Apps / Entrepreneurs / Philadelphia Neighborhoods / Social media / Startups

Why these app founders took a break from Penn to focus on ‘Down to Chill’

The app aims to make hanging out with friends easier. Its founders say the decision to take a year off from school was an easy one.

Four University of Pennsylvania students took the year off to promote their mobile app. Michael Powell, Matt Wojcieszek, Adam Elkassas and Arjun Raj Jain all have taken the year off to launch Down to Chill.

“Down to Chill, simply put, is a way to see when your friends are free and a way to choose which friends you want to hang out without having to text them first,” said Powell, 20, the company’s COO.

Users can connect the app to their Facebook account and then set a time when they’re “down to chill.” Users are matched up based on proximity, availability and their use of hashtags (such as #lunch or #drinking). Currently, Down to Chill has around 2,000 users, Powell said.

Powell walked us through how the app works:

The company has three engineers and three Wharton students (two of them with dual degrees in engineering and business). They all agreed that the decision to leave Penn for a year wasn’t difficult.

“It was an easy decision for me because I have always wanted to do my own thing,” said Elkassas, 20, cofounder and programmer. “I felt that school was holding me back with the heavy time devotion that classes required.”

Powell agreed that by placing Down to Chill on the backburner while in school would not benefit either the application or his education.

“We can’t half-ass two things and get okay results out of both,” said Powell. “Not do great in school because we are doing a startup and not do our startup all the way because we are still in school, so we should really focus on one. We may as well take a year off and see what we can do with it.”

It may have been a lesson Elkassas and Jain learned with their previous startup, StudyUp (née Noteriety).

The either/or sentiment is one shared by fellow Penn student Ashwin Muthiah, who took a year off to pursue his art marketplace Easely. Still, it’s not the norm: most of the Philly student entrepreneurs we’ve seen have stayed in school, with Firefly cofounder Dan Shipper as perhaps the most notable. Shipper staying in school was a point of pride for First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, who himself launched a startup while at Penn, finished his degree and later took the company — Infonautics — public. (First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund was a Firefly investor. The company was acquired this summer.)

Supporting college entrepreneurs will be a major focus of an upcoming Start.Stay.Grow. event hosted at the city’s new Innovation Lab.

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The Down to Chill team plans to spend the year promoting the app to clubs, teams, fraternities and sororities on Penn’s campus. Eventually, they say they want to branch away from Penn and go to other colleges, music festivals and other cities.

A few weeks ago, Down to Chill launched an online campaign with all the founders starring in a YouTube video.

“In reality, we have to start spreading to the people who don’t know us as Matt, Michael, Arjun or Adam, but know us as Down to Chill,” said Powell. “We need to spread as a company and not as an individual. We are aiming towards that corporate infrastructure that will allow us to spread.”

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