Q&A With Classy, First Startup Out of Consumer-Tech Foundry Blade

Consumer tech is in the air around Boston. After e-commerce firm Wayfair’s IPO filing on Friday, the race is on to become the next household name in a town that has produced the likes of TripAdvisor, Zipcar, Bose, and Kayak.

One place people are looking to for the next big thing is Blade, the startup foundry led by Kayak co-founder Paul “Don’t call it an incubator” English. The basic model: seed investments and venture creation of direct-to-consumer tech startups.

On Monday, Blade unveiled its first company and mobile app: It’s called Classy, and it’s a way for college students to buy and sell stuff using their smartphones. Take a picture of something, slap a price and title on it, and put it up for sale to any student at your school—it’s kind of like Craigslist, but designed for mobile-first and restricted to students at a particular college.

The app is launching in the Apple store and will be available to students at Babson College, Boston University, Harvard University, and Northeastern University—with more schools and an Android version to come, the company says.

I reached out to Classy founder Mike MacLean (pictured), a recent UMass grad who previously created a mobile app called TextMarlin that let students buy and sell used textbooks. Here’s our e-mail exchange:

Xconomy: How did you originally hook up with Paul English and Blade? How much is the investment, and how big is your team?

Mike MacLean: I met Paul cold, by reaching out through LinkedIn. Investment [number] is under wraps, but Blade has raised $20 million to invest in the companies Paul is working with. We have about six people on the team.

X: What did you learn from your textbook marketplace at UMass that made you think this could be a big company?

MM: Students used TextMarlin and loved it. Not only were there a significant number of repeat users, but we also saw faster than expected organic growth. We quickly realized the need for a student-to-student marketplace extended beyond textbooks. Most of the lessons learned revolved around tweaking the user experience to a much better/simpler one. I worked closely with Brian Kalma (brains behind UX at Zappos/Gilt) to make that happen. What we have now is a strikingly beautiful and very easy to use app.

X: I see some parallels with Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook, but for the mobile-first college market. What are the strategic similarities and differences with these companies?

MM: The primary difference is that we are campus-specific (branded to each campus) and ridiculously easy to use. Unlike eBay, we are completely free to use. We are the only one solving the student-to-student need in a really efficient way. There is some competition between us and the university bookstores regarding the used textbook market, so it’s unlikely we will be met with open arms in that regard.

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