David and Jerry. Larry and Sergey. It's like a Jeopardy! category: Guys Who Created Fortune 500 Tech Companies While at Stanford University.
Could Kayvon and Aaron be the next power dudes to join that group?
Best friends from boyhood, now sophomores at Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., Kayvon Beykpour and Aaron Wasserman, along with a group of five other friends, have built a free application for the iPhone that has the academic world buzzing. So far, their program, "iStanford," which launched Oct. 1, is pretty straightforward: users can access a campus map and course catalog, e-mail professors and get news and information about sports teams. Nothing wildly innovative about that. (See the top 10 iPhone applications of 2008.)
But the newest version, slated to arrive shortly, also allows students to add and drop courses, see the real-time whereabouts of the on-campus shuttle bus, review their grades and course history and perform a variety of other administrative tasks that are normally accessible only over secure campus networks. That's because, in an unusual move, Stanford's IT folks allowed the developers to connect to core computer systems at Stanford.
"The key is they're integrating [the iPhone app] with our central system," said Tom Black, Stanford's registrar, who noted that the team was held to the same level of scrutiny as an outside vendor. "Usually student apps aren't allowed to go anywhere near that. We're breaking some ground here."
"We're not doing it irresponsibly," added Tim Flood, who runs the school's student-affairs information systems. Flood said that student privacy is being protected and that the application is secure. "But this will challenge administrators in higher education to think about how we all deliver information."
The app has been so well received that scores of schools around the country have contacted the students' company about designing their own iPhone apps. (Yes, Beykpour and another boyhood pal, Joe Bernstein, have already launched a start-up in San Francisco, called TerriblyClever, without any angel or venture capital funding. And yes, it's already profitable, Beykpour said.)
Of course, the real money is in customizing their app and getting it onto every college and university campus in the world. The majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. rely on only three or four information-management systems, such as PeopleSoft, which in turn allow students to add and drop courses, get their grades and handle the student and teacher directories. TerriblyClever is already integrating its iPhone application with those major systems which appeals to campuses, since the iPhone is such a cheap and ubiquitous tool for students. At Stanford, 2,500 of the school's 8,000 students have an iPhone; another 1,500 have the iPod Touch, which runs the same apps.
If you could create the de facto campus app for all those schools, giving college students information they need while connecting them with one other, you could create a far more useful, mobile version of Facebook. Add on an advertising network what college student wouldn't opt in to something that gave them free pizza coupons? and pretty soon you've got a colossal moneymaker.
In part, that's why AT&T's been helping TerriblyClever, explained Chris Hill, vice president of mobility product development. TerriblyClever won the $10,000 grand prize for AT&T's "Big Mobile on Campus" contest for best smartphone application shortly after it launched, and AT&T has been introducing Beykpour and Wasserman to university information officers around the country. Hill said that iStanford did a great job of implementing all the things students want from a smartphone application; the next step is rolling it out to schools nationwide. "College kids across the country will be demanding this," he said.
The idea for the app actually came from Stanford's Flood and Black; an Apple campus rep put them in touch with Beykpour and Wasserman, who are the designated "Apple evangelists" on campus. Beykpour said that while the app launched the first day of October, it didn't really take off until two weeks later when he and Wasserman made a spoof of the famous iPhone ad, which ran on the Jumbotron during the Oct. 11 Stanford homecoming football game. Wasserman said the duo sought approval from an Apple exec before airing the ad and got an e-mail back saying, "HE liked it!"
"Who liked it?" Beykpour asked.
The apple exec replied, "There's only one HE."
Whether or not Steve Jobs himself actually signed off on the ad, the iPhone-toting Stanford student body certainly liked it. More than 11,000 people have downloaded iStanford to date. Beykpour figures that number includes alumni and tour groups, because it's more than twice the number of people who can actually use the app on campus.