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Student-run startup MySchoolMarket promotes online commerce for UCLA community

Kowoon Jeong (left), Jonah Kim and Priscella Yun smile with a laptop screen between them. The students are the creators behind MySchoolMarket, a UCLA-based start-up that aims to connect local sellers and consumers. (Grace Wilson/Daily Bruin)

By Cailey Beck

April 25, 2023 8:34 p.m.

MySchoolMarket is marketing its way onto the phones and into the minds of UCLA students.

The startup is an online marketplace where college students can buy and sell items to each other, said co-CEO Jonah Kim, a second-year computer science student. He and co-founder Kowoon Jeong, a second-year data theory student, launched the site together in early February. Since then, the company has experienced considerable growth, which can be credited to its creative marketing techniques, most clearly demonstrated in the positive reception of its TikTok account, Jeong said.

“The growth is definitely rewarding, and I think … the marketing plan that we (had) worked for UCLA students,” Jeong said. “Everything was just kind of thinking outside of the box and thinking creatively to get our name out there.”

[Related: Q&A: Alumnus Zuhairah Washington talks role at Otrium fashion marketplace]

(Grace Wilson/Daily Bruin)
People point to a screen. Jeong said MySchoolMarket’s growth can be partially attributed to its social media presence, including a viral TikTok account. (Grace Wilson/Daily Bruin)

Kim said the team did not anticipate the positive response to MySchoolMarket, as the startup itself was an unexpected endeavor for him. He said the project was initially a way to practice his programming skills, and it was not until Jeong realized the potential of Kim’s website that he began to take the project seriously. From there, they decided to research the market and found that taking a school-based approach would help them differentiate themselves from competitors and fill a clear vacuum they saw in the realm of online marketplaces, Kim said.

Unlike other major online marketplaces, such as eBay or Craigslist, where users run the risk of encountering scams and paying hidden fees, MySchoolMarket relies on school-based authentication, Kim said. Without a school email, it is impossible to even enter the website, which not only allows students to buy and sell items without worrying about scams or hidden fees but makes it possible for users to exchange products that are specific to UCLA, he said.

“You can sell (things like) meal swipes, which only people from UCLA really know, (or) textbooks from specific classes,” Kim said. “So it’s a kind of different market than … more regional-based marketplace(s), like Facebook Marketplace.”

The UCLA-focused approach extends to their marketing philosophy, said Ashley Chen, a fourth-year economics and philosophy student. As the content creation lead, Chen said she advertises for MySchoolMarket by flyering every single dorm room door on the Hill and posting on TikTok to gain exposure. The videos on MySchoolMarket’s page often employ an interview format, asking students on campus their opinions about different aspects of life at UCLA.

[Related: Messaging app Zapshot brings a voice to daily communications for Generation Z]

From there, Chen said the content team relates the subject of the video back to MySchoolMarket, directing the viewer’s interest in the UCLA experience to the platform. For example, a video asking students to rate their peers’ outfits may conclude with a short clip advertising the various clothing items that can be purchased on the website. Kim said this approach has proven to be effective, as their TikTok videos have accumulated more than 2 million views and 200,000 likes shortly after the platform’s launch. Such numbers help generate similarly high interest in MySchoolMarket itself, Kim said.

“We wanted to appeal not only to UCLA students but also a broad audience, because these kinds of interview-style videos not only appeal to people who are at UCLA who are genuinely curious about what other students are like, but people who are interested in going to UCLA (or) are interested in what UCLA culture is in general,” Chen said.

Currently, the platform does not turn a profit because most transactions take place directly between sellers and buyers, and as such, it is not possible to enforce royalties, Kim said. While the company will eventually start implementing methods to generate income, Kim said he hopes to keep the experience of using the platform as accessible as possible and thus expand its user base to other campuses beyond UCLA.

“It’s weird because before it was just a practice project that I was just going to throw away until Kowoon suggested that we make it something big,” Kim said. “We want it to be something … a lot of schools use … and (make it) a very longstanding platform that everyone knows.”

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