Tech start-up stories are so inspiring. People providing solutions to needs that we did not even know we had and making life more interesting for all of us. Mitch Gardner and Rob Richardson who were two students and fraternity brothers at Chico State in Northern California way back in 2014 decided that they needed to solve a problem that had arisen from too much phone usage and created Pocket Points.
They were bugged and annoyed that while in class, everyone was looking at their phones, texting, and doing whatever, with “no one paying attention to the teachers”. They discussed the issue in depth and arrived at the conclusion that if technology could cause that kind a phone addiction, then it could also solve it. Together they went on to build an app called Pocket Points that rewards students for not using their phones while in class.
They utilized “geo-fencing,” (a GPS “fence” around the campus), in which the app can sense when a student is on campus and automatically lock the phone down. Students earn points while they are on campus with the app on and when the student leaves campus, the phone unlocks and texting and Snapchatting can commence. The points which they have now gotten from being offline all day can then be cashed in for rewards at local businesses, like pizza, food, coffee, yogurt.
They launched it on the Chico campus and in a couple of weeks, about one-third of the students were using it. The success surprised them so much that they tried it at a much bigger campus, Penn State. Once again, within a few weeks, one-third of the students on campus were using it. The local newspaper picked up the story and it was seen by Chris Friedland, CEO of Build.com, another Chico startup success story. He agreed to meet with them and liked them and the app so much that he invested, Gardner says. He’s also become a mentor and “such a great help.”
Equipped with Friedland’s investment, they used their Sigma Chi frat connections to hire college “ambassadors” in other schools as they launched in them. These ambassadors spread the word about the app, and helped sign up local businesses. Currently, the app is available at about 100 schools and the adoption rate is close to 50%, Gardner told business insider.
Pocket Points also has over 1,200 merchants using the app to advertise to the students and cash in points and according to Business Insider, the founders have raised a new $1.5 million round. In January, the team started to charge businesses advertising fees and to collect affiliate fees for online stores. In just a few months, revenue is in the healthy five digits/month and doubling almost every month, although the company is not yet profitable they are now up to 20 full-time employees.
So the boys proceeded to drop out of college to run their company full time. (At least temporarily, they each took a leave of absence and intend to finish school one day). Their families were not pleased but the founders felt they were looking at a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” he says. And their investors warned them that they may not be able to juggle school and a burgeoning startup app at the same time.
So there you have it, the two young men who created an app to make students look up from their phones and focus more in school, and then proceeded to drop out of school to maintain said app, such is the irony of technology addiction.