Creator of Unigo Jordan Goldman.Credit: Unigo
When Jordan Goldman was school shopping – that is, choosing what college he wanted to attend, a $250,000 decision he calls it – he wasn’t satisfied with the information he had available. Limited to looking at schools within a relatively short drive from his home in Staten Island, N.Y., sometimes the only thing he had to base a decision on was the phonebook-sized college guidebook.
"To make a $250,000 decision and there were no pictures and three pages for each school," said Goldman, who saw a need for a real, unfiltered student guide, written by students, for students.
That's what led the 2004 Wesleyan grad and former Hillel activist with no business training and $20,000 in savings to start his own company, Unigo.com, a Web site with student-submitted video, pictures and reviews of the colleges and universities they attend.
But having the idea was the easy part for Goldman. The hard part was to make his savings last to support himself while he started his company. Living in about 16 different sublets in New York over a period of a year and half, he made his cash last: When he took out to lunch business executives -- who he met through the Wesleyan alumni database -- he couldn’t eat for the rest of the day.
His mother didn't really approve.
"My mom said 'you're totally nuts this is your savings. Get a job,' " said Goldman, whose response was "when the money is gone I’ll get a job."
In the end, it proved worthwhile. Goldman eventually met his lead investor, Frank Sica, a former president of Soros Private Funds Management and who also serves as a director for several major corporations including Kohl’s department store and JetBlue Airways. Sica was able to help Goldman find other investors, allowing him to hire a full-time team of 18 editors at the start.
Unigo's New York City offices.Credit: Unigo
After that, Goldman and his team spent two and a half months of doing "intense research" into 250 schools, then spent five months finding interns on those campuses to supply the information.
"We don't just want volume," he said. "We want a representative sample of kids from each school, including kids who had issues with their school."
The colleges and universities, he said, had no idea this project was underway.
"We were totally in stealth mode. No one had any idea what we were doing. In a lot of cases we got 10 percent of the student body to contribute," Goldman said.
Since the site went live in September, Unigo has had tremendous growth and success with more than a quarter of a million visitors and 2.5 million page views. Unigo also has about 175 campus representatives at schools around the country this semester.
The site's goal, Goldman said, unlike that of college guide books, is to help students in the search process decide "is this a great school for you?" The best way to determine that, he said, is on a Web site where space is unlimited and you could filter comments about a school based on the opinions of other students' who are just like you.
For example, Goldman said you could search for "Jewish" or "Hillel" to see what other students are saying it’s like to be Jewish at that school or what the Hillel is like.
Especially during hard economic times such as these, traveling to all the schools a student may want to see isn’t always possible.
"Not everyone has the financial resources to go on these tours and there is no way to see and judge these schools if you can't go there and visit," he said. "I hope that for those people that aren’t able to go out there and see the school this is the next best thing."
Goldman hopes that because of Unigo, schools may be able to change some of the things students complain about. Prospective students may bring up some common complaints during info sessions forcing schools to respond and potentially make changes to alleviate those complaints.
The resources prospective students use to find schools are sometimes arbitrary, Goldman said. He considers himself lucky that he went to Wesleyan and loved it. The only reason he visited this school he had never heard of was because during the drive to visit Yale he decided he didn’t want to apply there, so he flipped to a random page in the guidebook and saw Wesleyan, which was nearby.
"I think it was pure luck that I wound up there," he said. "But hopefully resources like Unigo make sure that people wind up at a school like that because they have the right information available to make the right choice."