New website connects student freelancers to employers

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • October 28, 2015

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bistara connects college freelancers to employers.
Courtesy of Maya Rafie
bistara connects college freelancers to employers.
Courtesy of Maya Rafie

About a year ago, Maya Rafie went to grab some late-night pizza after a party. She said she was taking photographs for a musician that night and was introduced to his friend Zac DelVecchio, who had also worked with him that night. They bonded over the meal and began to brainstorm a way freelancers like themselves could meet each other with ease.

Rafie, a senior marketing communication major at Emerson, and DelVecchio, a junior at Berklee College of Music, realized that a marketplace for student freelancers did not exist yet and decided to make it happen, according to Rafie. They started bistara, which means “to spread” in Bengali, as a forum to connect this demographic with each other and potential employers. 

The website is broken down into categories including music and audio, lifestyle, online marketing, graphics and design, writing and translation, web and IT, animation and video, and fine art and performing arts. Users list their talents so potential employers can select them based on the skills needed. The site takes the pressure off the freelancers because they upload one profile and are contacted by companies instead of trying to find jobs, according to Rafie. She said that a good example of this service is a student being hired as a wedding photographer. 

Rafie explained that it started out small, as they worked to set up students from their schools to collaborate on projects such as shooting music videos.

“I was seeing all of this talent at Emerson. I was seeing all of this talent at Berklee. So we started connecting them, manually, really [through] word of mouth,” Rafie said. “Then we realized that was a success, and the model extends far beyond Berklee and Emerson.” 

A year later, bistara is in its beta version online. Launched about two weeks ago, according to Rafie, the site already has more than 100 registered freelancers.

“It’s been really exciting,” Rafie said. “It’s nice to have something tangible. It was an idea the whole way, it was always pivoting, but now it feels real.” 

The site was made possible in part of the Emerson Accelerator, a program created by the college to help give student entrepreneurs space to work, oversight, and funding. Students apply for this opportunity and reapply after one year, according its website. Bistara is the first team to represent multiple colleges. 

With support from the program, Rafie and DelVecchio continued to create connections resulting in successful collaborations. Recently, one of their freelancers designed a logo for a Halloween party, The Takeover, sponsored by bistara at House of Blues Boston.

Kai Felsman, a junior electronic production and design major at Berklee College of Music, said that he performed his music at this show, because of bistara. 

“[The Takeover] was amazing,” Felsman said. “It was sold out within the first hour and a half. We had a line all night. We didn’t even have enough space to hold the amount of hype we had created.”

Due to the success of the event, Felsman said he would definitely be interested in collaborating with bistara again in the future. 

Felsman fits the target market of bistara, as a creative college student. Although Rafie said that the site could easily encompass more than just students, they are currently an underused demographic.

“We really want to try to get as much traction in the college market [as possible],” Rafie said. “I think there is a lot of potential and creative ideas of where it [bistara] could be. I think it’s something that is really needed at both a nationwide and a global scale.”

DelVecchio said the website not only allows students to make money but also to gain experience while in college, which has become increasingly important in the job market.

“You hear so many stories about people working at coffee places, and they don’t want to, but they just need money,” DelVecchio said. “Now, for the first time, they have a place where they can make money doing what they want to do on their own hours, their own terms, and they gain experience at the same time.” 

DelVecchio said working on the website is challenging due to late-night meetings with their coding team, which is run by a friend located in India that they met through Emerson—but it’s worth it.

It’s almost like having a kid in a weird way,” DelVecchio said. “Everyday there is something that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be figured out.” 

Delvecchio said that he finds himself waking up everyday to the same routine of checking the website, how many people are using it, and making sure there is no “catastrophic failure.” 

Rafie and DelVecchio look to expand the company nationally and, eventually, internationally.

“My goal is to have bistara become among the top freelancing sites in the world,” DelVecchio said. “Similar to how everybody knows Facebook is like the people network, LinkedIn is the business network, everybody will know that bistara is the college freelance network.”