Ron Stein, 33, and Michael Herzig, 27, know all about the challenges of starting a site geared toward this group. "Because the technology in the college space is evolving so quickly, you have to move fast to get onto their radar screen," explains Herzig, co-founder of UConnections.com, a New York City-based university network site. "If you don't offer them the products they want and make them available very quickly, someone else will."
In order to provide the functionality needed during their start-up period, the UConnections founders have partnered with other online businesses that already offer student-oriented services, such as eCampus.com, Gamegate.com and major food suppliers. In many cases, UConnections diverts traffic to its partners' servers, which can better handle the volume and transactional requirements. The key, says Stein, is to choose partners that give students the speed and site quality they expect.
"For now, we've managed to do this much by finding partners who already have the technology up and running," Herzig adds. Eventually,when more resources are available and more of the basic network has been completed, UConnections will move the technology and traffic back to its site.
At the same time, speed isn't your only consideration. A recent Forrester survey found that 73 percent of young adults said their technology usage decisions were primarily entertainment-motivated, compared with 36 percent of older adults. That means ample opportunity for entrepreneurs like Michael Moroney, 32-year-old CEO and co-founder of ArtistOne, a San Francisco-based musical artist community that features sound downloads, video interviews and more. ArtistOne, which started off with much more funding than UConnections, takes a different approach to ensuring speed and performance. All its e-commerce operations occur on its own dedicated servers. "We've created a unified e-commerce system," says Moroney. "Whether users are purchasing MP3 downloads, CDs or merchandise, it's all happening on our servers, so we're able to control the bandwidth output."
Moroney and his colleagues have also paid heed to speed in the design of the ArtistOne site, using fast new-media technology such as Flash and ensuring that users are no more than one or two clicks away from the songs they want to hear.
Remember, when it comes to keeping up with young consumers, flexibility is the name of the game. Moroney and his team designed a scalable backend system that would enable them to expand with additional servers without having to change the basic architecture. ArtistOne also uses a variety of sound formats, including QuickTime, MP3, Windows Media Player and RealNetworks technology, and is prepared to accept any improved formats that come along. Says Moroney, "We're not betting the farm on just one sound or video format, and as new systems are developed, we can easily plug it in to our existing architecture."