Startup Switches Facebook Into Study Mode

university of-the-peopleAs a sophomore at the University of Texas, Hoot.Me CEO and co-founder Michael Koetting decided to enter a business plan competition. But he didn’t have a solid idea for a company until he stayed up late one night stuck on his calculus homework.

“I thought, I know that there are 100 other kids working on this right now,” he says. “I wish I could see who they are — I know they’re all on Facebook, but I just don’t know which of them are actually working on this.”

Thus the idea for Hoot.Me. The startup “switches Facebook into study mode” by allowing anyone to create study chat rooms, invite friends to them and join existing rooms that are displayed in a study newsfeed. The “smart” chat rooms can handle math symbols and youtube video embeds, and through a partnership with TokBox, they also provide group video chats.

By the time the business competition rolled around, Hoot.Me was already an LLC.

The team launched a beta version in February and won $25,000 of seed funding with a spot in startup accelerator DreamIt Ventures‘s summer program.

Hoot.Me is not the only startup aiming to create a social study product that makes sense for college students. It’s not even the only student-founded startup with that goal: A team at the University of Pennsylvania recently launched CourseKit, a course management tool with Facebook-like features.

Meanwhile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given its financial blessing to Inigral, a company that makes a customized Facebook app for schools.

What sets apart are video chat — a feature that until earlier today was rare on Facebook — and universality. You can theoretically get help with your Calculus homework from anyone in the world who is using Hoot.Me at the same time as you.

This last aspect also introduces a complication, which is that unlike both CourseKit and Intuit’s app, is not a service that an instructor will use for her class or a school will provide. The burden of inviting people to participate is for the most part on the users.

In the startup’s beta test of the product, about 500 users made an average of five public posts when they used the app by either posting their study room as their statuses or inviting friends to join.

If this type of posting drives enough engagement, Hoot.Me plans to monetize by allowing tutors to offer tutoring sessions on the app.

“Creating a monetization model on top of this is easy if we can get the users engaged and get the students working with each other, which is our real concern,” Koetting says.

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