Recent alumni help students catch a steal with DormDeal

Carnegie Mellon alumni (from left to right) Jonathan Bender, Collin Buchan, Nolan Carrol, and Patrick Hogan created a startup that provides a safe environment for students to buy and sell products. (credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Bender) Carnegie Mellon alumni (from left to right) Jonathan Bender, Collin Buchan, Nolan Carrol, and Patrick Hogan created a startup that provides a safe environment for students to buy and sell products. (credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Bender)

Have a textbook you want to sell? Furniture you want to get rid of? Tickets to a game or concert you can’t make anymore? One option is DormDeal, a new web app developed by a team of Carnegie Mellon alumni that allows members of the campus community to buy or sell used goods in a safe environment.

The app was developed by Jonathan Bender and Nolan Carroll, both information systems students who graduated this past year; Collin Buchan, a fifth-year electrical and computer engineering master’s student; and Patrick Hogan, a recent mechanical engineering graduate. Bender currently holds the position of CEO, Carroll is the web developer, Buchan is the Android developer, and Hogan is in charge of design.

The group members began as best friends who decided to enter the 2013 TartanHacks competition during their senior year. “Nolan actually had the domain [] since freshman year ... so we thought it would be a great idea to actually make it at the competition,” Bender said.

The team ended up winning the “eBay Best of eCommerce Hack” award, which inspired the group to take the project further. “I don’t think any of us expected for it to take off as much as it did from TartanHacks,” Hogan said.

Despite having only been developed this past January, DormDeal already has over 1,200 users. Currently, the main universities that are parts of the system are Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, and Pennsylvania State University. The app aims to connect buyers and sellers in the same location.

“We operate under the assumption that people have physical access to their university and can make deals on their campus,” Buchan said.

Bender added, “The way we view it is that if we’re right down the street from Pitt, why not walk 200 yards and get a textbook for $20 cheaper?”

A user must have a university-associated email address in order to create an account. “This really helps ensure that layer of trust that the people you’re dealing with are members of your community, and since they’re not anonymous, they will be held accountable for their actions,” Buchan explained. He also mentioned that in other used-goods markets, such as Craigslist, users will create more than one account to barter with sellers unfairly. On DormDeal, however, you can only sign up once.

Another feature of the app is that it is very image oriented. “People like to know what they’re getting. Personally, I would never buy something on Craigslist unless I can see a picture of it,” Carroll said. Though it is not required for sellers to use pictures, there is a filter option to search only for products that come with pictures. Search results can also be narrowed to specific product categories, such as books, furniture, electronics, appliances, apparel, and tickets.

Ticket sales have been very popular — particularly at colleges such as Penn State, which boasts a prominent sports culture. “One of the things we’re looking at, especially for ticket sales ... is being able to have it show the bids of other people so you can have a bidding war,” Bender said.

While ticket sales may be popular at certain universities, DormDeal may discover other niches at different schools as it expands. “It’s tailored to each different college, to see what their community is like, and the things they’re looking to buy and sell,” Hogan said.

Some future directions that the team is taking include deals for housing, promotions in Pittsburgh, a ride-share program, and developing an iOS app. DormDeal’s new housing section will allow students to contact members living in off-campus housing who are graduating or looking for new roommates, as well as allow people to be pulled into open slots in on-campus housing.

“We’re looking to have that done in the next couple of months,” Bender said, “so that it will be ready before room draw happens.”

The section on promotions in Pittsburgh will allow restaurants and other local companies to offer student deals through DormDeal. Ride share will endeavor to connect students who want to carpool home for breaks or for other reasons.

“We really want this to be a service to students,” Bender said. “We want to make it something that is eventually the first thing you think of when you think of selling your textbook because it’s easy and free to you.”