This college application season, more than 200 universities used ZeeMee – a social media platform where high school students can showcase their stories and interests via video.
Some say it’s a little like LinkedIn, says ZeeMee CEO, Juan Jaysingh, but instead of helping college graduates transition into the working world, it helps high schoolers transition to college. And it’s meant for what he calls the ‘Snapchat generation’.
The platform is free for students to create a profile, and participating colleges add a section to their applications where students who want to can submit ZeeMee links. The profiles have three parts – a video introduction, a section where students can share personal stories, and a section about their interests. In the last two months, ZeeMee has had over 200,000 users from 150 countries.
“In the video they can really present themselves,” Jaysingh says. “They can talk, and they can show themselves playing an instrument, or playing a sport. And colleges have given us feedback, saying that students who have a ZeeMee account are really able to show that they’re interested in the school.”
THE STUDENTS ARE ALREADY ONLINE
Jaysingh co-founded ZeeMee in 2014. He was working in technology consulting, and was on a plane when he met a sociology professor from the University of Notre Dame. Discussing Jaysingh’s work, and how he predicts internet behavior, the professor asked if there was a way to find how which students in his class are actually interested in sociology, and which are taking it for general education credits.
“It got me thinking,” Jaysingh says. “From a business standpoint, it was very logical to go into a space like this. There’s a world out there where students are living, on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook. They’re doing silly stuff, and there’s a lot of noise and clutter. But that’s what they’re used to. The next logical step was to empower students in a professional manner.”
Jaysingh got in touch with his old college roommate, Adam Metcalf, who had been working as a teacher. Together, they agreed that the timing was perfect. Students were already online, just not in a way where they could put their best foot forward.
“For me personally, I knew the power of the story. I moved here from India alone, as a teenager. I never left, and I lived the American dream. I had these opportunities because people I connected with liked my story, and gave me a chance. I knew first hand that Americans love stories, and everyone has a story – maybe a story about hardship, or embarrassment, or success, whatever it is,” Jaysingh says.
And Metcalf’s experiences convinced them that video-storytelling was the way to go. Metcalf had been teaching in China, and wanted to come back to work in the U.S. He couldn’t travel to do a face-to-face interview, so he sent a video of his classroom in China. Jaysingh says Metcalf was the only serious candidate who didn’t interview face-to-face, but he was hired on the strength of his video.
ADMISSIONS OFFICERS GREW UP WITH FACEBOOK
In July 2014, Jaysingh left his job to work on ZeeMee full-time, and Metcalf did the same shortly after. They zoned in on the transition between high school and college, which Jaysingh says was a bit of a risk.
“The college to career space was a proven, but crowded market, and here we thought we would be the only player,” Jaysingh says. “We didn’t know anything about college admissions at first, but when we launched, some students uploaded their ZeeMee links to colleges on their own. And on the backend, we could see that 147 college admissions officers clicked on the links.”
Encouraged, they started exploring college admissions. Jaysingh says they had assumed admissions officers were older, and wouldn’t be able to relate to ZeeMee, but they were wrong. “We realized the admissions officers clicking on applicants’ ZeeMee profiles were between 22 and 35-years-old. They were in the generation that grew up with Facebook, and they were in a job where they have to look at something 2-dimensional. This was more fun for them.”
That was the key to ZeeMee, Jaysingh says. In the next admissions season, 2015-16, they partnered with about a dozen colleges and universities, which designated a space in their applications for ZeeMee profile links. In this current season, they’ve partnered with more than 200 – including Carnegie Mellon University, Virginia Tech, Washington University in St. Louis, and Tulane University.