Less than six months ago, Business sophomores Raymond Sukanto and Victor Mahdavi bonded over a frustration many University of Michigan students have at parties — feeling helpless over a bad music playlist. In a matter of a few weeks, they partnered with LSA sophomore Dan Kaper to create a music queuing app called UpNext to assist fellow music-minded students on their nights out.
The app is run by a team of devoted University students, across LSA, the Ross School of Business and the College of Engineering, whose mission is to unite students at social gatherings over the aux cord. UpNext serves as a platform for creating a collaborative playlist, where users are given the power to suggest songs and “upvote” or “downvote” tracks on the queue.
Though the app primarily functions as a playlist generator, the team’s vision is to consolidate party planning by transforming UpNext into a social app, where users can locate nearby events.
“The main thing now is us focusing on being a music-sharing app, but the end goal is to be something more, like a social media platform where we could essentially help a user decide and plan out their entire night, from where they go, who they go with, and then eventually what music they listen to,” Kaper said. “The idea is to become a more of an all-inclusive way to connect and experience parties together.”
Since its launch on the Apple App Store in January, UpNext has been downloaded by over 500 users, including Business freshman Alana Gartenberg.
“Before, you could have been fighting over the aux or fighting over the music and it took away from the time you could have been spending talking about other things,” Gartenberg said. “This app makes it so much easier to just put in what you want.”
UpNext’s current users have accumulated organically through word-of-mouth and small publicity stunts, like sponsored Snapchat filters. The team paid for Snapchat filters in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico over Spring Break, as well as multiple party spaces over St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
However, Mahdavi said the team has strayed away from depending on marketing strategies to promote the app and instead are focusing on letting the product sell itself.
“We didn’t put enough emphasis on the actual design,” Mahdavi said. “I think most successful companies that make social media products really focus on the product. Then it speaks for itself. People will use it if they like it.”
Kaper, who worked on developing the app, said the team recognizes app design is vital in attracting users. In recent weeks, the app’s developing team has concentrated on cleaning the user interface design by minimizing screens users must swipe through and introducing a “home” screen, which is widely used in popular apps like Snapchat and Tinder.
“The main idea is to create simplicity,” Kaper said. “It’s easier to retain the user if the appearance on the app is pretty easy and straightforward.”
One of UpNext’s selling points is that it was created for college students, by college students. The team spends every week updating the app based on students’ reactions to it with a hearty goal of 1,500 to 2,000 downloads by the end of the semester.
The hardest part of the process, according to Sukanto, is getting those users.
“You never know, at this stage, what people really want,” Sukanto said. “Everything is still a guessing game. That's why every week we push to test and see if it improves. It’s a cycle.”
According to Sukanto, UpNext is putting Ann Arbor first this semester, focusing on reaching out to students in the area, but next semester’s plans foresee a push to other college towns.
“Our goal this semester is truly about learning what product features work and what marketing strategies work,” Sukanto said. “Right now, our only focus is Ann Arbor."
Members of the team have gotten support from CHISL Design, a student-run branding group, as well as from Entrepreneurship 412, a University course modeled on real-world startup incubators and accelerator programs. However, Mahdavi said what helps drive the app’s development the most is the support they get from each other.
“School is super important, that’s why we're here and learning so much, and that's how we met each other,” Mahdavi said. “But there's something very exciting about having your own app and having something to your own name and seeing people have fun with it.”