The food pickup app “Snackpass” arrived in Providence Jan. 24 with the goal to help locals order food electronically from Thayer Street restaurants such as East Side Pockets, Vivi Bubble Tea and Pokeworks.
The app “lets you save time because you can order ahead and skip the line. You can save money because there are tons of student discounts,” said Jamie Marshall, a Yale student and one of the app’s founders.
The app has a social component that facilitates interactions between friends. “Every time after you order, you get a bonus stamp that you can send to a friend. If it was your birthday, I could send you your favorite smoothie,” Marshall said.
Snackpass was launched in spring 2017 by Marshall, Kevin Tan, who attended Yale, and Jonathan Cameron, who attended Ohio State. According to Tan, who came up with the idea for the app and codes its back end, Snackpass was the lovechild of “procrastination during finals” and “trying to impress a girl who really liked Tropical Smoothie Cafe.”
“I was trying to think of ways I could send her gifts from Tropical Smoothie Cafe, … so that turned into the gifting part [of the app,] where you can send people gifts from their favorite restaurants.”
The app was launched with little to no external funding, and its marketing was remarkably “grassroots … just flyers and talking to people,” Tan said. “We didn’t have any funding or anything, but I think that forced us to get creative and figure out what people actually wanted,” he added.
Between student discounts and social engagement, it seems like Snackpass has succeeded in figuring out what students want. Less than a year after its launch, the app has made over 600,000 sales and 80 percent of Yale undergraduates are active users, according to Tan. Marshall, a neuroscience major who grew up in Providence, explained that they’ve decided to expand to Brown because “it’s a great place, [has] a very walkable campus and is a similar size to Yale.”
“We launched about a week and a half ago, but we have about 800 users from Brown — but also RISD, Providence College and even some of the local high schools,” Tan said. “Brown has great vibes,” he added.
Snackpass aims to help local restaurants reach the student market and receive business on slow days. Marshall explained that food-delivery companies like UberEats can take up to 30 percent commission on each transaction, meaning that restaurants lose money by working with them.
Snackpass “is so small compared to that (so) it’s a welcome commission,” Marshall said. “It’s a pick-up app, not a delivery app, so that helps us stand out.”
Since partnering with Snackpass, “we’ve definitely seen some new faces,” said Kai Li, the part-time manager of Vivi Bubble Tea. “People from downtown are realizing there’s another bubble tea place (on Thayer).”
While Li was enthusiastic about Snackpass, he suggested that digital orders can be stressful for him and his coworkers when the store is busy, “We can’t just ignore the people in the line, so sometimes (app users) have to wait longer,” Li added.
Reflecting on his experience as a young entrepreneur, Tan said: “you don’t need the funding especially these days where software is essentially free. The most important thing is to build a product and get users first, and then try and get the funding if you need it, but not the other way around.”
Tan and Marshall mentioned that their “next move” is to bring Snackpass to students in Boston and, eventually, “the whole world.”