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Unisalad: An interview with owner Rebecca De Beukelaer

After the launch of the new UniSalad app in January, Impact sat down with University of Nottingham alumnus and creator of the Nottingham buy/sell Facebook page, Rebecca De Beukelaer, to reflect upon the process and the future of her business.

How have you found the process over the past month or so of getting people to download the app rather than using the Facebook page?

It’s been okay. So, my target was to get 5000 students and I’ve got over 5000 students. That’s good, but now I have a new problem. Students are using both platforms, so that’s not ideal. At the start it was just advertising it and getting people on it, now it’s like ‘okay, what am I going to do about this problem?’ That’s my new challenge.

How did you go about advertising and promoting the app?

Obviously, I used buy/sell to promote it loads, and I had ambassadors who I found from when I did market research. So, I had 12 ambassadors and we took over the whole week with Crisis, Yoyo and Ocean to promote it, speak to people in the queue and give out free drinks if they downloaded the app. We were in the SU for a day as well, getting people to spin the wheel and get prizes. Our ambassadors were everywhere during the day.

For anyone who hasn’t downloaded the app yet, what are the benefits of using the app over the Facebook page?

“People also might get scammed on the Facebook page”

The main one is that it’s student only. So, on the Facebook page I had to check everyone who comes in and sometimes people slipped through because I couldn’t tell if they were a student or not. People also might get scammed on the Facebook page, or people create a fake profile and then message people and scam them. You can’t do that on the app because you have to be a student to register with your email address.

“You don’t get annoying notifications every five minutes”

Then, it’s more organised. You have the wall, which is supposed to be where people share stories and funny things. You also have buy/sell tickets, lost and found, housing and travel. So, it’s nice, neat categories – you know what you want and you can find it. You don’t get annoying notifications every five minutes from buy/sell saying all these people are posting.

 What would you say that you have learnt from the process?

From a business point of view, that I aim too high. I thought the app was going to make us loads of revenue and I’m going to get 10,000 downloads and I haven’t got that yet. So, it’s a bit of pressure from the investors. I’ve learnt that apps are very expensive. You can’t just build the app and it’s fine, you have to maintain it and add new features.

What are some of the challenges that you have had to overcome?

I think not being scared to just go up to people and tell them to download the app. You have to keep pushing yourself because before I was more like ‘I don’t want to disturb them’. It’s just physically putting yourself out there, speaking to everyone, speaking on radios and things like that.

What’s the future of UniSalad and what are your goals?

“We’re going make the app better and add new features”

I’m going to Cardiff in a month to try and launch the app there, just before they go on their Easter break. Over summer we’re going make the app better and add new features to make it more level with Facebook and Instagram. In September we’ll go to Manchester, Leeds and I think Oxford Brookes. So, just keep rolling out and see who takes it on.

Would you approach those universities differently?

Yeah, you have to change because with Nottingham I knew where the students were going to be, where the locations are. With Cardiff I don’t know any of that. I’m still going to have ambassadors, we will have an initial meeting where they basically tell me where the hot places are where all the students hang out, which building is the best to promote the app, where the nights out are. Then we’ll launch with them and they’ll help me.

 What advice would you have for students wanting to set up their own business?

Don’t do the same as me and have an idea for three years and don’t do anything about it. That’s so many years wasted. Just do your business plan and don’t spend a year doing your business plan like I did. Then, get a mentor, get on Google because Google has all the answers for everything. Just keep planning and keep speaking to people who have been through that process before as well. But if you don’t put your ideas onto paper and then speak to people to try to get funding or advice, you’ll never get anywhere. Just push yourself. It’s fun.

Sophie Hunt

Featured image courtesy of Matt Madd via Flickr. Image license found here.

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