By Emily Ashbolt
Daniel Tewfik is the first to admit that he is a lot of different things. The 2012 Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS) graduate received a dual degree in Computer Science and Marketing and spent his days at Northeastern pondering the intersection of technology and the new city he called home.
“Looking back at it,” reflected the Philadelphia native, “it makes total sense what my passions and interests are: how to use technology to better inform transportation planning, housing planning, and different ways of thinking about cities. “
Tewfik was able to secure a job at MobileAware following a successful senior project at Northeastern which focused on optimizing bike lanes in Boston. Everything seemed to be going to plan until April 15, 2013, when two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. From that moment on, Tewfik turned his attention to helping the Boston community move forward.
Utilizing connections that he had cultivated through his time at Northeastern, Tewfik landed a job with the Boston Planning and Developing Agency (BPDA), then called the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). From negotiating Boston airbnb policy to working with the Imagine Boston project and Boston’s citywide plan, Tewfik’s tech background allowed him the opportunities to work on a lot of diverse and “really cool” projects. It was there that he discovered a problem…
“One of the things I got very passionate about internally was housing- being able to find and access housing in a growing city- it’s complicated.” The problem with the real estate market, to Tewfik, is that they weren’t keeping up with other market sectors when it came to utilizing user data.
“Almost every other industry now uses data to better target and identify matches,” explained Tewfik. “It’s, how do we know the most about you, so we can make a better recommendation for you, so you don’t feel like you’re looking at an ad that’s not meant for you, you’re only looking at content that’s most relevant for you.”
This was a market vacuum that Tewfik, and his business partner/best friend Ethan Setnik (Tufts 2012), thought they could fill. “Something that was spare time became part-time, part-time became full-time,” and then Sumu, Japanese for ‘to live’, was born. “Now we’re fully committed to it, we’re working on it every single day- weird, late hours, weekends.” said Tewfik.
Sumu works differently than the current real estate market. “It’s kind of like Tinder, with the idea that the more swipes you do the better the apartments get,” said Tewfik. “So, we’ll show you one place, if you like it, we’ll show you more places like that, if you don’t like it, we learn why and then we show you more places more like what you want.”
The app launched in January of 2017 and initial feedback has been positive. The main users right now are mostly women between the ages of 22-30. “Young professionals looking for a place to live…wanting a better experience that looks more like browsing, instead of guessing.” Sumu then partners with buildings, property managers, landlords and agents to connect users with their open apartments- right now there are 10,000 apartments on the app- all without a broker’s fee.
Tewfik credits Northeastern with giving him a lot of the confidence it required to chase this dream. “Starting a company is one of the hardest things you’ll do, and starting, specifically, a start-up, is the hardest thing I’ve done in my entire life, but I’m so glad I went to Northeastern because I don’t think I would have had the tools to do it otherwise.”
The co-op program was a helpful step for Tewfik in finding his direction. “Being able to explore, experiment, and know what’s good for me and what’s not good for me was amazing, and an amazing part of my experience at Northeastern.” Since graduating, Tewfik has continued to reach out to his Husky Network and find value and guidance within it. “I think being able to rely on the community here after graduating has been surprisingly fruitful, being able to ask people for help or advice or direction.”
Tewfik tracked down many Northeastern Alums who hold leading roles in high-powered US companies, such as the CFO of GE and the original CEO of Staples, and has been pleasantly surprised by how willing they are to talk business strategy and advice with him. “I haven’t had a single person that I’ve reached out to after I was like, ‘Hey, I went to Northeastern, I have this app, can we talk?’ say no. Which has been great! And I’ve been able to talk to some really, really, really amazing people.”
Loving Boston, loving Northeastern, and loving his field are all pillars that have helped Tewfik up to this point. “The ability to take the dive and go full-time on an app, without a paid salary, and making it work, is maybe something I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t gone to Northeastern.” His advice for CCIS students? Whatever their interests or passions are, “Give it a go.”
“I think being able to surround myself with people who are more driven than me has been inspiring, and it’s pushed me harder than I probably would have had I been anywhere else.” Tewfik has no plans to stop that forward drive any time soon.