Chevy Chase Start-up Scores $25K from Facebook

Evan Steinberg graduated from the University of Michigan to the School of Hard Knocks, as many entrepreneurs often call their on-the-job training.

Luckily Steinberg is all about the education. He grew up in Chevy Chase, Md., and attended Sidwell Friends, a private school in Washington, D.C., where, he said, "like many high schools, they were pretty serious about the college search process." Steinberg, now 24, applied to nine schools and was fortunate enough to tour most of them with his parents. "I had all the resources you could imagine, including books and great college counselors," he said, but he still felt he was missing something. "Even with great resources I struggled to get an authentic sense of what various schools were like...I would zip around New England doing one or two visits a day usually following around a cheesy tour guide presentation that were all cookie cutter versions of each other."

Check My Campus founder Evan Steinberg. (Courtesy of company.)

That feeling planted a seed in the back of his mind for a service to provide the real scoop from students attending institutions of higher learning. Later, that seed grew into Check My Campus, a service offering candid online videos created by college students that detail how they really feel about their experiences at their schools, both the good and the bad.

Steinberg ultimately attended the University of Michigan, obtaining an undergraduate business degree, and while in school got a taste of the entrepreneur's life by starting with nine friends a company called Real Retro. It sold "intelligent fashion," according to Steinberg, including sports jerseys depicting historical and literary figures such as Harriet Tubman or Romeo and Juliet.

That venture was successful and garnered some national media attention, but was shuttered when its founders moved on to other endeavors -- like law school. During his tenure at Michigan, Steinberg interned at Nike and Wal-Mart and worked at American Eagle Outfitters after graduation. However, he yearned to embark on another entrepreneurial venture and so he started Check My Campus.

Steinberg moved back in with his parents in what he laughingly calls CMC's "world headquarters" in Chevy Chase. He also hired a couple of college interns to help him develop his business model. His parents are supporters of his venture. His dad is an entrepreneur himself and his mom is a lawyer -- a "good source for in-house counsel" for his business. And he's got one certifiably big fan -- social networking site Facebook, which recently gave Steinberg $25,000 from its fbFund to help him further develop his firm.

In the summer of 2007, Facebook launched a platform that helped people build applications for Facebook. Steinberg trekked to New York to attend the first Facebook Developers Meetup. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was there, recalls Steinberg, and "everyone was scrambling for developers to build Facebook applications and there were a bunch of entrepreneurs and random people who had ideas but no one really had a great resume for it because it was a totally new field."

Steinberg initially had planned to launch CMC as a stand-alone Web site, but shifted his business model when he saw an opportunity to have a deep Facebook connection. "There's a huge saturation of the folks I was trying to reach out to -- like high school and college students -- on Facebook." About 2.5 million high school students actively use Facebook daily. "I decided Facebook was going to be my launchpad. The timing was great."

Today, Steinberg says his Facebook application aims to help high school students get a more authentic sense of what colleges are like through videos and photos. College students can contribute their own content to the site and import photos and upload videos from their Facebook accounts.

To kick things off, Steinberg needed some content and knew just what to do -- exercise a little social networking. He decided to go on a tour of 25 schools in fall 2007 and shoot some video.

To organize the tour, he logged into Facebook to ask his Facebook friends and their friends if they knew anyone at these 25 schools. He contacted those students and also reached out to student presidents and other student leaders who he felt would be involved enough with a school to offer good insight.

"The responses from the college students about their schools was overwhelmingly positive, but there were a few kids who brought to light some schools' stereotypes," said Steinberg. "My position is that a student may have an issue with a certain part of a school and we make clear on the Check My Campus application that we're not affiliated with the school so I say let people express themselves."

People may comment on the videos, providing an avenue to contest a student's opinion about a school if they disagree.

When Steinberg secured the $25,000 from Facebook, he was automatically entered for the opportunity to win an additional $225,000 award. With his initial award he plans to further develop marketing and technology. "With the $225,000 I could really expand. I'm all for hiring people who are smarter than me, but those aren't going to come with just $25K...For the time being, I'm just optimizing stuff where I can."

By Sharon McLoone |  November 12, 2008; 2:34 PM ET Profiles in Entrepreneurship
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