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$3 million for CampusLive, connecting marketers with college students

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 15, 2011 12:45 PM

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What college student doesn't love a freebie?

A Boston start-up called CampusLive, born three years ago in a dorm room at UMass-Amherst, dangles free Ray-Bans, Reeboks, and vacations. The trade? Students must fill out surveys, "like" a given brand on Facebook, or play an online game to be eligible to win prizes. And only a certain number of students can participate in each giveaway, which imbues the contests with a sense of urgency and exclusivity.

This week, CampusLive is collecting a prize of its own: $3.1 million in new funding, from Boston-area venture capital firms Highland Capital Partners and Charles River Ventures, along with several individual investors. Highland's Bob Davis and Jon Auerbach of Charles River will join CampusLive's board.

I last wrote about CampusLive in February 2010, when they'd raised a first round of $340,000. (Highland apparently supplied some of that cash, and the round wound up being slightly larger than I reported last year.) Back then, the company was building Web portals for individual universities, collecting info and links of interest to students, and trying to sell advertising on the pages — mainly to local eateries that would deliver to campus.

CEO Boris Revsin, 24, moved the company from Amherst to Boston last summer, and the company began to shift its strategy soon after.

"When we did an analysis, the stuff that generated the most excitement for students was a widget on the site that promoted certain things in exchange for prizes and rewards," Revsin says. So that became the main component of CampusLive, though you can still find information like TV listings and restaurant menus.

The site calls its contests "challenges," and recently ran one for Foxwoods. Everyone who participated — the goal was to drive students 21 years old and over to Foxwoods — got $10 in free slots play and $10 in food at Foxwoods, and one winner received free lodging at the Connecticut casino, plus a steak dinner. The company has also worked with the grocery chain Big Y, Peter Pan Bus Lines, and Ace Ticket. CampusLive gets paid for each successful "engagement" between a marketer and a student — for instance, if a student completes a challenge by checking in to the marketer's event on campus. A challenge could aim to reach 5,000 students...50,000... or, eventually, a few million. (Revsin says there are nearly 20 million students in the U.S. at any given time.)

"We think it's going to change advertising," says Revsin. "It's not a disruptive banner ad. Students come to us to engage with brands that they love" — and, of course, try to snag free stuff.

Right now, CampusLive has built sites for 292 schools; they do the best they can to verify that everyone who signs up is actually a student. (When I signed in using Facebook connect, though, the site didn't block me... though according to CampusLive's contest rules I'd be ineligible to actually win a prize.) Revsin expects to have sites for "almost every school in the U.S." by the end of this year — about 4,300, by his count.

Revsin says that CampusLive has 11 employees in Boston, and is hiring a sales team to chase national brands.

This is the third recent investment for Highland Capital in a company founded by a college drop-out or recent grad (Revsin left UMass-Amherst before graduating, initially to work on Mitt Romney's Presidential campaign); the others are mobile game developer SCVNGR and Gemvara, which sells custom jewelry online.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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