By Akash Nigam, Blend co-founder and CEO
Elevator Pitch: Blend is the first college app that takes advantage of something students love to do—share college experiences and earn free stuff.
Blend is the first college app that takes advantage of something students love to do, share college experiences and earn free stuff. On Blend, students share photos based on the Blend (theme) of the day, earn Snaps (likes) from their peers, and use Snaps to redeem Gifts (products and gift cards) from popular college brands.
I grew up with Matt Geiger, my co-founder, in the heart of Silicon Valley. We were both always interested in tech business and knew we would pursue a startup together. Immediately upon reaching the Wharton School, Matt met Evan Rosenbaum and introduced Evan to me. Evan’s unmatched technical ability nicely complimented the drive we already had and we thought he would be a great addition to the founding team. During the summer of 2012, we decided to get serious about the startup culture, Matt and I left college, and have been focusing efforts towards Blend ever since.
When in college, we got sick of lame marketing tactics. Marketers seemed to be vying for our attention, but the traditional forms of advertising, like flyers, mass emails, or on-site activities, no longer effectively reach the college demographic. If you walk onto a college campus you’ll find students’ heads down, consumed by cell phones. We came up with the idea of Blend, combining a mobile platform with a new way for brands to reach students without appearing ‘scammy.’ Blend’s model allows relevant, college-focused brands to reach this tech-savvy audience in a cool way through our app. In Blend, college students are being marketed to without even knowing it. Unlike other photo sharing apps like Snapchat or Instagram, Blend has integrated brands into the platform (disguised as ‘Blend Gifts’) from the beginning.
Blend strives to be organically viral. For direct marketing purposes, in October, 2013, Blend initiated a 30 college, 180+ students Campus Influencer Program. These influencers host disruptive, promotional events that quickly increase the adoption of the app onto college campuses. We empower the influencers to launch their own peer-to-peer buzz and track the results of their efforts. Campus Influencers have the autonomy to create and execute marketing initiatives at their own discretion. Blend selectively funds initiatives as we understand that our influencers know their schools better than we do.
Currently, there are 15 million full-time college students. Students spend an average of 11.4 hours/day on their computers or phones, with average discretionary spending of $3,200 per year. By keeping these statistics in mind and understanding the college culture, we feel strongly that we can meet the millennial student’s needs with Blend. There are over 3,500 colleges in the U.S. and internationally, and we’d like to see every college student on Blend sharing experiences and getting free stuff. Brands love blend, because instead of spending XYZ marketing budget on getting a standard ad online, they are getting that XYZ value of their product directly into the consumers’ hands.
How We Differentiate From the Competition
Unlike other photo-sharing apps like Snapchat or Instagram, Blend integrates brands into the platform and makes brands and ads helpful to the college audience. Students are tech-savvy and have an inherent distrust of advertising. College students want free stuff. On Blend, free products and gift cards are integrated directly into photo feeds. It’s not ‘scammy’ and there are no gimmicks. Students earn Snaps so they can redeem the items they want. Blend’s brand partners include some college favorites, such as Yurbuds, Southern Tide, Hydroflask, Pura Vida, Rowdy Gentleman, and State Traditions.
We currently do not take in revenue from our brands. We are not disclosing our monetization plans for the future.
We will be looking to raise a Series A round of funding in the near future. Our plans are to grow the company to approximately 20 full-time employees by January. However, we want to keep the company small to ensure sustainability of the current culture—flat hierarchy and unconventionality.
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Founders: Akash Nigam, Matt Geiger, Evan Rosenbaum
Headquarters: San Jose
Investors: Digital Catalyst Fund, Angel investors ($1.2 million+ Seed funding)
Year Founded: 2012