Photo Courtesy of Lillian Muntanga
@NEU_gigs, the popular Instagram page where students can offer and request services, sell used goods and promote their small businesses, is being turned into an app. Set to launch Feb. 4, 2021, the app will conclude a project that has been in the works since the account’s creation.
Kaluwe Muntanga, the creator of the page and a computer science and finance major, moved to the United States from South Africa in 2015. Before transferring to Northeastern, he said he had to work multiple jobs to get himself through college in New York.
“The reason why I wanted to make an outlet where students could offer services is because it sort of related to what I was going through, balancing multiple jobs,” Muntanga said. “I structured the initial idea of the page thinking ‘what would a younger version of myself have found useful?’”
He originally planned to create a mobile app a year ago but thought it would be hard to encourage students to download it by word-of-mouth or posters on campus. Muntanga instead created an Instagram account and used it as a marketing strategy to draw an audience in before making the app.
The page @NEU_gigs was first created in the fall of 2019 and has grown fast since then, reaching over 8,000 followers.
“It felt like an out-of-body experience,” Muntanga said. “I intended to have maybe 1,000 followers by the next year, and now there are 15 different pages.”
Following the success of the NU account, Muntanga created other “gigs” pages for different schools in the Boston area, such as Harvard and Tufts. The idea then further expanded to cover universities and colleges in New York, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan and Texas.
Instead of enlisting help, Muntanga owns and operates all 15 accounts completely by himself.
“It takes a toll,” Muntanga said. “Last semester I was able to manage it a lot better but now I’m just at a point where I’m constantly behind — it’s gotten out of control.”
In order to post dozens of requests on each page every day, Muntanga has resorted to multi-tasking. He makes most of the posts during workouts at the gym or lectures in which he feels confident about the material.
Now, as he prepares to launch the app, Muntanga has an additional set of responsibilities. He is developing and programming the app by himself, despite having little background knowledge on how to code something of this magnitude.
The app’s layout and functions will be similar to the Instagram page but will give students more control. Instead of waiting for the owner to review their requests, students will be able to publish their own posts under predetermined categories like “side hustle” or “offer.”
Muntanga hopes that implementing this new function will lessen his workload.
“I say that once the app comes out, everything will be chill and I’ll have a normal life again but I don’t know,” Muntanga said. “I want to push this as far as it can go, I’m really committed to it.”
The app will bring Muntanga’s idea to a much larger scale — after its launch, students from every university or college in the U.S. will be able to use it. Students will simply undergo a two-step verification process where they’ll log in using their school email and then be redirected to a feed of posts from members of their institution.
Another feature will allow students to browse feeds from other schools or switch to view all of the posts within a specific location radius, like from their own city.
Despite coming up with the original concept, Muntanga said there have been several attempts to copy his idea.
“One thing that I’ve noticed is that throughout all the schools, there are a lot of people who look at the page and think they can turn it into an app, but I feel as though they don’t understand what makes the page successful,” Muntanga said. “From my standpoint, it’s because it’s not just a marketplace but a community of people.”
Muntanga often adds temporary categories and polls in his pages where students can debate over a variety of popular topics and share their experiences. He believes the inclusion of opportunities for discussion makes the page more personal.
For the app, Muntanga will also incorporate polls and discussion sections that will be available to students for 24 hours if they wish to make a contribution.
“There’s just so many different stories that are attached to the page and I feel like that’s because it’s a living, breathing community,” he said. “The moment you try to make it an efficient marketplace and you lose that sense of community, you’re competing with people who’ve already done this better than you — be it Craigslist, Facebook, or any other marketplace.”
Muntanga is set to go on co-op next semester, through which he’ll be able to work full-time on the development of the app. Although the Instagram pages will no longer be active, he said he has no plans to deactivate the accounts after the launch of the app.
“I think it would be cool to make [the accounts] public because there have been so many interesting points of dialogue and different phases the pages went through,” he said. “It’ll be cool if 50 years from now, if this ever becomes a big company, people can look through those posts and find some humor in seeing how something started.”