Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in social media but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Matthew Trotta, Founder of Peerzle, located in Cincinnati, OH, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Peerzle lowers barriers through human connection. In its current form, it is a mobile application where college students can connect anonymously with peers willing to listen and lend advice about the daily stresses of college life (homesickness, academic stress, social pressure, etc.). So through on-demand, 20-minute chats, students always have access to someone to talk to whenever they need to get something off their chest. The app will help them find the best match by connecting with peers based on shared experiences, so they will always talk to someone who knows what they are going through.

Right now, the only requirement to join the platform is access to a university-assigned (.edu) email address. We currently have over 120 college students on the platform attending 22 different universities across seven states.

Tell us about yourself

In the fall of 2019, my younger brother started his first semester of college across the country from where I grew up. This was a big deal for my family because he was the first to move far from home. For a bit of background about my brother – he did not always have the easiest time growing up. He spent a lot of nights alone while not getting invited to the high school parties and was generally not treated well by his peers. So, he thought that going to a school far from home would be his opportunity to leave all of that behind and get a fresh start.

However, when he got there, he developed symptoms of depression, anxiety, and homesickness and quickly realized that you cannot outrun your problems. So for the first couple of months, there were nights that I would stay up to 3-4 am talking to him through a crisis. And I wasn't the only one. Eventually, I heard that he was getting better, but he was still frequently calling his siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends from home. I asked him why, and he told me, basically, that he was finding relief by talking through his problems and finding others who could relate to his experiences. He wanted to get his feelings off his chest whenever he felt like talking about them, and not just at a weekly scheduled session.

That was the first time I saw the power of on-demand, casual support. So, from there, I did an 'experiment' on Twitter, where I searched for key phrases. The first key phrase I searched was "I need someone to talk to." Expectedly, I found hundreds of these tweets where young adults were actively seeking help via social media. Then, on the other side, I searched for the key phrase "if you need someone to talk to." And surprisingly, I found that there are just as many (if not more) young adults offering their time and inboxes to be there for their peers who need it (Don't believe me? Try it yourself). The problem is, these offers would only extend as far as their networks/followings would allow. So, I thought, "why are so many young adults actively asking for help and so many young adults actively offering support, but so many are still feeling alone?" So, I came up with Peerzle: a tool to facilitate connections between those asking for help and those offering it.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I have won a pitch competition, got chosen as 'class favorite' in a startup lab, and was even nominated for a Webby Award for 'Public Service & Activism,' but, by far, my biggest accomplishment was when the first conversation took place on Peerzle. The fact that, after almost two years of hard work, someone saw my marketing, realized Peerzle was something that could help them, downloaded the app, and successfully hosted a conversation (and rated the chat a 10/10!) – that's a feeling I will never forget.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

The hardest thing for me is balancing what I want to do with what I can do. There are many features I want to add, industries I want to enter, and marketing plans I want to implement, but due to time, money, or expertise constraints, I either have to put it to the side or figure out a creative replacement. It's easy to come up with amazing and revolutionary ideas that will completely change the business. The hard part is understanding what you have to work with and envisioning a path that will get you to those amazing and revolutionary ideas. It just takes longer than you'd like.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Find a space that you are familiar with.
    I was a student at the Ohio State University, so it made sense to focus my business on college students – I could draw from my own experiences when creating the idea and developing the product. It was also a lot easier for me to conduct user research through my peers.
  2. Show people that you are willing to do the work.
    As I mentioned, ideas are easy. Everyone has them. But what separates the ideas from reality are people willing to do the work. So do the research, write the 20+ page business plan, and create the comprehensive pitch decks. I found that, especially while you're young, if you tell a professor, relative, parent, etc., that you have an idea for a business, you will get the classic: "Neat, that sounds like a good idea!" But if you hand them a 20+ page business plan highlighting the problem, product, value propositions, market analysis, value capture, competition, differentiators, etc., you will get a much more productive reaction that may open a lot of doors.
  3. Be ready for your opportunity.
    "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." This is a quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca. And also a quote that hung in my childhood bathroom growing up. I never fully understood what it meant until after eight months of working on the idea for Peerzle when OSU launched their 'Safe and Healthy Innovation Challenge' in the fall of 2020 for students to present ideas for how to make campus safer due to issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, there was a section for mental health. I was so incredibly prepared for this it was almost like the competition was made for me. I already had the pitch deck; I already had the business plan, and all I had to do was submit it. Being prepared for this opportunity opened the door to winning the competition, getting connected to the administration, and eventually, partnering with them. According to Seneca, I was lucky.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

We are at the early stages of creating a version of Peerzle for enterprises. Here is a quick overview: Peerzle Connect+ is a knowledge-sharing platform for workers to have one-on-one, on-demand conversations about explicit and implicit experiences. From conversations about company roles, networking opportunities, and other knowledge sharing about the workplace, Peerzle Connect+ provides seamless connections between coworkers that lowers uncertainty and increase productivity.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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