Corkshare The Love: Cwru Students Create New Content-Sharing Web Site

It all started with a road trip. Case Western Reserve University senior Jim England, 23, and recent grad Tim Gasper, 22, were hitting the road to participate in Startup Weekend, a challenge in which participants aim to start a company in a weekend, when a discussion about social media sites sparked an idea. More than a year later, after a summer of development and less than $1,000 spent, you can find the duo’s brainchild at www.CorkShare.com.

CorkShare, headquartered in Cleveland, allows users to post photos, videos and other items to their personal virtual corkboards and share them with friends lets you to get socialized. The content on each corkboard can be moved much like icons on a desktop. “It’s a visual way to interact with content,” Gasper explains. The 500 to 700 users of CorkShare can create as many corkboards as they like, and each has its own unique URL that can be shared with others, Gasper says.

The idea came to Gasper during the car ride to a Startup Weekend in 2008, where attendees pitch startup company ideas on Friday, work in groups to develop ideas over the weekend, and sometimes launch companies by Sunday night. Gasper and England, however, only worked on the site in their spare time during the 2008-09 school year. They also wrote a business plan and entered competitions, but nothing panned out, Gasper says.

Real development on the site began in the summer, when the duo met computer science student Huston Hoburg and, with his help, began to build the site. “We just went out and did it,” Gasper explains. “We made the Web site and, along with the spirit of just going and doing it, we just made it public so people can give us feedback.” They have already used some feedback to make changes and continue developing the site.

Hoburg now serves as the site’s lead developer, while co-founders Gasper and England round out the company’s workforce of three. Though CorkShare has yet to generate revenue, Gasper reports, “We have some ideas on short-term revenue generation, but aren’t pursuing them yet. Last month we had around 1,200 page views. We’re expecting this month to be a lot higher since the site launched last week, we’re getting a big influx of new members, and corkboards are now publicly visible.”

Self-described social networking enthusiast Salma, a CWRU student and staff member, typically uses Twitter or Google Buzz to post links she’d like to share with friends. After reading about CorkShare in a CWRU e-mail, she began using it, and so far, has created three different corkboards. One highlights fun events happening in Cleveland, and she also created both a photography and music corkboard. “It’s kind of like having themed mini-blogs,” she says. “CorkShare allows me to post several links at the same time, and neither Twitter nor Google Buzz offer the visual aspect that CorkShare offers.”

While working on thesis projects as students at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Andrew Kuhar and some of his friends began using CorkShare to share their progress with one another. Kuhar and peers often post funny posters, images and drawings on their corkboards for a quick online “wind-down” when working in the studio, he says.

But their corkboards aren’t limited to just fun. “We also send each other videos, images and links that we think are helpful to our projects and work,” he adds. The student even wishes the Web site had been created sooner, to help while he and colleagues were working on a soon-to-be-released iPhone/iPod Touch game. “We must have gone through over 200 e-mails in one semester just trading work-in-progress artwork and commenting on it several times over.”

The next step for CorkShare is to spend three to six months finding investors and for the site to “grow like crazy,” says England. “We want CorkShare to be the absolute greatest way to visually share collections of Web content with your friends.”

As the site builds users and has more resources, it will grow and add more features that the young creators have envisioned, Gasper adds. CorkShare, he explains, “is in development; it’s not perfect for every need.”

So far, the young entrepreneurs feel the site fits a niche of sharing information with just a small group of people as opposed to an entire Facebook or Twitter network. England looks to the blogging site Tumblr as inspiration to what CorkShare can grow to be. “Tumblr found a niche in having a very clean and usable product that also had an ecosystem of other tumbleblogs on the site,” he explains. “We want to emulate everything Tumblr has done with blogging in terms of group content sharing.”

So far, the site has been well-received, particularly by the city where both Gasper and England grew up. While the pair is reaching out for investors located anywhere, Gasper says they hope to find them in Cleveland. “Starting CorkShare in Cleveland shows that it can be done anywhere,” England notes. “An idea from a startup can come from way outside the Valley.”