Campus deal app expands user base

Developed by a University alumnus, ByME helps users find deals at local merchants.

Parker Lemke

Almost four years after he launched a beta version of his campus deal-finding platform, Chad Olsen stepped up to the counter at My Burger in Stadium Village on Wednesday to demonstrate how it works.

He loaded the ByME phone app on his screen, reserved a deal and brought it to the front.

“I just click redeem, and then I show [the voucher] to him,” said Olsen, a University of Minnesota alumnus who graduated in 2011 with an advertising major and a minor in design.

Having partnered with 30 local businesses, ranging from Qdoba Mexican Grill to Domino’s Pizza, ByME now connects about 7,000 users to exclusive local deals close to campus, Olsen said. The app recently expanded its reach with a fresh deal with Gophers athletics.

The University started offering ticket deals through ByME in September, said Chris Werle, senior associate athletics director who oversees Gophers branding and communication.

“It’s another channel for us to both offer tickets to students and generate awareness,” he said. “We’ve been happy. We gained a significant number of new student ticket buyers, which was the primary goal.”

Developed primarily with budget-conscious students in mind, Olsen said his business seeks to connect users with local merchants and build consumer loyalty through excusive offers.

“The students are going to be here for the next four years,” Olsen said. “I want to make sure that we can build that community on this app.”

His strategy includes a vow to never make students pay for the app, Olsen said. Instead, his business makes revenue by charging featured merchants.

So far, ByME has driven more than $25,000 in savings, he said.

Users sign in with their University email accounts, Olsen said. Faculty and staff can also access the deals, but it’s designed for student budgets.

“Even if you have a full ride, even if mom and dad are helping out with college, you’re still trying to save money,” he said.

Feedback from students, businesses

Paul Abdo said when he and his brother added a campus location to their My Burger restaurant chain two years ago, they carried on a University legacy that runs in their family.

And becoming a ByME partner over the summer continued it, Abdo said.

“We’re trying to insert ourselves into the fabric of the University of Minnesota community,” Abdo said, adding that Olsen’s pitch of a direct link between businesses and the University community appealed to them.

“That’s what sold me on the idea of signing up with him.”

Although Abdo said it’s too soon to judge how the app has affected sales, he said it has noticeably affected traffic.

“We’re getting about anywhere from 15 to 30 users of the app into our store on a daily basis,” he said.

Although Olsen built the app with a student mindset, he said he has listened to local business owners about what they want out of the partnership.

“We usually talk kind of on a weekly basis,” Abdo said. “[Olsen] always asks, ‘Is there anything we can do, is there more features you’d like to add, is there anything you don’t like?’”

So far, Abdo said he is pleased with the app’s campus focus, along with how it continually offers incentives for students to return.

“Rather than handing something out at the register or sending out emails or, you know, papering campus, it allows us to reach those people who are specifically interested in our brand,” he said.

Junior human resources development student Gao Xiong has had ByME on her phone since last semester and said she uses it exclusively to scan for deals at the Tea Garden in Stadium Village.

“‘Dollar off drink, one free drink, a free drink if you buy another drink, two dollars off’ — stuff like that,” Xiong said.

Although she said the app could attract more people if it offered a larger variety of the food around campus, she is happy with the current state of deals.

Biology senior Brogen Lothert started using ByME in the summer after hearing about it from a friend.

She has used it to garner deals on burgers and beer.

“It’s a little slow, the app is, as far as loading and stuff, but otherwise it’s not bad,” Lothert said.

Improving speed and ByME’s integration with Facebook and Twitter was part of the recent work on an updated version of the app, Olsen said.

“We fixed a lot of bugs this summer, and that is now out and on the market,” said Olsen, who spends about 60 hours every week interacting with merchants, building partnerships and assisting users with technical issues.

“I enjoy every minute of it,” he said.