New app puts more into students’ orbits

by Rebecca Szkutak / Beacon Staff • March 2, 2016

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Matthew Bilodeau is on the founding team for the buying and selling app Orbit.
Matthew Bilodeau is on the founding team for the buying and selling app Orbit.

A Northeastern University senior’s furniture or an Emmanuel College sophomore’s used textbook now have the ability to enter into an Emerson student’s orbit. 

Orbit Marketplace, aptly named, is an app that makes this possible. It was developed last semester by a team including freshman marketing communication major, Matthew Bilodeau, and Amaan Udhas, a senior at Northeastern who studies business, who said they met at a student start-up event. 

Udhas said the idea of the app came when one of his friends at Pennsylvania State University was moving and had some furniture she wanted to get rid of, but wasn’t sure how. She didn’t feel comfortable using Craigslist, and she didn’t want to use a site like eBay where she would have to figure out how to ship her items. 

“I kind of made a joke like, ‘It’s funny that there are more apps to find someone to go on a date with than sell your things,’” Udhas said. “That was the ‘eureka’ moment.”

The app was created by a team of six developers and is currently funded by the creators and donations. 

The layout is similar to Instagram. The user is able to scroll through pictures of items from people who they follow, and a separate tab displays all goods in a public feed. Bilodeau said that this is where the student can toggle a variety of settings to specify price range, category of item, or boundaries. 

“All of the people within your radius are technically in your orbit,” Bilodeau said. “We want you to be able to find products that are right down the street, and even down the hall of your dorm.” 

Similar to Emerson’s Free and for Sale Facebook page page, Orbit Marketplace allows students to purchase and vend their goods to others. Bilodeau said the app has some new features the online group doesn’t offer.

For example, one of the main selling points of the app, Bilodeau said, is that it’s not Emerson exclusive, expanding the marketplace for purchasing more potential products. 

Once a user is on the app, instead of aimlessly scrolling through a sea of “barely worn” tops and futons like on the Facebook group, Bilodeau said students have the ability to narrow down what they are viewing by selecting specific categories. Some of these are books and textbooks, tickets, and clothes.

Bilodeau said something that attracted him to this idea was the ability to search for items directly as he wished he had that option with Emerson’s original group. He said at the beginning of last semester, he was looking for a specific textbook for his psychology class and he figured he would be able to get it cheaper on Free and For Sale. But he couldn’t find it, and that made him realize how impractical this system was. 

“The issue is that there really is no way to filter what you are looking for,” Bilodeau said. “[And these groups] are usually limited to just one college.”

Udhas said the decision to make it as an app also adds to the convenience, because many college students seem to be more drawn to them than websites. He added that there were many dating websites before Tinder, but moving this platform to someone’s phone increased their popularity. 

Freshman journalism major Natalie Gale, said that Bilodeau, her neighbor, suggested she sign up for the app. Although she hasn’t found anything she wanted to purchase yet, she said she doesn’t use Emerson’s Free and for Sale page anymore, because this is easier. 

Bilodeau said the team is planning to get more Boston schools on board. A majority of its current users come from Northeastern, Emerson and the Colleges of Fenway. There is no direct university connection, so anybody in the surrounding area is welcome to join. 

The app currently has over 10,000 users, with around 8,000 in the city, and Bilodeau said it has between 25-35 transactions a week on average. 

“You can connect with friends on another social media platform while also buying and selling things and saving money; we found people are very attracted to it,” Bilodeau said.  

The app currently only features the exchange of goods, but Bilodeau said that Orbit Marketplace hopes to be able to add services in the future like housecleaning or haircuts. 

“I definitely hope that it gets a lot more popular,” Gale said. “The more people who are on it, the more useful it will be.”