Peep Connect, a Black-owned mobile platform that facilitates communication between local businesses and their community, was created by two Northwest students who had a desire to design a platform that focused on local businesses, as opposed to wide-scale apps like Yelp or Doordash.
What originally began as an idea for a platform allowing Northwest students to find things to do, Peep Connect turned into something the founders had not initially imagined. Peep Connect CEO Valentine Osakwe and co-founder Zerryn Gines started up the app in January 2020. After COVID-19 came into the picture, the two decided to pivot the focus of Peep Connect to small businesses in April 2020.
The app had officially launched in the midst of the pandemic on Sept. 21, 2020. During the first week, Gines said that there were more than 300 downloads.
“We really want to create this symbiotic platform that gives small businesses everything that they need to not only survive but be sustainable and ultimately make them super tech-savvy to be able to stay alive in this new ecosystem that we’re in,” Gines said.
The platform sends out notifications to the community when businesses have things like sales or new items. Peep Connect can also help businesses grow their clientele and track their growth. There are 25 local businesses signed up with Peep Connect. Gines said they had reached out to close to 400 businesses throughout the past year to try and get them to sign up with Peep Connect.
With both of the Peep Connect founders’ parents being small business owners, the two were familiar with the struggles that came along with it. Gines said that hearing the positive feedback from people they know from coast-to-coast as well as all of the support they have received is what kept them to remain hopeful.
Being Black founders, Gines and Osakwe had captured the attention of Forbes and were mentioned in an article during the same week that Peep Connect had launched. Gines said the two were also nominated for the Forbes 30 under 30.
“Being nominated for that is crazy because that's like somebody is saying that you’re top of the top in the country for entrepreneurship,” Gines said.
Gines added that he doesn’t believe that they have made it to the top just yet, but they plan to reach that point one day.
Peep Connect uses Tech for Black Founders, which provides free technology and services to startup companies with Black founders. According to Forbes, Mike Katz, CEO of mParticle, one of the platforms providing the Tech for Black Founders, said that this service was started in response to the death of George Floyd. Saving the founders thousands of dollars, Peep Connect would not have been able to launch without Tech for Black Founders, Gines and Osakwe told Forbes.
Now, Peep Connect has around 1,000 users and seven members on their team to help keep the platform running smoothly. Northwest senior business management and marketing major Austin True began working for Peep Connect in October 2020. He started off working for sales and climbed his way up the ladder to become their current sales manager. He remembered back to when he had first started and Peep Connect had around five businesses signed up through the platform.
“I would just say its a good experience, mainly because I’m getting the experience I need to, you know, manage people and figure out how to successfully market products,” True said.
He said that throughout his experience, he has strengthened his skills with leadership, problem-solving and accountability. True described working for Peep Connect as fun and inspirational, getting to hear and see several different points of view from his teammates.
True and Gines both mentioned how Peep Connect works closely with Maryville Florists — one of Peep Connect’s first local businesses to sign up.
Longtime owner of Maryville Florists Keitha Clapp remembers first hearing about Peep Connect during a meeting with Nodaway County Economic Development in late November of last year. Clapp began working with the platform shortly after.
“I just thought it was a new and interesting way to reach, maybe, college kids,” Clapp said. “I’m always looking for some new way to keep up with technology.”
Clapp noted that sometimes choosing the right route to take when spreading awareness about her business can be difficult. She was intrigued by the idea behind Peep Connect and their goals to help out local businesses. Working with Peep Connect, she has found her experience to be good and said that the team makes working with them easy.
“Above all, there’s really no platform that is bringing together communities as a whole,” Gines said. “And I think that community is really what we pride ourselves on.”
Gines and Osakwe have plans to expand Peep Connect to either Kansas City, Missouri, or Austin, Texas, after Gines graduates from Northwest in May 2021. Gines is setting his stakes high, hoping that one day Peep Connect will be as large as a business like McDonald’s.