CollegeOnly: We Died of Hype

collegeonly CollegeOnly: We Died of HypeCollegeOnly, the Facebook for college students that kicks its users out once they graduate, is no more.

The idea had a ton of traction, especially among the generation that started school while Mark Zuckerberg was at Harvard (we really thought Facebook would be about college forever). I was at the tech blog ReadWriteWeb at the time CollegeOnly arrived, and remember receiving a super-slick press kit that looked like an American Apparel ad and being asked to hold a story until after The New York Times. The launch was also covered in Mashable, Silicon Alley Insider and college papers around the world. CollegeOnly had 25,000 signups before it was ready to full launch.

The buzz was actually a big part of the problem, founder Josh Weinstein, 24, told The Observer today.

“We had insane number of signups, but we knew we were still in beta,” he said. “By the time we rolled out, there was too much lag time. We really had some pretty crazy metrics and I was really excited about it, but the product is ultimately what people come for and what drives that hockey stick growth. And we didn’t have that ready.”

CollegeOnly had too many ideas, Mr. Weinstein explained, which had been sort of mashed into one site. His other sites, RandomDorm (video chat for students) and GoodCrush (dating site for students) were combined with the CollegeOnly idea. He raised more than a million dollars over the summer, some from Facebook investor Peter Thiel, and launched the site at the end of August 2010.

By October, CollegeOnly had flamed out. Mr. Weinstein had “a bunch of conversations” with fellow entrepreneurs, including his General Assembly neighbor Carter Cleveland, CEO of Art.sy, and Geoff Lewis of Topguest, who told him it was time for a pivot. 

That was the genesis of YouAre.TV, an interactive online game show that started as a promotional vehicle for CollegeOnly.  “You have to focus on one thing,” Mr. Weinstein said. “One of the potential partners we’re working with was like, ‘You know, when you talk about this idea your face lights up, and the amount of excitement that you have just shows that you have a serious passion for this more so than CollegeOnly.’”

Mr. Weinstein and his team of eight full-time employees and four part-time employees are now focused exclusively on YouAre.TV, which has given them new clarity.

Mr. Weinstein demonstrated YouAre.TV at the New York Tech Meetup last week, the first official peek at the pivot. But he is decidedly not attempting to build buzz; he was in fact a little hesitant to talk to The Observer. “The lesson we learned with CollegeOnly is that we shouldn’t use press to get users. Press should come from success rather than us trying to leverage press to see it succeed.”

The new strategy is to develop the site a feature or two at a time and ensure the user experience is excellent. “Iterate, iterate, iterate. Then get press,” he said.

ajeffries [at] observer.com | @adrjeffries