Yalie-created Sillable aims to pop the Yale bubble
The new app seeks to connect local New Haven businesses with students.
Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer
Lele Xu ’23, Aaron Daniels ’23 and Burton Lyng-Olsen ’25 are behind the newest app in town.
The three students joined forces this summer to create Sillable, an app aimed at connecting students with local businesses.
“It was about turning what people said they wanted to do into actions,” Xu said. “People say they want to shop local and have a great, delightful experience whenever they do; but how do you build around that and really heighten that experience in a convenient format?”
The project started with Daniels, who got the idea for the app while he was moving out of his dorm first year and urgently needed a bag to store some things that he wanted to leave in New Haven. After several Googling attempts and trips to L.L.Bean, it occurred to him that it was “ridiculous” that he was having trouble finding an extra backpack in a city of over 100,000 people.
Daniels decided to use his coding skills to design an app with a search feature for New Haven stores.
After Lyng-Olsen joined early on in the project’s technical development, the two worked together through several versions of the app, conducting user research and working through bugs.
They later welcomed recent graduate Xu to the team. Xu is primarily in charge of outreach, and she is often the one who interacts with businesses who would be interested in joining the platform.
“We have many New Haven stores on board right now,” Xu explained to the News. “For consumers, they are allowed to browse stores, browse products, add items to cart and check out for pickup or delivery.”
The team soft-launched their app a couple of months ago and received positive reviews but note that they are constantly working to better the app. For example, the team is rolling out a new feature that will allow consumers to go into stores and scan QR codes so that they can receive rewards on the platform for in-person purchases. The feature is inspired by large food chains’ reward apps.
“I think those [reward apps] work especially well because people frequent something like Dunkin’ Donuts multiple times and you can go to any of their locations anywhere in America. But for a small local business that … might be more niche, like a once- or twice-a-year type of thing. So we’re trying to aggregate all of the businesses to create that value,” Lyng-Olsen said.
Xu detailed her own experience venturing outside of central campus and discovering New Haven’s “hidden treasures,” which she hopes to share with more Yalies.
The app features a wide range of businesses: thrift stores, skateboard shops, bike shops, art supply shops and general retail stores like Asian goods stores and boutiques. Businesses are able to take a picture of products they want to sell, write a description and set a price for them. The team also noted that they are offering stores pages on the app for no upfront cost, putting them in a kind of “virtual window sill,” per Daniels.
A dozen of these businesses are coming to the app’s launch party on Saturday, Sept. 16, from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale.
“I think it’s exciting to build a lot of hype around something like this,” Xu said. “There’s gonna be a dozen tables of each of our stores and games and food and raffle and photo booths.”
Sillable also hopes to collaborate with the Shops at Yale on their college night on Broadway, which is scheduled for Sept. 21 and will feature free food and shopping discounts, as well as activities and entertainment.
Long term, however, Sillable is open to branch out to other communities and looks forward to tackling some of the questions that emerge with that expansion.
“How do we onboard staff? How do we make Sillable still feel special for those new communities?” Daniels asked. “But I think that buying and shopping locally and having local rewards that are sort of … geographically tied to the area of the user is definitely something that we want to prioritize for any future place that we go to.”
Per the U.S. Census, there are over 88,000 employer establishments in Connecticut as of 2021.