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Clusterflunk Founders Expand Online Forum for UNI, Cornell

Two Iowa City entrepreneurs are looking to flunk more of the state.

Software developers AJ Nelson and Joe Dallago launched Clusterflunk, an online forum and database for students to share exams and studying resources, at the University of Iowa in January. The program was the culmination of a year’s work, and both students said they always intended to expand to other Iowa colleges.

They did just that Monday with a Clusterflunk rollout at the University of Northern Iowa and Cornell College. It was a notably different process from the UI launch, the developers said, because of the colleges’ smaller size.

“If you get up to classes of 300 or 400, the intimacy of a classroom gets lost,” Dallago said. “I’d say that’s the one main difference between the UNI and the UI. The classes (at UNI) seem to be more intimate. Everyone knows their professor by their first name, and most professors will know their students, as well.”

Dallago said the closer student-to-professor contact has allowed more UNI educators to use Clusterflunk, compared with the largely student-driven user base at UI. The smaller classes, he added, streamlined efforts to market via word-of-mouth.

The UNI launch bought about 200 new users as of Thursday, and the developers hope to hit 500 by April 22. The UI Clusterflunk has about 1,700 users.

Monday’s launch follows two major Clusterflunk overhauls. The first update made the website easier to navigate and provided additional on-site guides for new users. The primary feature in the second update allowed students to post anonymously, an option Nelson said has received widespread use.

“You can parallel it directly to class,” he said, “where there’s always that one student afraid to raise their hand because they don’t want to feel unintelligent if they ask a dumb question. I think we’ve all been there.”

UI junior Mike McPartlin, who has used Clusterflunk since its January launch, approached Nelson shortly after the launch to suggest anonymous posting.

“I think a lot of people at first were a little nervous to use the site because they were unaware of possible repercussions of posting,” he said. “I was pretty hesitant off the bat. I thought, ‘What if I post an old exam and a professor finds out?’ That’s when I started talking to AJ about the whole thing.”

Students less concerned with anonymity also can post via new integration with Facebook and Twitter.

“That’s definitely helped people know a bit more about the people posting on (the Clusterflunk) site,” McPartlin said. “A couple people have gone to my Facebook profile and added me after I posted stuff on Clusterflunk, or tweeted at me, which is nice.”

Although Dallago and Nelson would have been UI juniors this semester, they elected to spend the semester focusing on Clusterflunk—Nelson is taking a 0-credit-hour internship while Dallago is not enrolled, and both plan to focus on Clusterflunk full time during the fall. If Clusterflunk becomes successful enough to pursue as a full-time business, Nelson said, they plan to leave UI without finishing their degrees.

“We kind of knew this semester would be ‘make or break’ for us, and we decided to take that leap,” he said. “If Clusterflunk is successful, we’ll never have to go back, but if all else fails, we can go back.”

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