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HackIllinois project turns into this year’s startup

After taking part in the 36-hour programming extravaganza that is HackIllinois, three U of I seniors are bringing their creation, Shoutout, to the App Store and Google Play. The location based social network aims to bring real time user info on who’s where, how many people are in the line for your favorite lunch spot, or what’s going on around town.

When roommates Mehul Goyal and Mayank Jain got together for last year’s HackIllinois competition they weren’t necessarily trying to start a business out of the idea. Now the two developers are finishing up the project known as Shoutout, and are looking at a launch date coming this week. We spoke with the developers of Shoutout to learn about how they turned last year’s Hackathon project into this years’ startup.

“For HackIllinois, honestly we were just trying to get as many API’s in there to have a better chance of winning some prizes,” Mehul said, laughing. “But when we did actually win a couple, then we got excited about possibly doing some more work on it.”

It took thirty six Red Bull fueled hours and a plethora of planning and test cases to transform Shoutout into a functioning consumer software. Their idea was part “Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map and a little bit of the guest thought bubbles from Roller Coaster Tycoon,” and was trying to give a more visual representation for the more popular questions being posed on Yik-Yak.

“Really, the first question we see this answering, is the big one at U of I: how long is the line at Chipotle,” Mayank said.

“We eat there like three times a week, so its important to us,” Mehul emphasizes.

The app’s presentation is simple. It places pins for the active users in an area on a map of the area. The user has a thought bubble that can be used to communicate their surroundings, thoughts, or address an open message to another user.

“We didn’t realize how much people were going to end up using the messaging feature, when we were doing the initial design,” Mehul said. “People started using it to more directly contact each other, which ended up being pretty cool.”

The direct messaging has also lead to them bringing the app to local businesses as a marketing tool.

“There’s a lot of interesting use cases for [local businesses]. One especially we’ve been working on, is getting the bars to communicate specials to the people in or around the bar. Another we’ve been seeing is the ability to hear from customers and receive feedback that they can now immediately respond to,” Mayank said.

The expansion in usability for Shoutout from it’s weekend project roots also required the team to develop on Android, a platform neither of the members had experience with.

“Mehul, didn’t have a Mac, so I kinda stuck him with learning it,” Mayank said with a smile. “We knew with a location based concept, there wasn’t the option to release only on one OS, but Mahul did a great job learning and getting the work done.”

“It wasn’t too bad,” Mehul said. “I just had to approach it as a new framework, so breaking it down made it easy enough.”

Being part of the world class Computer Science Department at the University also ended up being helpful for the project.

“Being a part of U of I has been especially useful for a bunch of stuff.  Just in our friend group, we have a bunch of people who are great Android developers, and that was really helpful in getting the project moving in the initial development, and figuring it out at the beginning. We’ve also been in touch with alumni that have experience in startups that have given their advise on how to to go about launching an app,” Mayank said.

The University environment has also been the perfect testing ground for what the team is viewing at first, as a more campus based app. The initial marketing has been focused on the local campus bar and university social scene.

Considering the app is a week from launch, the two partners are relaxed about the situation. 

“We’re feeling pretty confident about the testing that’s being going on already, and aren’t anticipating any problems when it starts scaling,” Mehul said. “We’re getting great feedback from both the businesses and the users, so I’m excited for the possibilities of a large user base.”

“It’s great being a senior and getting to experiment with different ideas while I’m still in classes,” Mayank said. “I want to own my own business, so this has been a great experience so far, and who knows, this might be the big idea.”

Shoutout is available on the Google Play store here. AppStore availablity will be announced through their website.

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