Madison Mahoney

A year ago, like many other students at Yale, Kevin Tan ’17 was looking for a way to procrastinate during finals week. Unlike the average student, however, Tan didn’t resort to videogames or Facebook. Instead, he created a marketing app that many Yalies have come to love — Snackpass.

Tan spoke about the app’s progress and his experiences as an entrepreneur at a “Life After Yale” talk at the Asian American Cultural Center on Tuesday evening.

Snackpass is a New Haven-based app that allows customers to order food in advance from a selection of more than 50 local vendors. The app offers perks specific to each vendor, like a free coffee or smoothie, after users have accrued a certain number of rewards points. Snackpass is used by more than 7,000 students, approximately 4,000 of whom are Yale undergraduates.

The event on Tuesday was an opportunity for students to learn not only about the app but also about entrepreneurship and tech startups.

“The three value propositions that we deliver to users is that we save them money in terms of discounts and rewards, we save them time with ordering ahead and skipping the line, and we give people a fun way to connect and be social,” Tan said during the talk.

Tan and his two co-founders, Jamie Marshall ’19 and Jonathan Cameron, launched the app just under a year ago. During the event, Tan said the project was inexpensive to start, as the software he used to develop the app was available for free online. The only original expenditure was printing flyers, he added.

According to Tan, the app took off over the summer. He attributed this rise in popularity to a significant rebranding effort and the addition of more employees, with 60 new promotional ambassadors and 10 interns joining the Snackpass team.

These efforts were validated when the app’s revenue grew from $20,000 in July to $80,000 in September, with monthly profits continuing to increase, Tan said. He added that, when the school year started, some businesses were overwhelmed by increased demand and had to make operational adjustments.

“Sometimes at GHeav, they’ll get 40 orders in 20 minutes on Saturday morning when all the athletes are going to practice, and they can’t handle that. To help with the demand, we added a ticket printer to give them a physical way of queuing the orders,” Tan said. “At Tropical Smoothie, they’ve actually hired more people because of Snackpass.”

Tan said that although the Snackpass team is currently focused on continuing to expand within New Haven, future expansion to other college towns is on the horizon. He added that Snackpass, which relies on customers being able to pick up their food, would do well in areas that are friendly to pedestrians and have restaurants clustered together in pockets. The next target is Brown University in Providence, and potentially Boston after that, if the Brown venture is successful, Tan said.

Since the app launched, the Snackpass team has introduced a number of additional features, like gifts, which users can send to friends, and small-animated chickens that hatch and grow as users send points back and forth. According to Tan, many of the changes made to the app are based on suggestions from users.

Addressing the audience, Tan advised aspiring entrepreneurs to focus on the product and customers rather than the funds needed for development.

“We didn’t raise money for a year, and once we did, we didn’t need it,” he said. “Don’t focus on the fundraising, focus on the customers, so you’ll have leverage and can select investors.”

Attendee Nadia Irwanto ’20 said she started using Snackpass when it first launched and has tracked its development over the past year.

Arthur Hwang ’20 said he attended the event to learn more about how platforms like Snackpass are marketed and developed — information he plans to apply to one of his Computer Science courses this semester.

Tan was a member of Hopper College.

Madison Mahoney | madison.mahoney@yale.edu