BYU student sells app to Snapchat for $54 million

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05 23:09:3
Garrett Gee takes the ball down the field against REAL Colorado. Gee developed an app that was bought by Snapchat. (Ari Davis)

The twenty-six-year-old BYU men’s soccer captain is also the brains behind a $54 million app.

The Scan, Inc. app recognizes both QR codes and barcode, allowing people to buy items with just a scan and alerting customers of price drops for certain items. Gee’s conscientious design paid off; within six months Scan, Inc. passed 1 million downloads, ranking among the top 25 apps.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Gee said. “At first I was just excited to have something that I had thought of, designed and worked on live in the app store. I thought that was cool — if the story would have ended there I was feeling pretty good about myself. When it started to get downloads I thought that 2,000 was cool; I thought 10,000 was crazy, and then it just got to the point where I thought that this was out of control when it started to get a download every second.”

The idea developed when Garrett Gee returned from his mission and bought his first smartphone, he was not pleased with the QR code scanners available on the app store. He hoped to find one that was fast and easy to use but was disappointed with each app he downloaded.

The up-and-coming tech entrepreneur decided to develop his own scanning app while at BYU. The university didn’t offer an app-building class, so he found graphic design and computer science classes that taught him the skills he needed.

Gee took a couple of business classes, such as Introduction to Entrepreneurship, from BYU adjunct professor John Richards, to learn more. “Garrett took my class three times,” Richards said. “When I asked him why, he said, ‘Because I am here for an education, not a degree.’ He didn’t know what the word ‘entrepreneur’ meant when he met me in the first class. He took to it like water. He is a design genius.”

If Gee was unable to learn what he needed in class he would spend time researching on the web. He recruited Ben Turley and Kirk Ouimet, two information systems upperclassman, to help him develop the app.

“I was that naive freshman who had a cool idea but didn’t know anything, and they were both the legit seniors with awesome reputations of being the best on campus,” Gee said. “I knew that I wanted to work with them, but they didn’t really know that they wanted to work with me.”

Gee couldn’t afford to pay Turley and Ouimet, so he offered them partnerships in the company. They launched the app after three months of teamwork.

With the app’s success, potential investors invited Gee out to San Francisco to meet with them. Gee made the San Francisco trip more than 55 times in a 2-month period. “It was fun picking Garrett up from the airport late at night every few days to hear the fun stories of him pitching to these big San Francisco investors,” said Jessica Gee, Gee’s wife.

Meeting with investors required a different skill set, he found, and he learned how to pitch a product and how to act in professional settings. He was still enrolled in classes at this time, as well as playing on the soccer team. While on the road with the team, he wasn’t allowed to take phone calls; but with important investors, like Google, calling him to discuss business matters he had to make things work.

“I was sure that on Google’s end of the phone they thought that I was some professional businessman talking to them at his office desk,” Gee said. “But in reality I was just a college kid under a pile of sweaty soccer bags trying to have a conversation in secret.”

Gee’s hard work paid off, and he attracted investors such as Google; Boston Celtics co-owner Jim Pallotta; and Lady Gaga’s manager, Troy Carter. But they were not the only interested parties.

In December 2014, Snapchat acquired Scan, Inc. for $54 million. The business transaction was confidential, and Gee wasn’t allowed to tell anyone — even his parents. But in December 2014, details of the transaction leaked due to the hacking of Sony Pictures.

Gee’s life has changed over the past couple of years, but he still tries to stay true to himself and focused on his family. As both a husband and father to two children, he lives in a small campus apartment and tries to be frugal. This year is his last year playing for the soccer team, and he has big plans for after the season.

His plans include taking some time off to travel with his family. They will travel around the world to places such as Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia and Bali. Gee will keep a family travel blog (Thebucketlistfamily.com) for those who want to follow his families adventures while abroad.

Upon his return to the U.S., Gee will continue developing a new app and strengthening his business contacts.

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