This article was published in The Appalachian.
Just over two weeks ago, sophomore accounting major Antonio J. Romero was ready to go out. There was just one problem – like many Appalachian State University students, he needed a ride.
Romero heard about a Facebook group called App State Beeper, which had over 800 members and connected students with beepers (students who serve as designated drivers for tips).
Romero quickly noticed, though, that the Facebook group was slightly disjointed and hard to use. The group’s creator, senior graphic arts and imaging technology, Katie R. Hall, accepted three beepers per weekend night and posted them on the wall. The problem was that any student who wasn’t chosen could also post on the wall, giving their number and offering to beep.“I was like okay, it’s great that this is a centralized way to have all the information, but it was just chaotic and not that easy to get the number you wanted,” Romero said.
Romero decided to stay home that night. By the time his friends returned from their night out, he’d purchased a handful of domain names and created his own website, appstatebeeper.com. The sophomore, who describes himself as “business-centric,” started promoting his site through Hall’s group, word of mouth and fliers posted in residence halls and around campus.
Since then, each day has brought around 1,000 hits to Romero’s site. Four or five beepers have signed up each night, posting their first name, cell phone number, price, the times they’re available and – optionally – the number of passengers they can carry at a time.
All of this information is easily accessible on Romero’s site, which was built through a template with a clear and simple interface.
“I wanted to make it all the information you care about in as few clicks [as possible},” Romero said. “You care about what day you want to go somewhere, you click the day, and that’s it. It’s pretty much one click and you’re done.”
That one click is providing students with information that can be invaluable. The beeper system is a way for students to make extra money and it solves parking problems in congested college towns, but there’s another reason at the top of the list.
“The number one obvious reason is that it deters you from drinking and driving,” Romero said.
Molly J. Adams, freshman recreation management major, signed up for the site to make extra money. She agreed the site promotes responsible drinking.
“It is important to have a beeper service available because it reduces the risk of people being able to drunk drive,” Adams said.
“The beeper services around Boone are much less expensive than calling [Boone-based taxi service] Tipsy Taxi and help promote safe driving.”
When Romero told his parents about the App State Beeper idea, the safe driving aspect was the first they noticed.
“They were like, ‘I don’t care if you make money, this is just a good thing to do,’” he said.
Romero doesn’t plan to make money any time soon. The first business expansion he’s interested in involves another domain name he’s purchased, collegebeeper.com.
Unlike App State Beeper, College Beeper isn’t up and running yet. It’s currently a place where students can vote for their school to receive its own beeper website, which Romero will build and run.
The first revenue stream Romero imagines himself pursuing is an application for iPhone and Android.
“That way you’re at the party and you don’t have a computer, but you can pull it up on your iPhone and make the call directly from there,” he said.
Romero may allow advertising on the site in the future, but for now he’s taking a different route – one similar to Mark Zuckerberg’s in “The Social Network,” the movie that chronicles the rise of Facebook. Like Zuckerberg, Romero wants to make sure his website is cool before he focuses on money.
“That’s a smart idea,” Romero said. “He’s not the youngest billionaire for no reason.”