Recent BC Graduate Helps Students Handle Their Handles

max-andrew

Imagine the ability to store all of your social media usernames in one place—and then share them with friends just as easily. While it’s never existed before, this idea is the brainchild of recent Boston College graduate Maxwell Andrew, BC ’18. Similar to a passport, which gives people the opportunity to go wherever they want in the world, his brand-new program, Duffeltag, allows users to distribute all of their handles at once.

“It’s kind of: Getting a handle on your handles,” Andrew said.

Andrew was born in Baltimore, Md., and is the third-oldest of his five siblings, the younger of three of whom Andrew credits with providing some of the inspiration for Duffeltag, along with his many younger cousins. Andrew observed that, in contrast to when he and his friends were college-aged and would connect across social media platforms by simply getting each other’s numbers, teenagers are now communicating less and less frequently through text messaging. 

“I noticed that there was a bit of a shift between my younger siblings and me,” he said. “My friends and I used to just say, ‘Well, what’s your number?’ Then from all of that, we’ll get your Instagram, your Snapchat, everything. … [Now] you have this problem of having all these different handles—sometimes they’re the same, sometimes they’re not.”

During his time at BC, Andrew was a self-motivated student who would often apply the material he learned in his computer science and economics courses to his own side projects. For instance, Andrew wrote the code for a computer program called Odetta. Odetta gave students the opportunity to attend “digital office hours” if they were unable to go in person, which meant that they would be able to log on to the program and message their professors online—whether this was due to laziness, other obligations, or lack of time in general. After they occurred, the chats with their professors would remain visible to other users of the software.

An added perk of Odetta was that when students participated in these virtual office hours, students could access the chat log and see questions their classmates had asked—through this, answers to questions they might not have even thought to ask their professors would be accessible to them. Though it doesn’t exist anymore, Andrew notes that Odetta was an important stepping stone to his eventual creation of Duffeltag.

“I think a lot of the things I learned building [Odetta] led me to being able to build Duffeltag today, because I learned what is really, like, scalable developmentally,” he said. “At a certain point, it became so hard to even add new features or just maintain the code at all, so I realized that I needed to start using completely new software and tools for development.”

While attending a career fair his junior year at BC, Andrew met Duncan Walker, co-founder and vice president of research and development at Jebbit, a technology startup working toward complete transparency between companies and consumers. Walker offered Andrew the opportunity to intern there that summer, and Walker soon became both a friend and mentor who taught Andrew the ins and outs of the technology world.

“Entrepreneurship is when someone lives to create their own opportunities in order to solve the problems facing the world today,” Walker said. “Max didn’t wait for the million dollar idea—instead, he identified it and sought to fix it.” 

Andrew knew he wanted to go on to found his own startup when he was in college, but this idealism was balanced with a sense of responsibility. So, rather than blindly chasing his ambitions right after graduation, Andrew took the time to hone his developmental skills while simultaneously doing consulting and development work for big startups and Fortune 500 companies. This approach allowed Andrew to pay his bills while he prepared for his own launch. 

“Since before I graduated, I knew I wanted to be doing something like this, some kind of startup that I think can actually make a difference in the world and actually do something really cool that no one has done before,” he said.

While Andrew worked on advancing the mental blueprints he already had for Duffeltag, he also began familiarizing himself with new tools like serverless computing on websites. Andrew made sure to stay informed on new trends surrounding website creation, so he could implement these methods when coding Duffeltag. 

By incorporating pragmatism into his master plan, Andrew was able to bring in a steady income, which eventually allowed him to switch gears and spend all of his time on developing his startup. Since making the transition, Andrew has hopped from location to location—including Bristol, England; Los Angeles; and back to Baltimore, where he currently lives—looking to find the unique combination of affordable housing and adventure.

“I’ve kind of just been bouncing all over the place, just looking for cheap rent, cool places, because ultimately, it didn’t really matter where I was, so I thought, might as well take advantage of that,” he said. “So I’ve actually been traveling around the world.”

Andrew doesn’t remain in one place for long, though. He’s currently completing applications for accelerator programs, and his next move is contingent on the one he decides to pursue. Within the tech industry, accelerator programs are known for the mentorship they provide, in addition to networking and seed funding—when an investor funds a startup and receives an equity stake in the company in return.

In July of this year, Andrew got the website for Duffeltag up and running. The web app is inspired by the young family members in his life—his cousins and siblings—as well as a massive security breach on Equifax, a major credit reporting agency which was hacked in September 2017. Because Andrew was personally affected by this, one of his goals with creating Duffeltag is to prevent others from suffering from a similar breach—with the ability to store all social media handles and personal information in a single, secure place.

With Duffeltag, users can compile all of their online information in one location, creating a cohesive identity. Then, they can share their Duffeltag with someone, which would allow them to instantly be connected with that person across all platforms. Whether it’s entering the workforce or heading off to college, Andrew hopes to simplify the sometimes-daunting process of meeting new people. He also wants to defeat the awkwardness that comes with asking someone for all their social media handles. 

Although this seems like a big ambition for Andrew, it’s just another accomplishment he hopes to check off his list. Privacy has been a big deal for Duffeltag throughout this entire process, as Andrew has focused on creating something that people will trust and use without the fear of their information being stolen. Andrew is currently still working on Duffeltag, and, if all goes well, he will work with an accelerator program to further develop the app with his new team. He hopes to expand Duffeltag to the BC community, which represents the majority of Duffeltag’s current users, who can sign up for Duffeltag on its web app. 

“Instead of asking someone for their Snapchat or Instagram, or whatever platform they have, you can get your information with one clean phrase, ‘What’s your Duffeltag?’ [and smooth] out the awkwardness of connecting with people,” Andrew said.

Photo Courtesy of Maxwell Andrew

Correction (10/10/19, 2:58 p.m.): The article incorrectly stated that Andrew plans on moving to Chicago after getting accepted to his top-choice accelerator.