Students find way to give back with app

From time to time, one might hear about the startups that began their humble beginnings with napkin scribbles. But for Shareful, a recently launched app, the idea started on a pizza box.

Sonny and share · (Left to right) Johnny Rusnak, Mo Alabi, Kevin Shen and Amy Kao work together on Shareful, an app that gives users credits to help a nonprofit after they eat at a participating restaurant. - Photo courtesy of Kevin Shen

Sonny and share · (Left to right) Johnny Rusnak, Mo Alabi, Kevin Shen and Amy Kao work together on Shareful, an app that gives users credits to help a nonprofit after they eat at a participating restaurant. – Photo courtesy of Kevin Shen

“Kevin [Shen] came back from a conference and said, ‘Amy, I have this really cool idea’ … It was this picture on the back of a pizza box,” said junior Amy Kao, a founding member of Kindred Labs Inc.

Shareful, the first app to come out of Kindred Labs Inc., is an iPhone App (available on Android in the near future) that lets people fund their pick of a handful of causes just by eating at participating restaurants in the area.

“The goal of Shareful is to let people give more frequently and personally to causes they genuinely care about,” said founder Kevin Shen, a senior majoring in computer science and business administration.

After conceiving the original idea, Kao and Shen started playing around with the concept more and decided to bring Johnny Rusnak, a senior majoring in business administration, and Modupe (Mo) Alabi, a junior majoring in communication, onto the Shareful team.

“We believed that skill sets come later, and we believed that as long as the passion was there, then that was the most important thing,” Kao said.

As much as the team wanted to hit the ground running with the idea and help as many people as possible, they needed to focus in on a couple of restaurants and organizations.

“We couldn’t just jump into all of the causes in the world … So we started out small and picked a couple of causes that we have connections to,” Shen said. “For example, none of us are in Troy Camp, but we have friends in it, and their core values and their work is something that we believe in.”

Other organizations that benefit from the Shareful app include Elevate Africa, a nonprofit that funds local businesses in developing countries, the Downtown Women’s Center and Water Is Basic, a nonprofit dedicated to providing clean water in the Republic of South Sudan.

Here’s how Shareful works: When a customer orders from a participating restaurant, such as La Taquiza or Cup O’ Joy, he or she can tap the bright orange “Shareful” pad at the cashier to register the transaction. Once a buzz is heard, the app lets the customer choose which cause or nonprofit to give to.

“If they visit any of the restaurants on our app, they’ll pay as normal. No money gets transferred through the app, and they don’t have to do anything extra,” Kao said.

Though Bluetooth might sound like a more unconventional method of registering this type of information, Shen believes that it is the most efficient.

“With a QR code, it’s pretty insecure because anyone can take a picture of the QR code and then just scan it a ton of times,” Shen said. “With Bluetooth, it’s a lot safer because it’s much harder to replicate … and we thought that it would be fun to be able to tap.”

Another issue that the team ran into earlier was choosing the perfect name for the app.

“I guess we wanted the name to embody a lot of our spirit, so something that’s warm, happy, inclusive,” Kao said. “You want something catchy, not too long, just a lot of consideration went into it.”

But the team also had their share of success as well. For example, the design for their logo — a bright orange circle with “Shareful” written in white letters — came naturally.

“We were trying to figure out a warm color that’s kind of happy and not too intense … and orange just kind of stood out as a natural one that attract people.” Alabi said.

It’s obvious too, through the way they talk about the app and how each of the team members smile at each other, that there’s a special chemistry within the team.

“I think we mesh really well together, and we’re able to utilize all of our strengths … It’s stressful to balance with school and other obligations, but totally worth it,” Kao said.

At the moment, they’re working on the Android app, but before they make major expansions, the team wants to perfect their system.

“Everyone has a little bit of them wanting to exert effort into what they care about, so how can we put all of that together to become that force for good?” Shen said. “We make sure that we are nimble enough … that we can make changes as fast as we can without having to make sure all of the different places are on the same page.”

And with two of the four team members graduating this May there’s still a lot to be done, but they’ve conquered the hardest, yet most gratifying, part of the journey — getting Shareful published. But for Shen, there’s more to Shareful than just the app.

“It’s not about the app at the end of the day, it’s about the people,” Shen said. “So it really helps having that purpose there, it’s something that keeps us grounded … Even as the startup gets thrown around, it’s nice having that purpose there that’s beyond ourselves.”

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