Arizona social media app UFree is on its way to be the next big thing for college social media! Therefore, we talked to its founder in Tucson, Arizona: Stephen Ost. This new social media app is a tool that locates your friends within the area of a college campus and allows you to instantly see who’s free to hang out, accommodating everyone’s schedules. Hence the name UFree. Luckily for us, Stephen Ost was free, and we got to ask him a bunch of questions concerning college life in Arizona, web development, and what he thinks of other social media apps.
Hi, can you introduce yourself for those who don’t know you?
Hello, I’m Stephen Ost, the founder of UFree. I am 23 right now, and graduated from University of Arizona with a computer science degree in May of 2013.
So, tell us a little bit about your story, and how you came to create the new Arizona social media app?
I came to UofA as a freshman, and, as I got out of class, I often found myself in that similar situation where I did not know who to hang out with, so that’s what started the main idea. Since I was a computer science major, I decided to try to develop an app that served my needs on my own.
What resources did you use to help you get started in the mobile development industry?
Because I did not learn much, if anything, concerning mobile development while studying computer programming at UofA, I had to learn most of it myself. A great resource for me was Startup Tucson, an organization that helps entrepreneurs and students create Startups. The organization provides mentors, free office space, a chance for your project to be on StartupWeekend, etc…
There are so many similar apps, but none quite like Ufree. It’s almost like a mix between Google Maps, Foursquare, and Twitter. Can you expand on that?
Well, I would actually disagree with the idea that Ufree is similar to other apps because every other application out there basically encourages the user to sit on a computer as a means of communication instead of face to face interaction, whereas Ufree encourages the user to find who is “free” to hangout, and actually see that person. What differentiates Ufree from Foursquare or Find My Friends, is that Ufree does not offer exact locations, but a radius in which those people you want to hang out with are located.
How would you describe the student life here? What factor prompted the invention of Ufree?
Ufree is made for the college demographic. I was in college. I knew what people needed because I was a part of that demographic.
Can you tell us a little bit about Will.i.am, how you met him, and how he influenced you?
Well, first of all, he’s a pretty cool guy! Now, he watches our twitter and checks up on us from time to time. He was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. I go there every year and he was there. He was doing a keynote speech. After he was done, he went into this VIP area, so I just walked past security casually, and stood by as Will.I.am was being interviewed. I was wearing a Ufree shirt at the time so, when he was done with his interview, he looked at me and said: “You free? Cause I’m free!” He then obviously asked me what it was, and I gave him my pitch. Turns out he loved, and we had a solid conversation for around 10 minutes. Then we just kept in touch.
Wow. That’s awesome. How big is the Ufree team by now?
We have 20 people, me and 19 interns. We had four interns a year ago. Through our development, as the app began growing and people became more passionate about it, more opportunities came up so I started recruiting people. I usually look at the people’s skills and then think about where these skills could be put to good use. It’s not like there’s a position that we need to fill and I just pick someone who is qualified.
How do you make sure all of your interns are doing their jobs correctly?
It’s a hard job. That’s why I hired an intern who manages the interns! Because they are working for me in collaboration with the University of Arizona, I don’t pay them, but they earn credits at UofA by helping me out. The interns need to reach certain milestones within their work in order to be on the right track towards getting their credit. Because I like most of the people I hire, they’re going to get the credit anyways, but it’s more for them than it is for me. They get that extra experience in doing things right.
Do your interns have to have a specific major?
No, not at all. We have business majors, computer science majors, marketing majors, etc…
Where do you see UFree in 3 years’ time?
In three years!? It’ll probably be acquired by then, haha! No, but, my vision, is to have UFree be THE app that people use when they walk out of a college class and want to find their friends, not just the new Arizona social media app! They’ll just be able to get out of class, look for available friends to hangout, and go, wherever they go to school!
What was your biggest challenge while developing the app?
Outsourcing. I have my outsource in India. When I go to sleep, they wake up. That’s a big challenge for me because of our need to communicate. Now, I’ll stay up till 2 or 3 talking to them. In terms of development, the product is released in the US and not in India. So all the testing that we have here is not seen by those working on it in India, and it becomes hard for me to describe certain bugs to them based on the 150 or so friends that I, personally, have on UFree. Although, I will say that having development occur in India VS. The United States reduces the price tenfold, so it’s definitely worth the hassle.
At what moment did you realize that UFree would have a major impact beyond the University of Arizona campus life?
In August. The year prior, 2012, I took an internship as a software engineer for IBM, and figured that that’s what I would do once I graduated. But then, I started going to Startup Tucson, and got introduced to the entire world of entrepreneurship, which allowed me to see UFree as something more than just a side project that I had as a college student.
Do you have any words for the kids who are persuaded that getting a traditional “9 to 5” job is the only way to go?
It takes a lot of courage and self-esteem to break away from the concept of a “regular job”. If you can do it though, it’s the best!