April 6, 2015Vol. 45, Issue 4

Pocketing More than Points

Students Launch Successful Business through Classroom App

Pocket Points cofounder/COO Mitch Gardner, left, and cofounder/CEO Rob Richardson in their downtown Chico office. (Photo by Ernesto Rivera, Public Affairs and Publications)

 

Two CSU, Chico students are offering an incentive to students to put their phones down during class: discounts and free food at local businesses. They’re making a name for themselves in the process.

Rob Richardson and Mitch Gardner are the creators of Pocket Points, an iPhone application gaining national and global attention in recent weeks. When students turn the app on “class mode,” it blocks the phone from functioning, and users start receiving points. The longer the phone is in class mode, the more points the student accumulates. Points can then be redeemed at various Chico businesses.

In the spring semester of 2014, Richardson, a computer science major, approached Gardner, a business marketing major, with an idea for what would eventually become Pocket Points. Richardson spent the summer developing the app while Gardner went around signing up local businesses to offer deals.

The project launched on the CSU, Chico campus the week of Sept. 10, 2014. Now, the app has about 40,000 downloads and has expanded to eight other schools including UC Berkeley, Pennsylvania State University, and University of Arizona. 

Since its launch, the program has gained impressive national and international attention. Pocket Points has been featured in TimeThe Chronicle of Higher EducationThe Washington Post, the BBC’s “Newsday” program and on MTV. It also found its way to the Apple App Store’s “trending” list.

Both Richardson, who serves as CEO, and Gardner, the company’s COO, have taken a leave of absence from CSU, Chico to focus on the expansion of Pocket Points and to add team members to help manage it all. Pocket Points grew from a two-person staff to a 20-person staff in less than a year.

Anthropology major Alina Tichinin has been using the app for a couple of months and recently used her points to get discounts and free food from Brooklyn Bridge Bagel Works on 2nd Street and the campus Creekside Café.

“I really like it—you get free stuff for not using your phone,” she said. “I don’t use my phone a lot in class anyway so it was a great extra incentive to not check my phone. 

Richardson and Gardner quickly realized they had a lot to learn about running a business and turned to David Rahn, a professor in the College of Business, for support and guidance.

“He got us from an idea to launching a product,” Gardner said. “We’ve never run a business before, we didn’t know what a business plan even was and he really guided us. We would never be where we are right now without David Rahn.”

Now the two Wildcats, who plan to return to CSU, Chico in the fall, are focusing on providing one of their most-requested features: an Android version.

“We want to release it ASAP,” Richardson said. “We know it’s in high demand; we know everyone’s requesting it.”

Other priorities include attracting national retailers and expanding to more schools.

“We’re definitely not just trying to work on local deals but bigger, national retailers,” Richardson said.

“Say we have Jamba Juice and get every store in the company, then we can launch at every school,” Gardner said.

 

—Ernesto Rivera, Public Affairs and Publications

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