Editor’s note: VentureBeat has started a new series called “Startup Spotlight.” Twice a month, we’ll sift through the scores of companies applying to be promoted in this series, and profile the best one. Companies can sign up here at the Entrepreneur Corner, which is currently sponsored by Microsoft. (Of course, we’re still interested in covering startup news and innovation in our day-to-day coverage.) Today, we kick it off the series with Unigo, below.
High school seniors across the country chose where to go for college earlier this month, but few probably knew about college information database Unigo.
The site aggregates student-generated information about 2,000 universities and is looking to add more. Emerging as a competitor to sites like CollegeConfidential, CampusExplorer and the Princeton Review, Unigo provides a number of critiques for each campus (124 for Cornell, 61 for UC Berkeley, for example), as well as ratings for various features like sports culture, alcohol use, security, etc. based on student voting.
Every school page also gives you the option of viewing relevant photos and videos provided by students, demographic and admission statistics, application deadlines and more. All of these data points are pretty standard to college guides you can buy at the bookstore. But Unigo takes it one step further with rarefied information like campus traditions, links to recent news stories about schools, a listing of and links to school publications so that prospective students can get an even more in-depth look at campus life, and forums where site users can discuss individual schools.
It’s easy to contribute a review — you don’t even need to sign up or prove you attended an institution upfront. The questions it asks reviewers are also different than you would think, much more oriented toward social aspects of university life. This might seem risky, but Unigo says all content passes through the site’s editorial team for quality and accuracy. So far, the site does appear to be a source of information that students couldn’t get anywhere else — even more comprehensive than a regular campus tour. One video for UC Berkeley titled “Cal as Hotbed of Ugliness” clues viewers in to the relative unattractiveness of the student body (in the opinion of the video makers, of course).
The Stanford page includes a video called “Stanford dating and stereotypes.” This is information most applicants or admitted students would be interested in, or at least amused by. Typically, college forums have been incredibly popular. Thousands of students flock to sites like CollegeConfidential (the most polished), CollegeToolkit, StudentDoctor and GradSchoolForum every year to post their questions and have their peers weigh their chances of admission based on their GPAs, SAT scores and extracurriculars. They are great places to commiserate — perhaps more so than they are places to get information. If Unigo can build its brand and become a central destination for this kind of activity, then it might have it made.
Unigo has also cast itself much more as a social network than its rivals, which could benefit it in the long run. Users can set up profiles, friend one another and send each other messages. It stands to reason that if it’s successful (or rather, in order to be truly successful) it will find a way to integrate with Facebook and other relevant networks. At least, that would be the smart move. It wouldn’t be too hard for Facebook to launch similar services on its own. Right now, Unigo runs targeted ads served by Google, which, depending on how much traffic it draws, could provide a healthy stream of revenue.
Based in New York, the company was founded by 26-year-old Jordan Goldman and has so far received positive reviews from papers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times for the freshness and candor of its reviews. It was also just nominated for a Webby in the social networking category. Incidentally, Goldman was a case study in the elite college admissions book “The GateKeepers” and author of the “Students’ Guide to Colleges” published in 2005. Unigo raised an undisclosed amount of funding last fall from a crop of prestigious investors, including JetBlue board member Frank Sica, ConsumerSearch co-founder Carl Hamann, Capstone hedge fund founder Paul Britton and Yucaipa Global partner David Olson.