You’ve just emerged from a lecture in fluid mechanics with 90 minutes to spare before your next class. You’re also hungry, and wouldn’t mind some company while you chow down. So you whip out your smartphone, click on an app and tap on the names of two friends who the app shows are available and close by. Seconds after you send them a request—“[Your name] wants to hang out with you at 3:15 p.m. at The Fresh Food Co. at Marciano Commons.”—you receive notification that one of the friends has accepted. Problem solved.
The app that’s enabling such connections, Downtyme, is the brainchild of Barron Roth and Luke Sorenson (both CE’16), who came up with the idea last November when deciding on a final project for their Introduction to Software Engineering course. They subsequently turned it into a startup, Downtyme LLC, within three months. After releasing the app for beta testing to students at colleges and universities in Boston on March 31, Downtyme LLC aggregated nearly 500 downloads the first day.
The app’s immediate popularity is no surprise to Roth.
“It’s very difficult for college students to find opportunities to get together with friends, given the intricacies of our schedules,” he said. “Having access to a list of people you care about who are available and nearby makes life more social and enjoyable.” It also encourages you to spend less time on your smartphone and more time connecting offline.
Users identify their friends by linking the app to their Facebook account, and indicate their availability by entering or importing their calendars. To bring up a list of nearby Facebook friends, they may either press “Now” or “Later,” depending on when they want to get together. Users may also press “Hide me” to keep their schedules hidden until further notice, or “Bulletins” to post an open invitation to all their Downtyme friends to join them for activities ranging from study sessions to frat parties.
“Downtyme is a fantastic example of students taking a real-world need—scheduling free time—and translating that into a software application,” said Assistant Professor Douglas Densmore (ECE, BME), the Introduction to Software Engineering instructor. “Its level of polish and presentation are on par with a professional-level startup, and the leadership of the project is committed to its success.”
Convinced that the idea had commercial potential after they and three other teammates completed a functioning version for Android mobile devices in December, Roth and Sorenson began laying the groundwork for a startup. Over the winter break, the co-founders brought in Nicholas Sorenson (SMG’14) for financial expertise, and recruited Timothy Chong (CE’16) and John Moore (CE’15) to help Luke develop the app for the iPhone and improve the server infrastructure. Roth focused on branding, marketing and customizing the look and feel of Downtyme.
“It’s very rewarding working on a startup, where every decision you make has a big impact and can affect the future of your company,” said Roth, who is now working on Downtyme after hours while serving as a spring semester co-op at AMD in Austin, Texas. Taking advantage of his Austin location, Roth recently pitched the app to 500 technology enthusiasts at the city’s annual South by Southwest festival.
Downtyme plans to launch the app across the country in the fall, distributing it through campus representatives at Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, and other colleges and universities. The company’s initial goal is to build a substantial user base for the free app, and then develop revenue-generating partnerships with academic institutions and industry.