MEng students launch a campus-based marketplace

The Treasure Exchange or TreasureX is an online marketplace intended to connect buyers and sellers within the UC Berkeley student community to encourage resale of working, functional items and to alleviate problematic waste during move-out season.

Left to right: Prateek Sahay, Maggie Zhang, Menson Li, Rebecca Sung, Charles Cui.

In her undergraduate career at Wake Forest University, Maggie Zhang, MEng ’21 (EECS) was troubled by the amount of waste students would build up. At the end of each semester, she saw students throwing out furniture, clothes, and other items in front of the student dorms, creating annual waste that could easily be directed for reuse. From there, she thought of the possibility of creating a student-based marketplace for finding and selling items.

Once she arrived at Berkeley, she was given the opportunity to pitch her solution to fellow peers in the Entrepreneurship Affinity Group, where she met the rest of her teammates: Charles Cui, MEng ’21 (IEOR); Menson Li, MEng ’22 (ME); Prateek Sahay, MBA/MEng ’22 (ME); and Rebecca Sung, MEng ’21 (ME). The team then created and launched TreasureX in January 2021, facilitating resale experiences within the student community.

What is TreasureX?

At its core, TreasureX is an online marketplace driven by two simple ideas: affordable college living and student sustainability. Maggie simplifies, “The main goal is to connect students with students in the same college campus, so they can easily sell and buy at no extra cost, without wasting money or resources.”

Unique from other official and make-shift marketplace platforms commonly used within the college community such as Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, TreasureX requires a UC Berkeley student email for new user registration. This limits the user community to only UC Berkeley students, fostering a more trust-worthy environment and excluding far-off listings, as students are more likely to be within the Berkeley neighborhood.

A recurring pain point that the team aimed to address was the frustration of lost and repetitive listings on make-shift platforms. “There were multiple holes that we saw in the current system that students use, which is why during move-in season, you’ll see a lot of furniture discarded outside because students just aren’t able to sell them,” Prateek shared. When students choose to post for-sale items, they’ll sometimes choose Facebook Groups or communication platforms like Slack or Discord that aren’t designed for the shopping experience. “Someone will post an item that they’re selling, but then as soon as a new person posts, the previous seller’s post gets lost in the traffic,” Prateek added. Then, to accommodate for the lost listing, a seller will repost the same listing a few more times.

Given the problem, the questions the team set out to answer were, as Prateek states, “Is there a way to clean this up? A way to make something that’s purposefully built instead of relying on a platform that may work but may not provide the best experience?”

Treasure X design & features

After signing up with a UC Berkeley email, it’s easy to access the marketplace and post a listing. To encourage usability, TreasureX is intentionally designed for simplicity. The team mentions that the whole process to share a listing is stripped down to three steps. “You add in a title, you upload a photo, you click a button,” said Prateek. After a user finds an item they’re interested in, they can contact the seller through the platform’s direct messaging system. From there, the two parties are able to freely complete any logistical details of the transaction like location information, payment, etc.

Upcoming plans for new features include enabling log-in through the CalNet portal rather than having to make an account with a Berkeley email and allowing users to follow high-demand items, along with many other functions in the pipeline.

Additionally to the platform and all its included features, the team sends out regular newsletters to their user community to share updates on capabilities and seasonal campaigns. “For example,” Charles adds, “It’s graduation season right now, so we plan to emphasize listings related to that. Currently, Maggie has been posting photoshoot services onto the platform, so that people have options that aren’t just physical items.”

All Listings page.

Learning curves

To have launched TreasureX, the team delegated themselves into specific roles to maximize efficiency. Maggie takes the lead on planning roadmaps for features, compiling user feedback, and creating newsletters. Rebecca takes charge of designing User Interface (UI) wireframes and planning for the User Experience (UX). Prateek, Charles, and Menson serve as the core development team with Prateek acting as the main engineer, Charles managing cloud computing through AWS, and Menson leading on client-side programming with Ajax.

Despite proactive team management, the team shares that it was a steep learning curve to getting the website launched. Menson mentions: “This is my first time learning about all these things and really diving into the world of complex back-end to front-end programming.” Similarly, Charles adds that, “By working on TreasureX, I realized just how complex the whole system is: from the cloud to the back-end to the UI.” To support each other on the project, the whole team will meet weekly through Zoom and occasionally, at cafes for longer sessions to develop the platform while learning more about programming.

Along with technical challenges, the team also struggled with deciding the direction of their platform. Because of their different preferences and personal experiences, the members often clashed in discussing user features and processes to apply to their platform. “We found that the right way to resolve this is not by a guessing game based on our own personal experiences but by actually going out to talk to users and see what they’re interested in,” Prateek resolves. Rather than focusing on survey responses that may not be true to behaviors in real scenarios, the team draws conclusions by sitting down with people and watching how they interact with their platform. By centering the conversation around the users, the team avoids personal bias and preference in the design of TreasureX.

The future of TreasureX

Despite having launched only recently, the team is already looking ahead for the longevity of the platform. As the community grows, the TreasureX team is currently taking steps to outreach on possible collaboration by either offloading work or recruiting new students for the team altogether for the long-term continuation of the project.

Although the current project scope is bound to UC Berkeley, there is potential for TreasureX to be scaled to other university campuses or applied to corporate campuses. Maggie says, “Our bigger goal is to have the platform available for all university campuses, with each having their own community on TreasureX.” With similar problems in communications for buying and selling second-hand items in the work space, there is potential for the platform to be a subscription-based solution where any community can host their own marketplace.

Final Message

“Our main headline is to make campus living affordable. Buying new isn’t always necessarily an option especially because school is so expensive. If you look at how much is being thrown out by the student community every year, not only would buying second-hand be saving money, it would also reduce waste. You see the landfills filling up in every campus every year, and it seems to be a problem that could be more easily resolved because there are people who need items that others may be throwing out. So, TreasureX is mainly for promoting affordability and reduce-reuse.” — Prateek Sahay

Berkeley Master of Engineering

Content hub for UC Berkeley’s Master of Engineering program.