Think all startups are about fancy apps, revolutionary ideas, or becoming a tech-savvy millionaire before earning a diploma? Think again. MySchoolSwap.com helps fund schools nationwide with online classified ads.
Their business model is simple. Members buy credits to post classified ads, and 50% of all credit sales are donated to the schools that members choose. MySchoolSwap.com offers individual pages for each public and private school in the U.S., from preschool to secondary levels.
My School Swap launched officially in April, focusing on North Virginia. So far, they’ve cut checks to seven different schools. Co-Founder Cathy Shalvey estimates that if just 10% of Craigslist users also posted an ad with My School Swap for $1 each, sponsored schools would earn 9 million dollars in just one year.
We caught up with Shalvey to find out how she translated years of volunteer work, parenting, and professional experience in communications into her startup vision.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
My SchoolSwap is designed to benefit schools so we wanted the word ‘School’ in the name as well as ‘My’ to emphasize that each school has its own Classified Ad results page—its own community. Then we needed something catchy to define what it’s all about, and ‘Swap’ smoothly suggests barter and exchange.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
Two of us started MySchoolSwap: myself and my husband (co-founder and partner). We also have a professional Advisory Board that has contributed valuable guidance and technical assistance. We’ve contracted a fantastic web company, BlueKey Web Solutions of Charleston, SC, to develop the site.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models? Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food? Give us the deets, dude!
People with stories about perseverance always [inspire me]. The other group of people that inspires me are volunteers. From parent groups like PTO or PTA, to Girl Scout leaders, to nonprofit arts organizations, to teens at work camp rebuilding homes—these volunteers all give their time to make a difference.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowd-funded? Where’d you get the money, man?
So far we have funded this project entirely with our own savings.
What was the biggest mistake you made with this or a past company? Anything you would change?
One mistake may be that we overestimated activity at launch. We held a focus group with optimistic results and have had tons of positive feedback, but we need that to convert to content on MySchoolSwap.com. Starting a new classified ad website is a challenge. We can’t get users without content, but we can’t get content without users. We need pioneers!
Do you consider yourself successful now? If not, what’s it gonna take to make you feel successful?
Absolutely. We took an idea and brought it to life exactly as we imagined. We created a useful platform for families, community members and business owners to buy and sell with each other, exchange information and promote themselves all while supporting local schools. If My School Swap becomes incredibly profitable, that would mean schools everywhere are receiving checks to be put to good use—that will be the ultimate success.
Web App or site you couldn’t live without and why:
Pinterest… not only is it a great promotional tool for My School Swap, it’s my personal creative outlet.
Mobile App you’re in love with:
RetailMeNot… coupons at your fingertips. Everyone loves a discount.
Dogs or cats?
iOS or Android?
Anything else we should know about what makes you and your company so special?
My School Swap was formed by a Mom with an idea and first hand experience—no VCs, no Harvard MBA and way past the age of 20. Right now, we are the only classified ad marketplace that donates 50% of its revenue to schools nationwide. We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just putting a meaningful spin on it.