Summer Award Winner: Weel May Solve Major E-Commerce Conundrum
Mobile users accounted for more than half of Internet traffic in 2017, yet retail purchases from mobile devices resulted in less than 25 percent of e-commerce spend. So, why are consumers reluctant to buy on their smartphones and tablets? Eyan Goldman has answers.
“Most e-commerce vendors don’t want to spend the money to develop and maintain an app which people may not adopt,” the rising sophomore at Johns Hopkins University says. “Additionally, e-commerce hasn’t yet integrated a social experience like what is traditionally found in retail shopping.”
The solution, Goldman believes, is a social platform known as Weel that transforms how shoppers interact with websites and enables them to easily connect with friends. Weel’s progress and potential earned it FastForward U’s third-ever Summer Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Award.
“Eyan and the Weel team demonstrated uncommon dedication, as well as a comprehensive understanding of their product’s marketability and the next steps in its development,” says Darius Graham, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ director of student ventures. “We’re excited to see how much progress the team will make over the summer.”
Weel’s platform — which Goldman, a computer science major, is developing with Cal Lavicka, a high school friend currently studying at Carnegie Mellon University, and Johns Hopkins classmates — uses an intelligent layout system that simplifies the user interface of e-commerce webpages to make browsing, shopping and purchasing on websites much simpler.
A social component of Weel enables shoppers to elicit peer feedback simply by pressing and swiping the image of a product to a Facebook friend. This action seamlessly sends all of the product’s data to the friend who can weigh in before a user makes a purchase.
“Our platform transforms the way users interact with retail websites,” Goldman says. “Weel is designed to work on any website instantaneously as our technology does not require the consent of the host website.”
Weel plans to roll out a beta of its platform for iPhones this summer and to have a full launch in early 2019. (Those interested in participating in the beta can contact Weel at email@example.com.)
To monetize the platform, Goldman plans to engage brands and provide them opportunities to show Weel users products similar to what they share with friends. When a user purchases one of the suggested products, Weel would receive a portion of each sale.
“With Weel, brands don’t have to fear being hurt by having an online ad placed on a website with which they’d prefer not to associate,” Goldman says of his platform’s advantage. “Additionally, brands also have the opportunity to advertise directly to someone who they know is interested in a similar product.”
The Summer Award, funded by an anonymous Johns Hopkins University alumnus, provides Weel with $10,000, a space to work for the summer and mentorship from the FastForward U team and the Summer Award donor.
Weel will use the funding to cover Lavicka’s rent in Baltimore as well as bring on two interns who can develop the platform’s user interface. Without the award, Goldman says, the team would have had trouble making progress in June, July and August. Goldman and Lavicka live in New York City, but the city would have made getting space and talent cost-prohibitive.
The value and opportunity of the Summer Award has made it highly sought after among Johns Hopkins’ student ventures. This year, 14 highly qualified teams applied for the award.
“We were really impressed with the applicant pool for this year’s Summer Award as it represented the most advanced undergraduate startups at Hopkins,” Graham says.
Receiving the Summer Award is just the latest support Weel has received from FastForward U. Last fall, the group filled out FastForward U’s general interest form to better understand the resources and support it could provide. Shortly thereafter, Weel was named to the 2017-2018 Ralph S. O’Connor Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Fund cohort and received additional mentorship and guidance.
“FastForward U has been unbelievably helpful,” Goldman says. “We definitely wouldn’t be as far along as we are today without them.”
FactoryFour, known as Fusiform when they received the award in 2016, has moved into its own space in Mount Vernon, added clients and was recently named to Technical.ly Baltimore’s realLIST as it develops a solution for digital fabrication.
MoTrack Therapy, last year’s Summer Award winner currently developing a platform for better at-home injury rehabilitation, was recently recognized as a finalist at Baylor University’s New Venture Competition and won $1,500.
Goldman believes Weel can follow in the footsteps of those two budding ventures.
“My dream for Weel is to have it become a really popular and useful resource for people,” Goldman says. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think that there was at least a shot at that.”