The world is embracing the use of smartphones and tablets, and with those come the apps that are downloaded and used to do everything from provide a flashlight to pay your most recent bills. These apps have created a whole new branch to the economy, and have added more than 400,000 jobs since the app store was created by Apple in 2007, according to a recent report by TechNet.
Opportunity is being seized by many entrepreneurs with ideas for apps. Just recently one of those brilliant start-up app companies, Instagram, was bought out by Facebook for the price of $1 Billion.
“That is the ultimate goal,” said Michael Koeller, one of the co-founders of the Luvn’ Local app, just recently won the tech start-up contest Boston Beta Showcase. The contest features tech start ups from students or recent graduates and was held at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge. The Microsoft sponsored contests’ winners have had great success in the past years and include, Quiyk, OrigiArt, and Roof for Two. Along with winning the contest comes a good chance at acceptance into the MassChallenge, which is a much higher stakes start up contest, and also gives the founders of Luvn’ Local access to mentors from Microsoft.
“It’s a great thing because there is this collaboration of youth and experience that will push forward the tech generation,” said Koeller.
With many other apps being launched and entrepreneurs looking to jump into the app world, the creators of Luvn’ Local are off to quite a start. The company was birthed at Bentley University, where Vikram Chabra and Monil Kothari came up with an idea to aid local small businesses by creating a loyalty system for their customers. Vikram and Monil moved to Boston after graduating from Bentley in 2011 and met up with Koeller, a Harvard student, who was brought on to help with the business side. They used their Bentley roots to find their programmer, Paul Cheek, who is still a student there. Now they are working for full time to put Luvn’ Local on the map and someday possibly become a story like Instagram.
So what is Luvn’ Local? The free app, available in the iTunes app store, uses a points system for a network of small business in a certain area. The points are given to customers depending on what they buy, and they can be collected and used at any of the other participating businesses in the area.
“The model is designed towards local small businesses that can’t compete with the loyalty programs of larger commercial companies. “With Luvn’ Local,” said Koeller, “they (businesses and customers) can collaborate together to keep the money in the community,”
The Luvn’ Local guys have chosen the area of Harvard Square to test and launch their app. “We thought it would be the most receptive area, with the Universities near by, tech saavy people, and our own familiarity with the area made it a sensible choice,” said Kothari. They have six locations signed up and on board right now and once they add a few more Kothari says the app will go live. Luvn’ Local already has the famous Mr. Bartley’s Burgers on board and also The Hempest, two popular spots in Harvard Square.
The Luvn’ Local app has a bright, friendly look that is easy to use. The sign-in can be done through your Facebook account, and the app also features a map and locator to aid the users. The points can be accumulated with your profile by placing your phone up to a QR code shown by the cashier and simply pressing a button to scan.
The future of the app is on the mind of the founders. “We want to expand around collegiate areas, because students use technology and are always looking to save money and find small deals,” said Chabra. The app is currently only available on the iPhone platform, but the group plans to bring it to android users as soon as possible. “With funds and more time for our programmer we would like to bring Luvn’ Local to the android platform,” said Kothari. For the app going live Kothari said, “within six to eight weeks,” he expects the app to be live and running for people to use in the Harvard Square area.
There is some competition in the Boston area for similar loyalty apps. Chabra cited the LevelUp app, which is used with businesses in downtown Boston and has been successful. LevelUp also includes a payment system, but that may be where Luvn’ Local has an advantage because the small businesses are forced to pay a payment processing fee to the credit card companies. “We are a low cost service for business and easy to use,” said Chabra when comparing Luvn’ Local to competitors.
This new generation of entrepreneurs who are voyaging into the app world have grand futures in mind, and with technology purchases moving more towards the tablet and smartphone market they are probably onto something. Luvn’ Local next turns its attention to the launch day and the Mass Challenge, which could be the big break they need.
“We have our fingers crossed,” Koeller said, “Winners of the Boston Beta have faired well with the Mass Challenge, we think we have a good chance.”