New students in town no longer have to look for the hot spots in Columbia. A new Web site started by two recent MU graduates, www.MUhookitup.com, can now tell them what they need to know to survive on campus and around the city.
The site, an online source for local college students, has racked up about 50,000 hits during its first five weeks on the Web.
“The response has been better than we expected,” said Michael Koonce, the 23-year-old founder and site manager. Koonce said plans for upcoming Web sites for other schools are in the works.
The multi-functional Web site was inspired by, and includes, online textbook sales, but MUhookitup.com is about more than just books. Geared specifically toward MU students, the site also includes a database for housing opportunities in Columbia, message boards and chat rooms for students to voice opinions, as well as information on the local social scene.
Site managers can post anything from movie timetables to daily bar specials and drink recipes. Columbia residents can also consult the “Things to do” section of the Web site to find out where the local karaoke night is, or where they can get a good tattoo.
“I’ve had this in my head for over a year,” Koonce said. His work is backed by his degree in computer science and computer engineering, though he said he didn’t have any actual experience in starting up a business.
Michael Ashley, 24, also an MU graduate, jumped on board in May to help Koonce with the operation and to finish it by the start of fall semester.
“I always liked the idea, and since he was going through with it, I decided to give it a try,” Ashley said.
He said he hopes the Web site is useful for students in all facets of their college life.
“It was something I didn’t have when I was a student,” Ashley said.
Ashley said their Web site is generating revenue in two ways: through local advertising on the site, as well as through an affiliate program that allows local businesses to sell products through the Web site for a fee.
When developing MUhookitup.com, it wasn’t easy to sign local advertisers.
“A lot of businesses are hesitant because people come in and solicit them every day. It’s hard to even get a meeting with them,” Koonce said.
But, despite initial fears they might have, local businesses that advertise on the site actually benefit, Koonce said.
“They can hit their target market, almost 100 percent,” he said.
So far, MUhookitup.com has signed 15 advertisers on the site.
Paul Lowry, general manager at Alpine Shop, a store in Columbia that sells outdoor activity supplies, runs an advertisement on the Web site.
“Initially, I thought it was fairly inexpensive,” Lowry said. “Plus, you can track and find out how many people check it out.”
Lowry likes that he can apply special sales and events going on at the store to the ads as well. In other advertising venues, a business can’t constantly change its ads, Lowry said.
Ashley said they charge advertisers a certain amount per hit they expect to receive on the Web site, and the number of hits has surpassed that amount, so the advertisers are happy.
MUhookitup.com is affiliated with more than 250 other Web sites, and provides referrals to those sites.
Koonce said that without backgrounds in marketing, he and Ashley had to rely on what they thought would work best.
“We’ve tried to incorporate what we think works into our way of promoting the site as economically as possible — we don’t have an unlimited budget,” Koonce said.
Koonce and Ashley gave out 1,000 free T-shirts at MU’s Fall Activities Mart to promote the Web site. They’ve also posted fliers on campus and around town.
While MUhookitup.com facilitates book sales, the Web site does not take a profit on them. Sales operate strictly between the students who are registered on the site. Plus registration is free, as is access to the entire site.
“There are book-trading Web sites out on the Web, but none of them are really geared totally for students at one university,” Koonce said.
On this Web site, students can take care of the buying and selling here in Columbia, which means no shipping costs and more direct access to books needed for MU classes.
“I think it gives us an advantage over other Web sites that don’t have the locality we do,” Koonce said.
Michelle Froese, spokeswoman for Auxiliary Services at MU, said she is not surprised at the success of the site, and the University Bookstore welcomes the competition.
“I think it’s good for students to have choices,” Froese said.
The University Bookstore also operates online book sales between students, accessible through the store’s Web site. With any online book sales, Froese warns that students should make sure they are buying the correct edition needed for classes.
Koonce and Ashley plan on expanding their business to other cities and states as well.
They have contacts at Southwest Missouri State University, University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, Kansas State University, and St. Louis and Kansas City schools to help them open Web sites for those locations in the next two to four months, Koonce said.