Ad-supported mobile startup is building relationships with a growing network of colleges and universities.
Sometime over the next two weeks 15.9 million students will report to U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Census Bureau. And if a company called Hothand has anything to do with it, this September will mark a new beginning for mobile marketing and content at 50 of those institutions.
Hothand has developed a mobile platform for colleges and universities that enables them to create proprietary mobile Web sites and text messaging platforms. Four years in development, the system launched in beta for spring 2009 and has 50 schools signed up for fall 2009. The company gives the platform to schools for free. The school uses it for various purposes from listing phone numbers to listing cafeteria menus. In return, the company and the school share advertising revenue from local sponsors, and local sponsors get their hands on new data about an important customer group.
"For a merchant a college kid is going to be a loyal customer for four or five years," says Hothand CMO Tim Leets. "To build a mobile relationship with them is a great opportunity. We're providing the link between merchant, school, and student."
Marketing and promotion of the Hothand platform differs by school. One of Hothand's biggest partners is the University of California at Berkley. It welcomes its more than 30,000 incoming freshmen with an on-campus event called CalTopia where students register, learn about student programs and this year get access via postcards and street team hand outs to the Berkley Hothand mobile site. The Berkley site goes heavy on back to school information, local merchants, and basic school service information such as bookstore hours, and internal phone numbers.
The University of Nebraska is one of the company's young success stories. It has a student body totaling 20,000 undergrads. Half of them participate in some kind of intramural sport, which is a huge percentage. So when Letts came calling on Mark Powell, the school's associate director of external relations (and manager of the intramural sports programs) he found a ready-made partner. Powell's intramural programs are so valuable to merchants and the school that pizza chain Papa John's and chicken joint Raising Cane's are official sponsors in all printed materials and have signage for events. Powell and Letts hooked the two of them up with the Nebraska Hothands site, giving the school and Hothand revenue to share and a keystone client to build on. Not to mention an easy way for Powell's department to communicate schedules, rosters, cancellations, etc.
"There's a lot of marketing value for sponsors here," Powell says. "They had been looking for a way to sponsor text messages and their own text messages. We provide them needed data."
Letts readily admits that metrics from this school year will develop pricing structure for the future. Like a walk on for the football team, this year the company is talking what it can get for revenue. It has a long-term plan however, to take this local network and expand it into a nationwide commerce platform based on colleges and college towns. "Right now it's local," says Letts, "but eventually I think we can keep students in our network as they move through their schools and turn this connection with colleges into a mutually beneficial national network."
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