Meet Bader Alessa. The 26-year old from Kuwait is revolutionizing the student experience in the GCC, and he’s doing it one smart phone at a time.
Bader is the founder of MyU, a free smartphone application that allows students to connect with each another and with Professors within their University. Students, clubs, and organizations who register onto the application can post about social events or academic matters, and share the news in a Facebook-style feed with other students. Professors who download the application can create virtual “classroom” groups, where they can also share updates with their students, including readings, exam grades, and even respond to questions posted by students. MyU has currently hit universities in Kuwait and has won several awards. It is set to expand to other universities in Kuwait and beyond. We sat down with Bader to find out more.
This is an exciting application! How did the idea come to you?
I completed my undergraduate studies in the United States, and by the time I returned to Kuwait in 2011, I noticed that a revolution was taking place in social media and mobile communications. Being nostalgic for my days as a student and interested in the tech world, I immediately wanted to become part of this tech revolution and create something to help enhance the student experience in Kuwait.
What were the challenges that you faced in developing this app?
Although I was excited about developing this application back in 2011, my academic background is in environmental engineering and I was actually illiterate in technology. Despite this, I was reluctant to approach a company and ask them to build the application for me. I wanted to be involved in the entire process, from design to content development to marketing. And so I signed up for online classes, completed hours and hours of readings, and taught myself how to program. Although understanding technology was a huge learning curve, I also had to learn about people – my target consumer, what they wanted, and what they didn’t want. I found that identifying what people want was the biggest challenge of all and it is something that I continue to learn about everyday.
Tell us, how exactly does the app work?
Students who sign up for the application can create pages and share news with all others students at their university or college who have also downloaded the app, in a newsfeed-style format. They can also communicate with one another through direct messages. Instead of scrolling through emails and hunting down posters in the hallways, students can access all information related to the University in a single place and connect with their classmates at the click of a button. Students with pressing questions can also reach their Professors directly on their mobile phones, through the application. The service also presents a range of advantages for Professors, too. Instead of having to email individual students one by one, they can disseminate information to their entire class at the click of a single button and share readings, or even exam grades. Professors’ announcements are received instantly by their students in the form of push notifications. The service is not intended to replace existing University systems but to supplement those systems with a faster and more convenient alternative.
We hear you’ve received great feedback so far!
Yes! In the short life of MyU, the application won two awards in Kuwait and was granted a three-week acceleration program in San Francisco with mentors from Google, LinkedIn and Dropbox. We have also received great feedback from students and professors at GUST where the app was featured as the next generation university communication, and at the College of Business Administration of Kuwait University where we had professors using myU for 100% of their class communication!
Do you have plans to expand?
Yes. We hope to expand to other Universities in Kuwait, and to other GCC states like Bahrain. Another great feature of the application is that it is not intended as a formal or University-sponsored system, so all we would really need to expand to a new University is interest from its student body.
What is your advice for upcoming entrepreneurs?
The technology industry is booming right now, and it is the future. People are more connected than ever before and the potential that this creates is huge. I encourage anyone with an interest to explore and develop that interest, no matter how risky it may seem. I would also advise young entrepreneurs to go ahead and test their products as soon as they can: I opened up MyU to downloads during the beta stage because I thought it was important to receive feedback from my target consumer as soon as possible. This has proven really effective because it allows me to respond to their needs during the development stage, instead of launching the application and then going back and making changes. I would say start small, have a strategy, and go for it!
Thanks Bader! Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting new application which we are sure is going to be an even bigger hit in the future!