By Pat Shaver
IOWA CITY—The owners of a local startup company have had a busy summer.
Young entrepreneurs and co-founders of Iowa City-based ClusterFlunk, Joe Dallago and A.J. Nelson, are ready to push their company to the next level.
ClusterFlunk launched in January and is a social networking and information sharing site for college students to communicate with each other about the classes they share.
Mr. Dallago and Mr. Nelson attended Cedar Rapids Prairie High School, where they became best friends. The two ended up at the University of Iowa, where they became business partners. As students, the two experienced a problem first-hand and looked for a solution: it can be challenging meeting people and sharing ideas and information in a large lecture class.
“The problem lies in a class with 400 students in a class with one teacher; there are endless questions and not enough help,” Mr. Nelson said.
To date, the ClusterFlunk website has about 2,600 users at the UI. They hope to end the semester in December with 10,000 users, Mr. Nelson said.
They tried to get students registered on other campuses like Kirkwood Community College, Cornell College and the University of Northern Iowa, but have since scaled back and refocused.
“We’re focused on the University of Iowa. We want to figure out how to capture and scale without having people on the ground,” Mr. Nelson said.
Another focus is finding a way to monetize the business. Since the site is free for students, Mr. Dallago said they are looking at the best way for the company to make money.
Along with increasing users at the UI, they plan to hire their first employee. This summer, they finished the first round of funding, securing $100,000 from several investors to hire a developer and build a team. The money will also go toward building the product.
Originally, ClusterFlunk’s office was at the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory on the UI campus, an incubator for UI students pursuing startups while attending school. They have moved into space in CramerDev’s office at 226 S. Clinton St., Iowa City.
The pair was recently nominated for the Silicon Prairie News Student Entrepreneur of the Year award. The awards recognize outstanding products, strong leadership and noteworthy contributions to the community over the last year. The winners will be announced at an event in Des Moines on Aug. 29.
In May, they made the decision to not return as students and focus full-time on the business. Mr. Dallago was majoring in computer engineering and Mr. Nelson was a business major.
“Last semester, we took the leap of faith, as everybody likes to coin it,” Mr. Nelson said.
“We like to call it a calculated risk,” Mr. Dallago added. “And it shows how much we believed in this. We had already been working on it for a year, so it was a very natural next step.”
When ClusterFlunk was started, the website was pretty basic. Over time, Mr. Dallago and Mr. Nelson have collected feedback from users and used that information to shape the site.
They are hosting ClusterFlunk’s Coming Back Party starting at 7 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Summit, 10 S. Clinton St in Iowa City, to kick off the start of the new semester and the redesigned ClusterFlunk website. Last year’s launch party brought in about 700 people.
The event will hopefully kick off the goal of having 10,000 registered users by the end of the semester, Mr. Nelson said. There will be no cover charge, a DJ, drink specials and the first 500 guests will get a ClusterFlunk T-shirt.
Web startups often have launch parties in places like the Silicon Valley, but maybe not as often in Iowa, which is where the idea came from.
“It’s part of the culture of our company and the college culture,” Mr. Dallago said.