It’s always a real confidence booster when the old guard comes a courtin’. Today, Unigo, the New York startup that Walt Mossberg called a “college resource built for the age of YouTube and Facebook,” announced it has received $1.6 million in funding from The McGraw-Hill Companies. It seems the publishing giant hasn’t wasted any time trying to pivot into the digital space. And no wonder, earlier this week McGraw-Hill announced it would be spinning off its education division amid stalled stock prices.
But that’s not the only old school company embracing Unigo’s unique formula of surprisingly comprehensive reviews from college students and counselors. The student review section in the US News & World Report’s rankings and directories will also now be powered by Unigo. The funding will be used to expand into grad schools and accredited universities outside the US and develop partnerships with other publishers.
The site delves deeper than your traditional guides to cover not just finding, getting in, and paying for college, but also what to expect when you get there. Betabeat checked out a random assortment of schools on Unigo and in each case found the answer section for questions “What’s the dating scene like” and “What’s the best place to get work done on campus” robust. That might be because of the gamification elements Unigo has baked into the system to incentivize students and counselors to participate. We chatted with Unigo’s VP of strategy Chris Lake about how it works.
“For the college students, the more content they post, the more points they get, which pushes them higher on their school’s profile. The top three students get featured on the school’s main landing page,” explained Mr. Lake. Narcissism aside, why would a student care about being featured? “We have content syndication partnerships with media outlets like HuffPo, USA Today, US News & World Report where we put together columns answering a topical question. So the top students (or counselors within a given category) could be featured in one of those media outlets,” he said. There’s also school pride. “If all of the students from a given school create a lot of content, it can push their school up as well.”
With counselors, it’s a little easier to see the incentive. “Instead of ‘competing’ within each school,” he explained, “they are competing within different categories related to the admissions/application or financial aid processes. So the counselors compete within The Essay or The FAFSA.” They also get a chance to be on the landing page for the school and, potentially, featured on the HuffPo.
For now, the startup is subscribing to the if-we-build-it, they-will-come philosophy. Tumblr followed the same model, but with Unigo, it’s easier to see how incorporating pay elements, say from colleges who want branded information. “We’re focusing on growing the site by creating the best content and helping students find, get in and pay for college and democratizing the process. So we’re sort of following the formula of, building the best product, attracting as many users as possible,” said Mr. Lake. “The monetization is something we’re working on right now. All of the content will remain 100 percent free.”