Pablo Ferreyra is a Boston University engineering student, Hackathon winner and now CEO of startup Verto. The b
rainchild of Ferreya and co-founder Soon Hong, Verto is an e-commerce marketplace that brands itself as an improved and collegiate version of Craigslist.
Verto is an online space made exclusively for college students to safely buy and sell goods, according to its website.
Ferreyra, a senior in the College of Engineering, has been leading a growing team of BU students and professionals since the startup’s creation in June. He said Verto, which means, “exchange,” in Latin, seeks to make e-commerce safer, easier and more affordable for college students.
Verto launched on Sept. 13, and Ferreyra said that since sales opened up on Oct. 8, the startup has gained more than 700 users and amassed over 300 sales. Verto launched its second release Wednesday to “fix bugs and glitches,” according to the CEO.
In January 2019, Verto will expand to eight more colleges and universities in the Boston area, including Boston College, Wentworth Institute of Technology and Tufts University, Ferreyra said.
Hong is also a senior in the College of Engineering, and in addition to co-founding Verto, he serves as Verto’s chief technology officer. The co-founders met while working on a series of hackathons together across Boston, Ferreyra said.
The pair participated in BostonHacks Fall 2017 — placing second place in their category — and the fall 2017 Wellesley College hackathon, together. According to Ferreyra, they decided to invest their collected prize money in funding their next joint project.
“Our success really gave us the confidence that we could build scalable technology that people could use and enjoy,” he said.
Ferreyra said Verto was in part inspired by Hong when he witnessed “Allston Christmas,” the annual end-of-the-summer move-in period in Allston when student tenants attempt to get rid of their unwanted belongings in the streets.
In surveying the chaos, Ferreyra and Hong said they wondered if there was a better way to meet the needs of college students.
“Verto was born to solve issues of college students having to encounter awkward, stressful and unsafe situations when buying and selling pre-owned goods,” Hong said.
That summer, Ferreyra and Hong surveyed more than 300 BU students around campus, researching what students liked and didn’t like about e-commerce companies such as Poshmark, letgo and Craigslist, Ferreyra said.
He said the team discovered a few repetitive narratives. Students often felt that the sale wasn’t worth the delivery or hassle, and for female students especially, it felt unsafe to meet up with a stranger to complete a transaction.
According to the CEO, only students with a verified .edu email address can use Verto, and by partnering with Postmates, a courier company, the app can have the seller’s product delivered to the buyer for them. To keep users’ financial information safe, Verto uses Stripe, a third-party payment platform, to handle card information.
Verto is free to use, and doesn’t take a commission fee from sellers, according to their website.
Ferreyra said surviving in the e-commerce marketplace will be difficult, but he believes that Verto has an edge by catering to an underserved college niche. He said he hopes to scale his startup within the Greater Boston community and, eventually sell the technology to Amazon or another leading company.
Ferreyra said the hardest part of starting an e-commerce platform is that no one wants to list their products if there are no buyers.
“The buyers don’t come to the site if there’s no products there, so it’s becomes a real chicken or the egg situation,” he added.
To better understand the marketplace, Ferreyra said he has been taking master’s courses in cybersecurity and computer networking in addition to working 40 to 60 hours a week on the e-commerce site.
“The College of Engineering teaches a lot of the ground work, but not much of the cutting-edge technology that we needed to understand for Verto,” Ferreyra said.
Christina Song, a senior in the College of Communication, is Verto’s marketing manager. For the past few months, Song has been working to broker partnerships with brands to sponsor the startup and sell their items on Verto, she said.
“We want students all over the world to discover the convenience Verto brings to their lives as we continue to prioritize students’ safety, time and comfort with constant development,” Song said.
Ferreyra said that heading a startup as undergraduates has been fulfilling, especially as the team has watched Verto go from a pilot platform used mostly by friends and families to one used by hundreds to make real sales.
“Sometimes, the College of Engineering makes you feel like you’re not that good of an engineer, especially when the exam averages in most classes are in the 40s and 50s,” Ferreyra said. “But being able to actually build a team and product, and then use it solve a real world problem, it’s really cool.”