Overwhelmed by the variety of activities that a student could participate in, a UCSB alumnus and his friend have teamed up to create a better means of organizing possible outings.
UCSB computer science alumnus Eugene Gimelberg, along with childhood friend and USC graduate Ron Zvagelesky, recently founded PlanJam.com, a social activity planning website that features detailed information about a number of cities, including descriptions of bars, clubs, beaches, restaurants and outdoor excursions.
“The website uses a unique interface that gives visitors ideas about what to do based on what’s available in their area,” Gimelberg, who graduated in 2005, said. “We use a combination of local input and our own travels to give everyone access to the unknown gems of their cities.”
The idea for the site originated with Zvagelesky, who presented it for a business class presentation. He later approached Gimelberg with the concept because of his background in computer science, he said.
The pair obtained funding from personal credit and their savings, with some assistance from their families. Gimelberg attributes much of his initiative to his experiences as a student at UCSB and as a resident of Isla Vista.
“UCSB has been an integral part of this whole thing because it taught me the skills I needed, like how to search online and extract information,” Gimelberg said. “Often I would be sitting in I.V. on Friday night and think, ‘There are so many things to do. Where should I go?’ It would be so nice to have all that information upfront.”
PlanJam.com features a vast array of activities listed for Isla Vista and Santa Barbara. After entering Isla Vista’s zip code, visitors can choose from such themes as “Fun,” “Romantic,” “Nightlife” or “Sporty.” The website then offers a range of options from flying kites to karaoke, and includes a short description of the proposed locations and an estimated budget for the date.
PlanJam also lists restaurants and bars categorized by type, along with mapped-out driving directions for each location.
After launching the website for the Los Angeles area, Gimelberg and Zvagelesky expanded the range of cities to include the rest of California and New York, and plan to incorporate several more cities in the near future, Gimelberg said.
The two friends conduct research on the locations featured on the website, and interview locals about their favorite attractions in order to gauge what would interest the website’s target audience: The metropolitan youth of both sexes in these areas, Gimelberg said.
“We are constantly learning, expanding and reevaluating,” Gimelberg said. “We have also met every goal we’ve tried to set, with an average 50 percent increase in traffic each month.”
According to Zvagelesky, PlanJam.com hosted 20,000 visitors last month alone. Although the pair makes some money from the website through advertising, Gimelberg said he still works full time as a software engineer for Danaher Motion in Santa Barbara. Zvagelesky works exclusively on PlanJam.com, Gimelberg said.
Giovanni Vigna, a UCSB computer science professor whom Gimelberg cited as a major influence, said he is happy to see young entrepreneurs like Gimelberg and Zvagelesky succeed.
“I think that choosing to be entrepreneurs right after college is the right choice,” Vigna said. “At that age, one has the energy, the possibility to take risks, and the finger on the pulse of what’s cool.”
Computer science professor Kevin Almeroth said he is also proud of Gimelberg’s achievements since graduating from UCSB’s computer science program.
“He is exactly the kind of student I think typifies our vision for computer science at UCSB,” Almeroth said. “While the curriculum is difficult, we have made significant strides in attracting energetic students and matching them with courses that push the boundaries of computer science.”