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The right way to Flip an Thought Into an App

Knack's CEO works on his laptop in the office's headquarters. A glowing click sign hangs on the wall behind him.

Samyr Qureshi is the CEO of Knack, an app that connects college students with tutors in more than 60 college locations across the United States. Qureshi co-founded the app in 2015 with Dennis Hansen and David Soker. Qureshi was photographed at the company's headquarters in Tampa, Florida on February 2, 2020. Chris Zuppa / The Penny Hoarder

Samyr Qureshi and college friend Dennis Hansen came up with an idea for an app that would bring students and tutors together on the same college campus. That was in 2015. Six years later, her company Knack has secured more than $ 1 million in stakes and is worth 20 times more than it was at the beginning. Qureshi, CEO, and Hansen, Chief Product Officer, have also been placed on the Forbes 30 under 30 2020 list, which highlights the country's best innovators.

The steps they took to make Knack a reality provide a game plan for anyone with a viable idea and the drive to turn an idea into an app.

1. Find a need and a solution

Qureshi was taught as a young child and then tutor in college himself. He and Hansen knew that tutors contributed to academic success, but realized that finding one was not always easy. Through research, they learned that the “near peer” concept was successful. The more recently someone has attended a class and learned a concept, the more effectively they can help someone else understand it. They decided to create an app that would suit students on the same campus, one who needs help on a course and another who has recently successfully taken the same course.

2. Do your homework

Airbnb and Uber launched, so Qureshi and Hansen learned all about how these apps started and why they were successful. They also looked at how people found tutors on Craigslist, Wyzant, and other resources, and what worked and what didn't. They decided what their app should offer and researched what it would take to create it.

3. Build a team with the diversity of talent needed

The friends asked David Soker, who had a Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering and knew how to create apps, to join their team. He is also a co-founder and now the chief technology officer at Knack.

"We purposely put our team together to have engineers," said Qureshi. Paying an external company to create the app could easily have cost six-figure amounts.

Sonia Duraimurugan is an MBA student at the University of South Florida who made money tutoring the Knack app. Before using Knack, she relied on food banks for groceries. "I was literally strapped for money," she said. The app gave her the opportunity to earn up to $ 12 an hour. Chris Zuppa / The Penny Hoarder

4. Make use of the university's incubators

Qureshi and Hansen, both University of Florida graduates, have secured a spot in UF's Gator Hatchery, an incubator that provides student workspace, office support, mentors, and other resources for startups. There are hundreds of University Business Incubators (UBIs) across the country in schools of all sizes. Some offer scholarships to help financially students start their business or product. Others have relationships with banks that give entrepreneurs special loans. Most UBIs are able to create networking opportunities for students in order to gain access to potential donors, often alumni. They also have media work teams promoting students and their efforts.

5. Get feedback

Whether it's a product, service, or app, testing a beta version with a broad audience (beyond your mom and your neighbor) is important to understanding what works and what doesn't. Knack launched a beta version at the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida to solve the problems.

6. Enter competitions, apply for grants, and increase equity

UBIs keep students informed of competitions and grant applications. But even if you're not in a UBI, there are plenty of competitions for entrepreneurs and students that will get an idea off the ground and offer opportunities. In 2016, Knack won first place and $ 25,000 in cash in UF's Big Idea Business Plan competition. That led to more interest among investors. Some family members wanted to invest in the company to get it off the ground. The co-founders of Knack sold them shares in exchange for equity. They valued their stocks by comparing their company to the market value of similar existing startups.

7. Put your app in front of the users

To reach an audience of users and tutors, they ran digital ads and marketed the app to students at numerous colleges. One of the most effective marketing tools has been creating a network of ambassadors on the college campus to represent Knack

"We coldly recruited them from job postings, interviewed them, and hired them," said Qureshi. "We gave them $ 300 to $ 500 a month and a list of tactics we tested at UF:" Buy pizza and entice some students to hear about it. "

8. Do you have a part-time job or a full-time job

Qureshi, who had worked for about two years, quit his job and lived on his savings after joining the UF Business Incubator to start Knack. Later, when the company moved to Tampa, he worked on the side for a cookie delivery company to make ends meet.

Last advice: do it

Qureshi's advice to students or graduates who have an idea that could turn into an app is "do it".

“We were pretty naive and that gave us a break. I was a law student so I had no business experience. The majority of our team didn't study business, ”he said. “We learned a lot from mentors. We were shabby and scraped off dollars where we could. "

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance editor and reporter based in St. Petersburg, Florida and the author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps & Lessons Learned.

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