Almost overnight, and totally unexpectedly, four Western students have turned a project meant to streamline the 40-hour volunteer requirement for high school students into a successful enterprise.
Pod is an online organization tool for clubs, causes and teams, created by Western grads Luke Swanek, BA’11 (History and Philosophy), and Bryn Jones, BA’11 (Globalization Studies), as well as current students Jonathan Mendes (Computer Science) and Neil Chudleigh (Engineering and Computer Science).
When the team first got together, the idea was to facilitate a connection between non-profits in the community and high school students looking for volunteer opportunities. They created an online platform – similar to Facebook – where organizations and non-profits, as well as students, could create profiles. The site then acted as a matchmaker and tally keeper – connecting a person to a task, keeping track of what had been accomplished.
In the process of figuring out this platform, the team realized its potential.
“We had hundreds of conversations with many non-profits on campus, student clubs, varsity teams and ad hoc groups. We met with executives on campus for months and we would get feedback and adjust around their feedback,” Swanek explained.
And just like that, Pod came together.
“The best way to think of it is, kind of like a Facebook group, but with added functionality,” Swanek continued. “Facebook groups are great for communicating, but they are poor at getting things done if you have an objective or a project. That is where we excel.
“People can participate in multiple groups and subgroups from one platform. And within those groups you can create a ‘pod’ that is part of your team within the larger group.”
For instance, Western’s varsity swim team could have a group page with separate pods for the men’s and women’s teams, fundraising groups and any other necessary subgroups. Schedules could be posted and managed as a community; tasks could be assigned and monitored for progress; projects could be managed together.
University of Guelph student Benjamin Bales joined the Pod team, and they launched a public beta version online in September. In three weeks, more than 1,000 people were on the site. There are more than 1,500 users today, and the numbers keep growing.
“It’s flying out the door, which is fun. We’re seeing significant success,” Swanek said. “We’re not charging people to use it right now, just putting it to the wind to see how people use it.”
Pod, joinpod.com, is currently being used by a large number of Western clubs, London non-profits, sports teams across North America, parent-teacher associations and even the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
Because of its networking ability, the Pod team has raised more than $130,000 in funds in the last eight months alone, without doing any marketing, Swanek added. They are working closely with Western’s Student Entrepreneurship Centre to continue their success, he said.