UpStge Launch

From DeVry Senior Project to Social Media Platform: The Launch of

By DeVry University, the grand prize winner of DeVry University’s Senior Project Showdown in 2014, is a social media community designed for aspiring musicians looking to display their talents and gain exposure. Within a year, this senior project has transformed into a working operation which launched on August 31, 2015. All four team members for the project – Andres Hernandez, Eric Rivera, Greg Giaquinto and Joe Timme – are still working together to maintain and grow the new website.

The Senior Project Showdown is a national competition of projects from DeVry University’s capstone senior experience and the submissions are scored on innovation, real-world problem solving and creativity. scored well on all fronts. The site is building a community of ambitious, up-and-coming musicians from various genres, who post videos of themselves performing in order to earn viewers’ upvotes. The leading videos each week win a featured spot on the “main stage” of the site and in each category. 

The goal of the project team was to provide a unique service not only to musicians seeking more exposure, but to all users who are passionate about discovering music away from the mainstream. A couple of months after the site went live, we caught up with Andres Hernandez to ask him how UpStge went from project to platform in a year – and to find out what next steps are in store for the team.

Q: It’s been about a year since won the Senior Project Showdown. What key steps did you take to bring your website to life since then?

AH: First we had to assess what worked and what didn’t with the project, and make the necessary changes to the site interface and design based on the feedback we got from the judges. We decided to outsource website development and started looking for investors in December. We had the funds we needed by January. In the meantime, we had designers on our Senior Project team, so they designed the site and our ads. Some testing took place, we launched in late August, and it’s all been moving forward from there.

Q: What was your major, and what else have you been up to since graduating with your bachelor’s degree? Also, can you elaborate a bit on how is running?

AH:  I earned a BS in Computer Information Systems with a specialization in information systems security. Now I’m a full time Data Architect at American Express, making designs for databases. There were four members of our UpStge project team and we’re all still on board, doing a little of everything. But we all have day jobs as well. The entrepreneurial work does take a lot of time, but it’s what we have to do right now.  We know that a lot great businesses and websites start as a labor of love. 

Q: About your launch of the site, which was about 2 months ago: how was it marketed and how is it going so far? 

AH: It’s going really well – better than we actually anticipated. Because we had never started an online company before, we had no idea how to gauge its performance. So we set goals for ourselves with metrics. We definitely surpassed our original goals. Within 3 weeks after launch, we already had 2000 views. And more than one video per day was being uploaded at the end of the initial two month launch period. These are encouraging milestones for us, especially in a market with websites like YouTube and Vevo.

Q: What did you learn from the process of creating and presenting your Senior Project that was particularly useful in making a reality?

AH: The Senior Project was the foundation, but it was really more about proof of concept. The contest exposes the students to comments from really knowledge people, both from DeVry and other judges from big companies like Microsoft or Adobe.  So for example, UI [user interface] elements changed due to that feedback. The scope of the Sr. Project was the first step, but we had to expand and develop it afterward. We got very positive feedback, which pushed us to move ahead with the idea. Once we won the nationwide competition, we decided to launch an actual business with it.

Q: What are your plans for the future and what steps will you take to grow the online community?

AH: Right now, our strategy for growth is a slow and steady approach. Our site has a lot of developing and maturing to do, so we are mostly advertising by word of mouth, and investing a little each month in advertising through online channels (FB, Google, ad networks, etc.). It is also important for us to personally reach out to members of the music community, and so we've been attending live events and discussing the idea of UpStge with local artists who are trying to gain exposure. The more we know about the music community, the better service we can deliver! DeVry has also helped out a lot with word-of-mouth coverage, and we've had a few online news outlets write articles about the site. It's all about patience and progression. I've found it to be tough to want to see the site evolve into its fullest potential, but we must take the proper steps to get there."

Q: Do you have any industry role models or idols? Who inspires you? 

AH: Honestly, it’s the people I work with – my team. Seeing them embrace the idea and put all their passion into it really provides that foundation and motivation that so many young startups may struggle to find. The fact that they all put in work knowing we may never make any money with this, and they put in the hours and also have put personal money into it; it's truly inspirational. Also, I constantly reach out to local artists. I have a bit of a music background myself, and so I know that the majority of unheard artists can relate to what I'm going through – working hard on something for the passion. It's always worth it.

Q: For all those who will be tacking their own Senior Projects one day soon, what advice would you give them?

AH: I think the best projects are the ones where people are the most passionate. When it’s more to them than just getting that final grade to graduate. So my advice is to be passionate, so you’ll put in extra hours, and you’ll see the harder you work on it the more it becomes part of you. Without that it seems the presentations are flatter, without the flash. When it’s something you’re really proud of, your energy shows when you present. 

Q: Beyond the Senior Project experience, how did earning your degree from DeVry help you get started on achieving your goals? 

AH: It helped in so many ways. It’s the whole lifestyle you have at DeVry. I think going year round prepares you for working in the real world. With a full schedule in a fast-paced industry, you have to be able to focus and get tasks done, just like you have to focus and pick up on content in the 8-week session schedule. Plus, you can get to know your professors and advisors, and absorb as much as you can from them. I still keep a strong relationship with faculty, especially professors in my concentration. I go to the campus to participate in events and I’ve been invited to speak to freshmen. My teachers helped me have more confidence. I still feel comfortable to go to them to talk about our interests or with any questions. This is all part of me achieving my goals.

To see what Andres and his team of DeVry alums did with their winning Senior Project, check out the website – it’s totally free to users and you can join to vote your favorites on to a stage.