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UMass alum launches social networking site

University of Massachusetts alumnus Matt Etlinger, class of 2003, is taking on the likes of Twitter with his own social networking start-up eSwarm.com, in what he hopes will be the newest enduring trend in online social communication.

Officially launched Aug. 9, eSwarm uses a simple chat model that allows users to contribute to a variety of different user-driven forums, or microblogs. While similar in concept to topic-based websites like Twitter, eSwarm differentiates itself by emphasizing conversations between users that reflect face-to-face communication as opposed to simple status updates.

“A lot of the topics that people tend to get really riled up about in real world discussions, those are the most active conversations on our website,” said Etlinger. “We’ve seen a huge wave of young intellectuals and thought leaders who want to have relevant and meaningful conversations.”

Currently the website has 10,000 users, many of them college students at top universities from around the country, Etlinger said. He expects that figure to increase to 75,000 by August 2010.

Etlinger said eSwarm is working on applications for Blackberry and iPhone that will further integrate the site into existing popular technology.

While at UMass, Etlinger could not have predicted that he would become the co-founder of his own start-up business. He describes his transition from a sports management major in the Isenberg School of Management to co-founder of a social networking site as a lateral rather than linear path.

After graduation from UMass, Etlinger moved west to Arizona where he worked for the Phoenix Suns as an account executive in the business development office. Etlinger said that through his work there he came to admire the entrepreneurial style of businessmen such as former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo and Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz, and began to consider starting his own business.

“I started to get the entrepreneurial spirit, so me and two of my friends powered off to California in 2005,” said Etlinger.

In California, Etlinger and his business partners developed the initial concept of eSwarm as a website that applied the principles of natural swarming behavior to a group buying business model. They based their new company in Boulder, Colo., with the initial version of the website launched in 2007. A beta test of usership of the website revealed that users were most interested in the chat aspect of the site rather than using the swarming model for conducting business.

“What we realized was that the most active part of the website, our users wanted to talk, they wanted to have conversations,” Etlinger said.

In response to user behavior and feedback, Etlinger and his business partners changed their site to focus exclusively on providing a forum for user conversations.

Etlinger advised UMass students interested in starting their own businesses to be self-motivated and to make sure they picked their partners carefully.

“The execution is everything,” said Etlinger. “My advice is to do your due diligence, do your research, make sure you have your ducks in a row, make sure that it’s not just a good idea but that you can execute it.”

Niina Heikinnen can be reached at nheikkin@student.umass.edu.

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