At the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, we are excited to highlight student entrepreneurs and share their personal experiences, achievements, and brilliant insights. We invite you to join us as we celebrate these ANTrepreneurs and get inspired by their stories.
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught Kevin Le (UCI Class of 2022, B.A. Business Administration) and Anthony Nasser (University of Southern California fourth-year, Computer Science and Business Administration) anything, it’s that social connections are deeply important. At the height of the pandemic when people were strongly encouraged to shelter at home, Kevin found himself missing the everyday encounters of pre-pandemic life.
It was out of this desire to make more casual connections that their startup Down was born. To celebrate the recent launch of Down, Ryan Foland, Interim Director of the UCI ANTrepreneur Center, met with Kevin and Anthony to learn more about their company, the resources they relied on leading up to their launch, and their tips for student entrepreneurs.
Ryan: Thank you both for meeting with me! Let’s start out by talking about Down and what it aims to do.
Kevin: Sure. Down is a social networking app that helps users find people to hang out with in small, spontaneous groups when their current friends are unavailable or uninterested. For example, if you wanted to go to a concert but had no one to go with, you could create a group on our app and other people would request to join. You would then accept a few people into your group based on their profiles and responses to your questions. This allows you to create an intimate group that you can enjoy the activity with.
Ryan: That’s pretty cool. Where did you get the inspiration for your company?
Kevin: I came up with the idea during COVID. We had just been sent home my freshman year, and quarantine was in full effect at this point. As the months went by, people realized they needed to at least go out to do the essentials and get some exercise. This was when I started going to less crowded parks to play basketball, something I used to do all the time in high school. However, it was almost impossible for me to find people willing to go during the pandemic.
I tried to find other people to go with me, but I didn’t want to post on a Facebook Group or create an Instagram post because I didn’t want to advertise it and make it such a huge deal. I just wanted something small and casual, and there were no options that fit that. Basketball at a rundown park on a Friday night was too low stakes for the existing social media platforms. I felt there needed to be a platform that people could use when they wanted to go out and find a small number of people to hang out with. This is why we created Down.
As we considered the viability of Down further, we realized this problem didn’t just exist during COVID. This problem exists whenever someone goes to college and leaves their hometown friends behind, when they graduate college and their friends move away, when people start working and struggle to find a time to meet with current friends, and so on.
Ryan: This seems like something that’s really close to your heart.
Kevin: Yeah, what makes me excited about Down is that we are a solution tailored to address a problem that I and the people around me have faced. We’re selling something that really resonates with us. Our app is designed to provide real value for people in similar situations as us. For example, now that Down is released, I’m going to be using it all the time to find people to play pickup basketball with!
Anthony: For me, what’s awesome about Down is that there really isn’t something quite like us on the market yet. There are dating apps with extended functionality to include meeting friends and there are a few other systems that are arguably similar, but none of them are positioned in a way that caters to intimate, casual, small group meetups quite like Down is. We are for people that just got into college or just got out of college and are adjusting to a new environment. We are for people who’ve been wanting to see the new Marvel movie, but all of their friends are busy. We are for anyone who wants to meet new people or try out new and exciting things. Seeing this platform reach its fruition is what makes me most excited because we’ll get to see people out having fun when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Ryan: You’ve mentioned that your app is newly launched. Congratulations! How can people download it? What else is currently going on with Down?
Kevin: Thanks! We launched on the Apple App Store on August 12, 2022, so people can now officially use the app on iOS. The Android version of our app will be coming soon. For now, iOS users can search for “Down Groups” to find and download the app.
Aside from that, we’ve been working with a number of businesses that are included on the app as “blueprints.” These are essentially location ideas that users can create groups around.
Anthony: Thank you! On the development side of things, we’re currently preparing the app for people with Android phones and ironing out the bugs that our users have been reporting. Down’s mobile application has a long way to go before it becomes the polished platform we know it can be, but our team is awesome and we’re loving the journey!
Ryan: Stepping back a little, can you talk about the process of creating Down? What was your experience like?
Kevin: As a young entrepreneur, a lot of the challenges revolve around unexpected events or self-doubt. To be a founder of a startup means you have to juggle many roles, and the unfortunate yet beautiful thing about that is that you probably have no experience doing it. You just have to tackle the challenges as they pop up. So far for me, that has included things like communicating with developers, providing direction on design, working with legal, recruiting for our team and for our user base, and so on.
Through all this, there were many instances of fear regarding whether I was qualified to do what I was doing and whether or not we would fail. Overcoming that is a continual process. I have to repeatedly remind myself that it’s scary trying to do something special, but ultimately I’m grateful to have the opportunity to try. If I didn’t take this risk, I wouldn’t be fulfilled. So I tell myself that I need to embrace that uncertainty as a startup founder. I solve the problems as they come, and I do that by researching and talking to experts to fill the holes in my knowledge.
