By Stephen Singer/The Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. — Nick Jaensch and Keith Bessette know that 500 million online friends and $1.5 billion raised from investors are for that other online social network.
The two University of Connecticut MBAs have instead received $350,000 in private and state money to develop shizzlr.com, a corner of the Internet dedicated to college students and 20-somethings.
“Facebook is for every person you’ve met or have come across,” Jaensch said. “Shizzlr is for your actual 20 friends and the people you hang out with.”
Jaensch, who is 24, and Bessette, 31, raised $200,000 from friends and family and $150,000 from Connecticut Innovations, the state’s venture investment agency.
Shizzlr is intended to informally bring together friends who text message social plans. Users opt in those they want to include and see what they are doing.
“Everybody is involved in a group message, everyone is up-to-date and everyone can give their input,” Jaensch said. “We’re changing the norm about how people make plans.”
A few thousand users already have signed up and Jaensch hopes that will grow to 50,000 by May. He said the business model for the site could be the review site, yelp.com, where businesses pay to highlight their market.
Or shizzlr could sell to merchants user data such as trends about who is visiting a business and why, he said. Such data would help merchants tailor product sales.
Jaensch said he and Bessette will market the website in campus newspapers to student groups, athletic clubs and other organizations.
Peter V. Longo, president and executive director of Connecticut Innovations, said he met Jaensch and Bessette at a University of Connecticut entrepreneurship program.
“The thing with this particular company, it has traction,” he said. “We thought this is an interesting platform for Connecticut Innovations to work with.”
Jaensch said he and Bessette have no idea what the name of their website means. They came up with it after someone wrote a text message, “Do shizzlr,” he said.
“We kind of took it on as slogan: Good luck, do shizzlr and enjoy,” he said.
Jaensch said he and his partner came up with the idea for the website by trying to answer the question, what’s going on? Jaensch said that could be figuring out what is going on around the user, what friends are doing and the choices of things to do.
They have their work cut out for themselves finding a niche in social networking.
Facebook’s presence takes up enormous space in social networking, but other entrepreneurs are still looking for a spot, said Gartner analyst Ray Valdes in San Jose.
“Any new venture has to have a unique angle,” he said. “If they don’t, they may as well pack up and go home.”
For example, he said it would be a losing proposition to compete with McDonald’s or Burger King. But by selling another kind of food to a different market, a business has “a chance to get a piece of the action,” Valdes said.
Luke Weinstein, a University of Connecticut professor who taught Jaensch and Bessette, said they will “live or die” by the success of shizzlr.
“They’re getting good at eating mac and cheese,” he said.
Weinstein said the Internet start-up could inspire students to launch their own enterprise.
“Why do I have to think about getting a job at Aetna or United Technologies?’” he said students may wonder. “Why don’t I start my own business?’”
Bernhard Schroeder, who teaches business plan development for entrepreneurship at San Diego State University, said shizzlr is not unusual among business students who have found a perfect union with the Internet.
“Kids are a little bit more entrepreneurial in terms of what they have to do to eke out a career,” he said. “If they’re looking at a new business opportunity, it’s online.”
Still, the emphasis may be on youth. Longo said Connecticut Innovations believes shizzlr has potential to grow in the state and hire employees, but due diligence required a certain specialization, he said.
“There are a few people under 30 who claim to understand this,” he said.
Jaensch said he and Bessette have set a high goal for their business.
“We’re changing the norm about how people make plans.”