When talk turns to his startup, RoverTown co-founder Jeffry Harrison exudes optimism. And Harrison isn’t the only one who’s bullish on RoverTown, a St. Louis-based company whose mobile app offers college students deals and discounts at nearby businesses.
The most recent show of confidence in the company came courtesy of Arch Grants, a St. Louis non-profit that gives grants to startups located in or willing to relocate to the city. Arch Grants originally awarded RoverTown a $50,000 grant in 2013, and earlier this month it picked the startup as one of two 2013 grant winners to receive $100,000 follow-up grants.
All told, RoverTown has raised $400,000, including $200,000 of angel investment, $150,000 from Arch Grants and $50,000 through the Capital Innovators accelerator program. Harrison noted that company has also generated revenue, with 2013’s amount doubling that of the previous year.
That résumé, combined with more than 50,000 app downloads and 12,000 regular users, shot RoverTown to the top of the IT Entrepreneur Network’s annual “Fast Ten” list as the St. Louis area’s fastest growing startup of 2013.
RoverTown hit another milestone last month, when it expanded to its 100th campus. That number now stands at 113, up from roughly 70 in late 2013.
In 2009, CEO Mike Philip came up with the idea for a plastic discount card for his fellow Southern Illinois-Carbondale students to use at various local businesses. “It came out of the idea that as a college student, you’re broke,” Philip said.
But it wasn’t long before he realized the opportunity smartphone proliferation could offer. By 2011, CTO and co-founder Michael Rzeznik had built an app that Harrison, then a senior at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, introduced at his school. It got 1,000 downloads in the first month.
Now the days of the plastic have passed and the app forms the basis of RoverTown’s business. After a user downloads the free app to his or her mobile device, the app uses GPS to determine the user’s location and offer discounts to nearby restaurants, stores and other businesses.
But RoverTown doesn’t just help out cash-strapped college kids. While any business can list one discount on the app and website for free, RoverTown charges $500 per year for companies to post multiple discounts and get access to its RoverLink analytics service to track the effectiveness of discounts.
RoverTown says it’s already the largest mobile student discounter in the country, and Harrison now has his eye on college coupon stalwarts like Campus Discount, whose continued use of print coupons gives him confidence in RoverTown’s future.
“We’re going to dominate the college discount market,” Harrison said.
Noting that 80 percent of college students have access to smartphones, Harrison said that RoverTown’s print-based competition moves too slowly to catch up. “We can close a market in two days that takes them three months,” he said.
In addition to discussing goals like multiplying users and partner campuses by the end of 2014, Harrison also noted the potential for the platform to extend discounts to high school students and corporate employees in large metro areas like Chicago and St. Louis.
But for now, Philip says that the Rovertown team, which numbers eight full-time and one part-time employees following the recent addition of a marketing manager and coder from the LaunchCode program, is 100 percent focused on continuing its success on college campuses across the country.