Computer science seniors Reed Morse and Grantland Chew turned their senior project into a business with “Punchd,” a phone application for any smart phone that acts as a digital “loyalty punch card”— in other words, a buy 10-get-1-free card.
With the “Punchd” phone application, the smart phone acts as a scanner. Instead of businesses punching a printed card, the phone scans a code that virtually redeems the “punch.”
“I hate those (physical) cards because I love getting free stuff, but I either forget them at home or my wallet is really thin and they take up room so it’s terrible carrying them around,” Morse said.
Not only is it one less item for customers to carry around, but businesses receive more information than from traditional punch cards. Businesses can see data of exactly how many people download the application, how many people make transactions and where the transactions go.
“With the paper card, (businesses) have no idea how many punches they’re giving out, no idea how many cards are out, (and) no idea how many free things they’re giving out but we can track all of that,” Morse said.
Morse and Chew have been working on “Punchd” since last February. The project started in a computer science course that taught Android application development. The Android class was sponsored by Google, including a grant and a donation of 24 T-mobile G1 phones.
Associate professor David Janzen taught the course. His goal was to teach the students Android, to include entrepreneurial thinking and to apply software engineering practices.
“I really wanted to give students an environment and platform where they could do something entrepreneurial with the hopes of building a project that lived beyond the class,” Janzen said.
At the start of the class, Janzen encouraged his students to think “atoms to bits.”
“If we can take anything that is physical in atoms and make it digital in bits and by doing so, replace that physical thing, it’s often going to be useful,” Janzen said. “I asked the class to consider what’s something in their wallets that’s physical but we don’t really need to have — what’s physical that could be digital? And right in that moment I saw one of them pull out his wallet and look. I think that’s where it got started. I don’t want to take credit for the idea but I know that conversation went on in class and they’ve run with it.”
Morse and Chew started designing the Android application in Janzen’s class but the pair also put extra work into developing the server.
“We put in all this extra work by making the server structure to back it up and make it work,” Chew said. “We ended up having to do all this extra work that we didn’t really get graded for, so we decided to keep going with it and turn it into our senior project.”
In addition to internships, Morse and Chew worked after hours to create the current version of “Punchd” during the summer. They redid the server, flushed out the kinks in the Android and also made a version compatible for the iPhone.
Now that “Punchd” is live, Morse and Chew have signed on with Lucy’s Juice, Village Market, Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Poly Canyon Village, Jamba Juice in Poly Canyon Village and on Foothill Boulevard and SLO Donut Company.
Anywhere from 10 to 25 people are downloading the application a day, Morse said.
“There were a bunch of bugs in the beginning where people would punch and it wouldn’t go through,” Morse said. “We’ve been pounding our heads, trying really hard to fix those because if you try it once and it fails, you might give us a second chance, but no one’s going to try it more than twice.”
To help keep positive customer service, Morse and Chew have been going through the logs to see who receive the failed punches and then redeeming them.
“Right now since we’re still trying to figure everything out, we’re in a beta period where we’re giving any business that want to help us test it free service for now,” Chew said. “Since they’ll be our future customers, we’re also asking them what kind of pricing they’d want and what kind of stats they’re looking for. At some point the businesses will pay us if it ends up working out.”
Marketing and public relations director of Campus Dining Yukie Nishinaga has been working with Morse and Chew since the summer, helping them select the four locations on campus to test their program.
“I thought what they had and what they were developing was incredibly unique and really excellent,” Nishinaga said. “I’ve been doing marketing about 10 years now and you can sense when you see something outstanding or something you have yet to see on the market. The fact that it’s designed really well, both aesthetically as well as the programming, we were happy to help them.”
Nishinaga has heard positive feedback from customers.
“Everyone loves the idea,” Nishinaga said. “We have been trying to find innovative ways that our customers want to receive promotions. When Reed and Grantland approached me about ‘Punchd’ it really fit into the new (technology) direction we wanted to go with.”
Associate professor Jonathan York has been advising Chew and Morse on the entrepreneurial side of the project.
“My goal is to help students understand that they can create businesses out of their ideas,” York said. “One of the things that I think is great about Reed and Grantland is they continually question the business side of it. They’re looking at who the market is, how to approach it and where the revenue is. It’s more than just coming up with a new product or a new idea — you’ve got to deal with all aspects of it in order to make a business out of it.”
For Morse and Chew, some aspects of their product include customer service, marketing, engineering and some of the design work.
“Clearly Reed and Grantland are two students who understand how it works,” York said. “They’re in this because they want to create a business out of it much beyond a school project. It’s something they’re making real. Eventually they’ll take this way beyond San Luis Obispo.”