The Daily Illini

New trading app looks to benefit international students

Margaret Kots

Margaret Kots

By Yifan Gu, Staff Writer

A team of four Chinese students studying computer science have designed an app called UmiUni, an online community for exchanging secondhand goods. They have achieved notable success, with over 1,500 users and a trading volume of over 2,600 goods.

Beginnings in real life 

The idea of creating a community for exchanging goods originated from Alex Li, who graduated from actuarial sciences and computer science in 2016. 

“Finding a job in the United States becomes much more difficult for international students,” Li said. “America is a suitable place for everyone to create a startup. With little bureaucracy, it’s a land of freedom and equality for entrepreneurs.”

According to Li, the market for his business already existed. When graduates planned to go home for visits, they found that they were forced to leave some of their belongings behind due to transport costs. Especially for international students, the cost of transporting belongings home from college through airmail or shipping was too high. 

“I decided to construct a platform for international students to exchange idle commodities. That was my first idea,” Li said. 

Finding business partners in the college 

Once Li had crafted his idea, he planned to find people to collaborate with at his college. Luckily, he met his future business partners in one of his classes, Computer Science 125: Intro to Computer Science. 

At first, there were four people on the team, including Li. Yuanzhe Bian, the team’s software engineer, is responsible for designing and maintaining the server. Mingze Xiao and Xiaoyan Wang are responsible for optimizing and upgrading the app. 

“I met Alex in Computer Science 125 while we were working on the same project. When he first introduced his idea to me, I found it interesting and valuable,” Xiao said. “We planned to widen the market from selling secondhand books to selling secondhand commodities including furniture, electrical appliances, clothes, etc.” 

Constructing the international crew 

The smallness of the team posed significant challenges at the outset of the project. Maximum use of human and financial resources was a key issue from the start.

“Alex’s first idea was to design and operate a website, but after some discussion, we thought an app was much more suitable for us,” Bian said.

Without any guidance from a teacher or mentor, the startup wasn’t always a success. Although the basic technology issues had been solved, marketing the app successfully was one of the biggest challenges they faced. They felt that their social circle was too narrow for marketing purposes, and they were unfamiliar with promotional techniques.

“We devoted ourselves to buying the secondhand goods first,” Xiao said. “Then we put up posters in many venues and asked our friends to post their goods on the website.” 

After a one month’s preparation and internal testing, in January of 2017, the UmiUni app formally launched and began to attract popularity. 50 users, 75 users, 300 users, 700 users…  Increasing numbers of users laid the foundation for the team to continue optimizing and diversifying. 

Developing a community of international students

Now, the UmiUni app is back on track. The well-established user base and stable user consumption gives the creators a chance to further develop the app. 

“Having achieved initial success with our creation of a platform for exchanging idle commodities, we are now aiming to develop a community for Chinese international students,” Li said. “There are over 350,000 Chinese international students. The base of potential participants is huge.”

The UmiUni team is also going to start advertising news and events from registered student organizations to promote a strong relationship among international students. Apart from information about basic apartment leasing and used cars, the team also hopes to make the forum a good place for for both international and mainland students to learn about college life in America.

UmiUni holds the bigger dream 

The future for UmiUni is open and undecided. The team is planning to initiate cooperation with corporations in China to help them find out more about international students’ lives and provide greater opportunities for international students. 

“China is soaring at an incredible pace now. It’s a good time to integrate international students into the local culture and offer native Chinese students access to American society,” Xiao said. 

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