Bates students’ startup: Buy together, save together

Posted Sept. 07, 2011, at 11:03 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 07, 2011, at 11:23 a.m.
Matthew Conetta, left, and Cosmin Ghita, Bates College seniors, two of the four co-founders of a company called NumbersPay.com, relax in Hathorn Hall on the Lewiston campus Tuesday morning where they meet and run their business.
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal
Matthew Conetta, left, and Cosmin Ghita, Bates College seniors, two of the four co-founders of a company called NumbersPay.com, relax in Hathorn Hall on the Lewiston campus Tuesday morning where they meet and run their business.

LEWISTON, Maine — The premise of NumbersPay.com: Commit to buy a digital camera, an iPad case or an Oakland Raiders’ cap and if a handful of buyers commit too, save a little money. Get 10 or 20 other college co-eds to join in, save a lot.

Launched by four Bates College students in May, CNNMoney this summer named the company one of “six hot dorm-room start-ups” to watch. It was a surprise to co-founder Cosmin Ghita.

“We’re still working on doing fine tuning for the beta version so we weren’t really prepared to welcome our new audience,” Ghita said.

The attention came when NumbersPay didn’t have any active deals. It doesn’t now, either. Ghita, NumbersPay’s tech specialist, is still building and testing. The company plans to go live in a big way by Oct. 1, in time for CollegeFest, a weekend of bands and booths in Boston.

The company is made up of Ghita, a politics and Russian major from Romania; Matthew Conetta, a history major from New Jersey; and Darren Cromwell, an American cultural studies major from Massachusetts, all seniors this year. The fourth co-founder, Stephen Pecora, an economics major from New Jersey, graduated in May.

Conetta and Pecora have been friends since kindergarten. Conetta, Cromwell and Ghita were assigned to room together in their freshman year.

“I hopped off the bus, I walk in the room and I see these guys,” Ghita said.

Conetta joked, “It was love at first sight.”

The four friends saved money on popular websites whenever they went in together, sometimes buying books, sometimes basics like hats. NumbersPay grew from there. It’s open to other college students.

“We look out for the little guy,” Conetta said. “College kids are poor. We came up with NumbersPay to try to harness group buying.”

Its first deal in May: Ray-Ban sunglasses. Thirty-three people bought Ray-Bans, saving 63 percent off retail.

“The first six, seven weeks of the launch, it was, ‘Can we do it?’” Pecora said. “And we ended up doing it.”

Deals will be up for, on average, seven days. Ghita said there’s a careful balance between giving time for word to spread and keeping wholesalers happy. If a buyer commits before the minimum quantity has been hit, and the deal closes without being hit, no charge and no sale.

If more buyers commit than the minimum, the price drops for everyone in increments.

Included in the price is the cost of shipping, taxes and NumbersPay costs like marketing and tech.

After the big October relaunch, Ghita figures Christmas will be a test for the site.

“Each person needs to have their first successful deal to understand the benefits,” he said.

Finding products had been a challenge. Potential items from China weren’t always as advertised, Conetta said, so they started looking more in the states.

“A lot of these wholesalers don’t want to get the retailers they’re working with upset,” Pecora said.

The company recently hired a New Jersey-based director of product development to help navigate that, as well as a programming team to update the look of the site. For now, the base of operations for the three still at Bates is a quiet classroom on the third floor of Hathorn Hall.

“May is a big deadline for us,” Ghita said. “Can we get a loaf of bread on the table doing this?”

To see more of the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.

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