Facebook as the dominant way of buying and selling things on college campuses.

Just in time for the mass migration back to Boston this month…

Classy’s founder is Michael MacLean, who graduated from UMass-Boston last December, and conducted a one-week pilot test on its campus this past spring. (At that stage, the company was known as TextMarlin, and focused only on textbooks.) As the fall semester gets rolling, Classy will be working to build awareness and usage at four Boston-area schools: Northeastern, Harvard, Boston University, and Babson. It’ll also keep operating at UMass-Boston, where MacLean says there are nearly 1000 users.

“There are 20 million college kids in the U.S.,” says Paul English, one of Blade’s founders. “And one of the things I’m really excited about is that Boston is definitely the best place to launch anything targeted at the college market, since we have so many different types of schools here.” English says that Blade’s second venture, launching soon, is also targeted at college students.

To use Classy, students will need to register with both a Facebook profile and a .edu e-mail address. “Having a real name and photo is much safer,” English says. “The idea is very much anti the creepy Craigslist experience of meeting anonymous people in random places.” When students log in, they’ll see a main menu page that’s customized to their school.

classyscreenshotClassy will focus on facilitating the purchase and sale of just three categories of items: textbooks, clothing, and electronics. Initially, payments will happen in cash, outside of the app. But in a later version of the app, English explains, Classy might manage the transaction with a user’s credit card or PayPal account and take a cut. Another revenue possibility: businesses that market to students (say, a furniture store) may be able to pay to have listings featured.

MacLean says the company plans to have student ambassadors promoting its app on each of the five campuses where it’s trying to foster usage: “They’ll be pounding the pavement and talking to students.” The company will also be at CollegeFest next month at Fenway Park.

Blade’s model is to invest in a small number of companies each year and use its collection of in-house experts to help them build and launch products. Among those who worked on the Classy app were former Zappos and Gilt Groupe designer Brian Kalma and Dennis Doughty, Blade’s VP of technology, formerly an exec at Jumptap. Before Classy arrived at Blade, one of its early backers was Frank Swain, chief revenue officer of Crittercism.

Plenty of startups have attempted to become the Craigslist of the college universe. Part of the appeal is that college students could continue using a marketplace after they graduate, helping it follow a similar trajectory as Facebook. It’ll be interesting to see whether Classy can make it happen…

(I covered the Blade incubator when it opened in May.)

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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