Engineering alums are going Offline to redefine social media
Just six months after graduating from NC State with degrees in chemical engineering, David Brower ‘12 and David Shaner ‘12 have already found themselves far from the laboratory. Deep into the process of building a start-up venture from scratch with co-founder Michael Pell, a 2011 graduate from Duke University, the trio has set out to revolutionize the way young professionals meet and socialize with one another around the country.
“We had a strong feeling that the way society has allowed social media to change the way we interact isn’t necessarily positive,” Brower says. “We were frustrated with the trend toward spending more time on the computer.”
That frustration inspired the three to establish Offline Media, Inc. with its website, www.get-offline.com, a networking tool that uses LinkedIn to help young professionals meet new people in their area and find fun, casual ways to socialize.
In conducting research to gauge the feasibility of their product, the group learned that Americans spend the equivalent of 100,000 years of time on Facebook each month. Furthermore, Brower cited the fact that on average young professionals spend seven hours of their day wired into some sort of technology.
“You come to this realization that when you graduate your social life changes dramatically,” Brower says. “The number of people you hang out with shrinks and it’s worse if you’re moving to a new area and starting from scratch.”
Through their own experiences with moving around the country for different jobs, the guys of Offline Media recognized that most sites geared toward meeting new people were either dating oriented or struggling to attract the type of people that young professionals want to meet.
Brower says that he and Shaner began developing the idea for their website while still in school at NC State, calling friends who had already graduated and asking broad questions like “How do you meet people now?” and “Is it a struggle to meet new people?” From this initial research, the pair came up with three main goals for the creation of their website.
“The three things people were concerned about were the quality of people they’re meeting on the site, the fact that they don’t like the idea of going to a big networking event and wearing a name tag and they don’t have time to invest in something unless it’s really easy,” Brower says.
The resulting product, which is now in its second stage of launch, gives site members a platform to create events, find people worth meeting and things worth doing in their area.
“There are more than 200,000 working professionals in the Triangle between the ages of 22 and 50,” Brower says. “Every one of those people can be valuable to you in some way but there is nothing out there that helps you discover that.”
Offline Media is one of the only companies in the Triangle in the last ten years to raise money for its idea without having an actual product developed yet. “We had raised money from five private investors before even launching the site,” Brower says.
Currently, the three are trying to identify different channels to get their message to the public with the goal of encouraging even greater investment from venture capitalists in the next few months.
“We’ve run LinkedIn ad campaigns, we’re spending money on Google ads, doing print media, doing events,” Brower says. “We’re just measuring everything and trying to figure out the cheapest and most effective way to get someone onto the website.”
Although the process has been a whirlwind so far, Brower says that’s what has made it so rewarding.
“There’s no such thing as a work-life balance,” he says. “You eat, sleep and dream about your company. But it’s something that society needs – a way to get back to what life is all about. And that makes it easier to justify the amount of time I’m spending on the project. I enjoy it in the same way I enjoy education. There’s more pressure and stress, but I look where I was at a year ago and I’ve added so much value to my career.”
– Jamie Gnazzo