This UD-born startup aims to bring ‘a new type of value to college towns’

Hen Hatch 2020 finalist Backyard Gig, founded by sophomores Shaun Gupta and Shahroze Ali, is connecting students with local gig work in Newark.

Shahroze Ali and Shaun Gupta, founders of Backyard Gig. (Courtesy photo)
When Suryanuj “Shaun” Gupta, a University of Delaware sophomore majoring in computer science, was a freshman, he took a class in entrepreneurship. One ongoing assignment was to carry around a notebook and write down problems he saw in day-to-day life.

“One problem that I was consistently seeing was that there’s a lot of college students in need of money who don’t necessarily have time to get a part-time jobs because they have classes to go to, clubs, or they’re athletes,” Gupta said.

So he and classmate Shahroze Ali, an earth science major, started looking into possible solutions. They learned through interviewing people in the area that it wasn’t uncommon for those who live in the Newark area to hire UD students for odd jobs like help with moving or pulling weeds. They also found that there were small businesses with tight budgets looking for students to help with things like websites and SEO.

The result was an idea called Backyard Gig — an application focused specifically on one college town, that would connect students with gig work in the community.

The idea was developed in Horn Entrepreneurship programs such as VentureOn, where they took third place in the annual Pitch Party. That led to their introduction to Summer Founders, Horn’s 12-week summer pre-accelerator for early-stage student startups.

“Luckily for us, because of the coronavirus, they were having it restructured this year so basically everyone that applied got in,” said Gupta. “Which was good for us, because it gave us the opportunity to meet with people we otherwise may have not had a chance to meet with and make some great connections over the summer.”

They came out of the program with a minimum viable product that is currently live and functional, though still in its developing stages.

In the long run, we're looking to scale out to as many college campuses as possible.

“It’s a platform, so it’s a website, it’s not an app,” said Gupta. “So far it’s been pretty promising.”

A combination of word-of-mouth and targeted marketing have drawn people to the site, which was designed by Gupta.

“We’ve been using different methods to reach people,” said Ali. “We’ve been using social media marketing in the form of Facebook ads and Nextdoor ads. Additionally, we’re trying to do in-person advertising in the form of postcards we’re handing out and distributing to small businesses. We’re also using some free methods of marketing like posting on Facebook groups, Nextdoor, handing out flyers, and email marketing and campaigns.”

Browsing the approximately 40 listings, you’ll find a wide range. About half fall into general — the moving and weeding jobs Gupta and Ali had identified as something residents looked for college students to help with. Some categories, like event help and indoor work like house cleaning, are understandably light on listings right now, while listings for virtual gigs like tutoring and website updating are trickling in. One user used Backyard Gig to help form a search party for his dog.

At this point, Backyard Gig is only a connector — parties agree on payment terms independent of the platform, similar to Craigslist. But the plan — in fact, the revenue model — is for users to agree to terms and make and receive payments through the platform, similar to freelancing gig sites like Upwork. The platform will eventually take a percentage of the transactions.

In order to do that, they need to raise funds, which, at this point, is focusing on pitch competitions across the country, including UD’s Hen Hatch competition, for which they were selected as one of six finalists who will compete for a slice of a prize pool of $50,000 on Dec. 3.

Currently, the Backyard Gig platform serves the greater Newark area, including Bear and Glasgow. Looking forward, they hope to expand into other college towns.

“I think our model is basically providing a new type of value to college towns,” said Ali. “We think that our model can be scaled out to not just the Newark community but also other college campuses. Ideally, we would want to branch first to places like Dover, where Delaware State University is, and then maybe Philadelphia. So in the long run, we’re looking to scale out to as many college campuses as possible.”

Companies: Backyard Gig / University of Delaware

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