Of all the miracles technology has made quotidian in the past century, the video chat remains among the life-changing and incredible. I can remember seeing the concept for the first time in the movie Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century and thinking it was impossibly cool—which, to a 1999 audience, it was. Little did we know it wouldn’t take ten years for video chatting to become a part of everyday life.
There are, of course, still new applications being developed for the technology—and one of them comes straight from 1Degree. Less than a year ago, Darden students Sam Boochever and Max Huc had an idea: what if it was possible to connect people with their favorite influencers via live video chat?
“We essentially want to recreate the feeling you have when you run into somebody you idolize in an airport,” Huc said, explaining the concept of their app. Normally running into one of these famous or otherwise influential figures is a stroke of luck, but 1Degree aims to put that experience literally at our fingertips through smartphones’ capacity for video chat—and spread the incredible feeling of connecting with someone you admire.
The app works by allowing “influencers” (that’s anyone with some kind of following—whether it be an athlete, author, Instagram model, or musician) to sign up for a series of one-minute time slots for video calls with their highest-bidding fans. Users receive a push notification when the influencers they follow are available, and the auction begins for a minute’s chance to get to talk to the person. After the chat, the influencer can choose to donate all or part of the proceeds raised to charity, or keep them, and has the option of messaging the user back if s/he wants to continue the conversation.
“We knew immediately that we had an idea that had a lot of potential,” Boochever said of the night the idea came to them. “We were literally jumping up and down in our living room.”
The two business students (and now owners), who had been paired randomly as roommates, have long had entrepreneurial interests, and shortly after moving in together they realized they could work well not only as housemates but also as business partners.
“I think the most beneficial thing to our company in its nascent stages was the fact that we were living together,” said Boochever. “Because we lived together, we could—you know, as we’re cooking dinner, say an off-the-cuff idea which would then turn into an hour-long conversation.”
“We typically get work done when we’re not trying to,” Huc said, adding how helpful it was in the initial stages not to have to schedule all their meetings.
Now that their team has grown to include a full-time developer as well as others out in Los Angeles, they’re practicing balancing their time and energy between the east and west coasts as they finish school. This summer, they were some of the first entrepreneurs to take part in the i.Lab’s non-residential version of the accelerator, hailing the program as very “important for the future of entrepreneurship at UVa.”
“They need to continue this program,” Boochever said of the accelerator, and particularly of its non-residential extension. “It was hugely helpful for us.”
Also helpful to them was getting to be physically in the same place as their team in Los Angeles during these critical months of their venture’s development, as it debuted in the Apple App Store and as they continued garnering influencers to participate.
“Being with our team this summer has taken us lightyears ahead,” Boochever said, pointing to the great “synergy of proximity for the creative process” that they’ve experienced.
Huc also spoke about the fun they’ve had recruiting influencers this summer.
“It’s been a blast,” he said, referring to recruiting as “the easiest part” of making the vision happen. “We’re strategically and uniquely positioned to get a concept like this off the ground,” he added, explaining how his and another partner’s alumni status as Division I college basketball players gave them a network of “influencers we’re just cool with.”
In addition to having the network, they’ve also had success in finding influencers who love the vision of 1Degree, as it allows them to connect with their fans, make a little money or give back to a cause, all at the same time and on one platform.
“There’s just not another app that can do that,” Boochever said of the positive feedback they’ve been receiving, as the value of the idea has been recognized. “Halfway through our pitch they’re already telling us how they would want to use it.”
The philanthropic aspect of 1Degree, too, has been one that sets them apart. As it expands the reach of influencers and opens up the possibilities for connection, it expands their reach for doing good. And as Huc put it, it sends the message, “You’re an influencer: you have the power to create change.”
As they do create change by using the app, influencers and users alike are given the chance to make a positive impact—and that’s something the 1Degree founders hope to see becoming just as normal, possible and influential as video chatting itself.