Anthony: I definitely agree with Kevin on the difficulties of dealing with self-doubt as a young entrepreneur. Initially, imposter syndrome was a huge issue I had with managing teams of developers and coming up with app designs and implementations. Overcoming this is something that I still work on to this day.
I’ve also faced challenges that stem from a lack of refined time management. Being the founder of a startup while managing a full course load and other obligations is by no means easy to accomplish. Building on what Kevin said, when you are a founder, your job isn’t clearly defined. Your job is doing whatever needs to be done. You have to be bold enough to trust yourself to learn as you go, and that is much easier said than done.
Ryan: Trying to launch a company is definitely a challenge, even more so when you’re a student or recent graduate. Were you able to rely on individuals or other resources for support?
Kevin: The Blackstone LaunchPad Fellowship that we got through the UCI ANTrepreneur Center was a great resource, and we participated in their programming such as workshops and socials. The information they offer is valuable, but the coolest thing about the Blackstone LaunchPad is being part of a network of other young entrepreneurs who are going through the same things as you. It also offers an opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs and share our wins and losses. This is nice because people don’t fully understand the experience until they start a business themselves. Additionally, the end of the program comes with a $5,000 stipend that will be huge for our startup, as I just graduated and Anthony is still in college.
The UCI ANTrepreneur Center has been a huge help. The beginnings of Down happened here as I fleshed out the idea of Down. During this time, I also met with Jaune Odombrown, who was one of my earliest mentors and provided me guidance. Jaune also went on to refer us to so many other resources that the Center had relationships with, including the Student Startup Fund, the Startup Small Business Clinic, and the ICS capstone programs.
Anthony: Over the last year, we’ve also competed in a few school competitions that have been useful as well. We were semifinalists in each competition. At California State University, Long Beach, we were in the Sunstone Competition, which paired us with our mentor Jim Cooper. By working with Jim and receiving feedback on our submissions, we learned a lot about what was missing in our development process. Similarly, through competing at the New Venture Competition and Butterworth Competition offered at UCI, we received valuable feedback and were paired with an extremely valuable mentor in John Herpy.
Ryan: Now that you’ve talked about establishing your company, let’s look forward. What future plans do you have for Down?
Anthony: Kevin and I probably talk about this more than we should. We have a lot of ambitious ideas for the future, but we know that it always has to start with being hyper-focused on our users. As we grow our community and learn more about our users’ wants and needs, we will expand Down’s functionality to fill in the gaps and experiment with some new features. We want to be the go-to app for people who are bored and don’t know what to do and for people sitting in a group trying to decide what to do next.
Kevin: To add to that, you never know what the future holds in a startup, but in the long-term, we plan to continue growing our community and finding a way to create an ecosystem on our app. Earlier, I mentioned working with businesses to create “blueprints” or examples of places that our users can go. We hope to expand on these relationships. This could mean bringing in other services that make the group hangouts on Down even more fulfilling, or it could mean something completely different that has yet to cross my mind. Thus is the startup life!
Ryan: Thank you both so much for sitting “down” with me today, no pun intended! I always like to finish these conversations with some helpful advice for other student entrepreneurs. What would you say to an aspiring student entrepreneur?
Kevin: A few tips: if possible, find a co-founder that you really trust and can laugh with. Running a startup can be difficult and stressful, and it helps to have someone that can not only help with the work but share the rough moments with as well. Anthony and I joke about it all the time, but the co-founder relationship is almost like a marriage.
Another tip is to just trust your gut and get moving. There are going to be countless people giving you advice, endless resources and programs to learn from, and plenty of supposed things you have to do before starting. It’s information overload. These things are all good to look into, but nothing will happen if you don’t start. You just have to put the fear of failure aside and go. No amount of preparation is going to prevent you from the punch in the face that’s coming. You just have to take it and move forward.
Anthony: I would say work with people who you have fun with and who share your hustle. The team and the actual execution behind a business are far more important than the initial idea. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable or feeling stupid (because it will happen). I started as a web developer with little leadership experience outside of the group projects I did in school. So I had to learn a lot throughout the process of creating Down.
I would also say buy yourself a nice chair, because you will be sitting on it for very long stretches of time figuring everything out! But most importantly, count it as an accomplishment every time you want to quit and don’t or you have a victory over self-doubt. Be confident in your ability to learn along the way, and just start now.
To learn more about Down, check out their website or connect on Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, or LinkedIn. For more information about the UCI ANTrepreneur Center and how it can support your entrepreneurial journey, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.