Talks with Vox: Developer of SYRCH Michael Orso
Watch out Blackboard, you may have some competition. Georgetown student Michael Orso (MSB ’17) has developed an app called SYRCH, which he describes as an “an online community and economy for college students.”
SYRCH seeks to provide students with a centralized site that gives them all the tools they need to succeed in college, such as getting help from peer tutors, making money on the side, staying organized, communicating with classmates, and building a digital identity.
The app launched last week, but 500 students have already signed up to use it. Vox caught up with Orso to get the details about how he developed this app and what he envisions for its future.
VOX: How did you come up with the idea for SYRCH?
Orso: In high school, I opened a charity called STARS Club that provided underserved high school juniors with free peer tutors for their college entrance exams, so I had already had experience with building a tutoring business.
When I came to Georgetown, I recognized that the peer tutoring process here at Georgetown lacked transparency and was rigid. This was the basis for the tutoring aspect of SYRCH: to create a seamless, easy, and transparent way to get help in your classes.
We built a tutoring site that allowed students to book, rate, and pay peer tutors. We held a testing session to test the product, only to find that the problems students faced in college reach far beyond getting extra help in class and making some extra money. We found that students had a hard time staying organized, as Blackboard has failed to simplify this process, causing students to take minutes to see what needs to get done for class rather than seconds. We also found students had a hard time scheduling, often going back 10 times before finding a time to meet. Finally we recognized that students needed to build their resumes and portfolios. All of these problems are satisfied currently through disparate and disconnected platforms (Facebook, iCal, Google cal, blackboard, academic resource center, wyzant, LinkedIn, etc.). We wanted to simplify the experience and create an academic community and economy that provided an easy solution to all of these problems.
It was from insight from more than 300 of our fellow Hoyas that really created SYRCH. We simply took their problems and tried to find a simple way to solve them.
VOX: What are the goals of the app?
Orso: The goal of SYRCH is to simplify the college experience and give students a platform that will give them all of the tools they need to succeed in college. We want to be like the new cool version of blackboard. Not a site that people dread using, but a site that truly makes life easier for students on campus and allows them to keep track of their academic life and interact easily with their peers.
We would like to make Georgetown our first major partner as we are a site built by Hoyas for Hoyas. We already have more than 500 students on the application and hope to hit 1750 by the end of the semester (1/4) undergrad population. While our web application is in a public beta here at Georgetown, a revamped version of the site as well as our fully loaded mobile application will be available next semester.
VOX: What was the process like in terms of developing this app, and what were some challenges and successes?
Orso: This has been an incredible learning experience for me. The responsibility of running a team, making important decisions, staying level-headed during tough times, making sacrifices, has made me learn faster than I ever have in my life. It is a job that is incredibly stressful yet even more rewarding.
A challenge has been getting the app launched. There are so many variables when building a site. You want to get it out to users as fast as possible but there are always changes to be made and bugs to fix. Deadlines constantly get pushed back and you need to be able to stay levelheaded and roll with the punches. Another challenge was raising money and signing contracts. Constant conversation and back and forth over months gets incredibly stressful and takes your head off of what really needs to get done. Finally, sacrifices have been a struggle: when running a business in college it is incredibly hard to keep balance. You have your business, your social life, and your school life. One will suffer pretty badly. For me it was my social life. I didn’t spend much time with friends or go out on the weekends. It has been all work no play.
But there have been many successes, such as launching the platform! Since launching just a couple of weeks ago we have had more than 500 users. I have had students come up to me and praise SYRCH for making them aware of a deadline they forgot about or that their tutor is amazing. It is truly the best feeling to know that people are actually benefitting from the application. Sitting down and meeting with President DeGioia to talk about SYRCH was an experience I will never forget. Also, being invited to talk at the DC Tech Conference to represent Georgetown is super exciting as well as making it to the final round of the Startup Hoya challenge.
VOX: You mentioned the DC Tech Conference. Can you explain what that is and how you will be representing Georgetown?
Orso: Once a month, everyone in the DC tech community gets together to see what cool stuff is being built here in the capital. The event usually consists of demos, keynotes, cocktails and networking. For this month’s meetup, they were looking for a Georgetown student to represent the University’s tech culture and progression. I am blessed to represent Georgetown and SYRCH at the meet up, where I will be one of the four DC tech speakers of the night. I will demo and present SYRCH to the DC tech community.
VOX: It seems like SYRCH has already been very successful: how do you see SYRCH growing and developing in the future?
Orso: We are really excited about the future. While we know our site isn’t perfect and our mobile application still is in testing, we plan to continue gathering feedback over the next month, and then spend the summer revamping the platform to become the best it can be. We have some exciting new feature for the community that we are excited to unveil.
Students at several other schools including GWU, U Maryland, Johns Hopkins, American U, BU, and USC have reached out because they were interested in bringing the application to their schools because they believe what we have created would make their life in college easier. We are proud to be expanding to these universities come September. We would eventually like to expand to high school students, as well as overseas. We see a huge opportunity here and are excited to keep providing value to students.