DownToDash, an app from an NYC-based startup, connects students to other students who want to hang out the same way they do. The social networking app has gained increasing popularity since its launch in October 2016 and looks ready to become even more available. The app was founded by Sama Jashnani and Anuja Shah, both recent students themselves.
Even with hundreds or thousands of students on a campus, it can be tricky to find people who want to do the same thing as you, at the same time, just from those you happen to meet in person and then feel comfortable enough asking. With DownToDash, you can find any students of similar age and interests around you, not just rely on circumstance for a more limited social circle.
In the app, which is available for Android and iOS, students can create event plans, saying what they want to do and when, and how many people they want to join them. Only other registered users, who must have a university email, can join them.
Requiring a verified university email means you meet other students, not random strangers, and if the worst happens, you could involve campus security and the disciplinary system to remedy any serious issues. Not only that, but you can stop someone you don't want to hang with from seeing your events in the first place so there's no need for outright rejection.
Any interaction in DownToDash requires both to swipe (anonymously), agreeing to it. It's more secure than the default settings for Facebook, and is designed specifically for making plans yourself, not for seeing what other people were doing.
Currently, DownToDash is used at a wide variety of universities, though it may expand to other settings in the future. It aligns closely with many schools' hopes to encourage student involvement outside of class and the frequent need for healthier social lives on campus. The app's Facebook page advises users to "Get Social - Get Active - Get Going!"
I talked to CEO and co-founder Sama Jashnani to hear more about how students are using DownToDash to get out of their dorm rooms (or at least get some friends to come over).
Jashnani said, "We have a team of 70 interns across 50 universities in the US; NYU, NYIT, Berkeley, UPenn, Stony Brooks, Liberty University, James Madison Uni, and others," and that she was inspired to create DownToDash by her own experiences as a student:
If DownToDash existed, I could have met so many more students and my college experience would have been so much better. I felt lazy to play sports when I did not have a friend to come with me, and with DownToDash, I could have been a lot more active. There were many times my friends went out for a party and I did not want to go but I still went — if DTD existed, I would have used it to meet a new student in my university to do what I wanted. Lastly, when I traveled across Italy, I wished I could meet local students around me.
The founders pointed out in a recent interview with AlleyWatch: "Why should students be restricted to only their classes and dorms to make new friends? What if your friends aren't free? Even if they are communicating, asking each one is hard or they don't share all the same interests as you."
The founders said that they "plan to expand to 100 universities across the US and have 10 more events with sponsors" over the next six months. And they have big plans in the long term, Jashnani told Gadget Hacks, with the goal of expanding to colleges and universities across not just the US, but the UK and Australia, among other countries. "Our long-term markets are other communities like corporates and high schools," she elaborated.
Jashnani and Shah are also very enthusiastic about the potential that comes from launching in New York City:
We came from India to New York just for DownToDash because we knew it would be a great market for the app. There is diversity in New York like nowhere else in the world and people are very open to new ideas. Also, it is a city where people travel from all over the world to work and study and we thought they would be the best target market for the app.
Especially in places like NYC, a city full of people where it's easy to feel lost in the shuffle, DownToDash could create more directly enjoyable connection with its goal, first and foremost, of meeting people to have fun rather than getting caught up in dating or networking.
The question occurs to me whether this can actually solve the problem of making plans with like-minded people on campus. There's no guarantee, of course, that the people you find will be people you'll actually enjoy hanging out with. But the app does require people to both swipe down for each other in order to connect, lessening the chance that you'll accidentally make plans with someone you hate.
The other people, besides the person suggesting a hangout, don't necessarily have the same safeguards when it comes to their fellow invitees, of course. That usually shouldn't be a problem, when your reasons for using the app are based in drama. The app is based on the premise that there are social opportunities that might otherwise just be unknown or too complicated logistically.
It seems on first glance that this might work better at large schools than at small schools like my own. We have a phrase for blatantly ignoring someone you know, and the phrase is our school name turned into a verb. (We're lovely people sometimes though, I swear.) Even then, when social situations become tense or there seems to be a shortage of people, having a way to hang out with someone else for a day, and have access to whatever sort of fun you and they enjoy, could be invaluable.
There are usually more decent people in the world — specifically, at your school — than you might think. And some of them also want to see the same movie as you, or throw around a frisbee, or serenade the rest of campus with an orchestral jam session on the campus lawn at 1 a.m.
It makes a lot of sense for schools to get new students to join the app. Often — and especially when academic work gets overwhelming — having an easier way to get together and do something fun can pretty much save the college experience (and your mental health).
It's been noted at my school that you usually end up with a very different set of friends during your second semester than you met the first semester of freshman year. When you first arrive at a campus full of new people, it can be hard to find "your" people. This app could help a lot. And Jashnani confirmed to us that "August-September is the most active because that is when the freshmen come in."
When all your friends seem busy, and student organizations or informal study groups aren't doing the trick, DownToDash looks like a pretty nice way to still make the most of your time for fun.