After almost a year of troubleshooting and upgrading, Peep Connect, an app designed to help build a connection between local businesses and university students, has officially launched.
The app was originally created to help students find out what businesses were available around them. Now, it has become a two-way street for helping both the small businesses and the university students around them. Co-founder Zerryn Gines found that this was not just a local problem, but it also affects around 2,600 universities and towns just like Northwest and Maryville.
“When I went to Northwest, I didn’t even know we had a bowling alley until my senior year, so I thought that it was weird that I only knew about places if my friends told me about them,” Gines said. “We wanted to solve that problem and to create something that mitigates that.”
James Palmer, the campus manager for Peep Connect, said that this is beneficial for everyone in Maryville, and he has heard feedback from international students on how an app like this is useful.
“This app helps people find places in Maryville that are cheap, gives them deals, that are close to campus, and helps them get to these places,” Palmer said. “I’ve even had some friends of mine that said they found places on the app they didn’t even know existed.”
CEO Valentine Osakwe and Gines first launched the app in fall 2020. Osakwe and Gines were Northwest students when they started working on the app. Since then, they have graduated and continued to build Peep Connect with others on their team.
When the app first launched, Gines said, they were new to the market and the technology. Because the entire team working on the app was in school, they didn’t quite know what they were doing.
Since the launch a year ago, there have been obstacles with developing the app.
“I think for us, we were a little naive. We thought we were going to be the next Facebook in like two years, which is not the case,” Gines said. “It takes a lot of time to build something to solve problems, and I think one of the things we did was, we rushed it because we wanted to get it out there to provide value.”
Though there have been problems, Gines said that is just what comes with technology. He said Northwest has been there to witness every trial and error with the app.
“I don’t know how many failures Google had at the onset, Snapchat as well. A lot of companies and their first few customers experience everything,” Gines said. “Within the next year, you’ll have a group of people who won’t even know that we were at Northwest, didn’t even know all we went through to build it. Northwest got to see us at the beginning.”
After some trial and error, the app development and outreach started to pick up momentum.
“In spring 2021, we started launching notifications through a completely different platform; we were able to provide some value for business owners. So we took that and said, ‘let’s make this better, take on some investment and make this product better.’ And since then, we have been able to do that,” Gines said.
Now, Peep Connect is fully ready for people to use, and the Peep Connect team has started to think of other ways to get people engaged.
“Within the next week or two, you guys will see something on social media about the rewards system,” Gines said. “If you go and support a local business that is a part of our platform, you can earn rewards like being put in these drawings to win like sneakers or win merch or win different things like that.”
There is also talk of having mobile payments for mobile orders and geolocation to connect with friends and the small businesses that students are visiting.
All these additions to the app are to make it easier for students to reach small businesses in their town that they might not have known of before.
“There are local businesses that have been here in Maryville for 15 to 20 years and still haven't found a way to target students directly,” Gines said. “I think that's on our part as students, but, more importantly, I think it's something that technology will be able to fix. That's really why we wanted to go out there and do it.”