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Snackpass: Connecting College Students through Food


If there is one thing that collectively gathers all college students studying at college campuses - it’s food. Unfortunately, food options at campuses are either limited or pricey. Not just that, but waiting in lines, spending extra on delivery, and managing a limited budget at the same time can be a hassle for every student.

Kevin Tan, a Yale student himself, also had a taste of the food issues that arise at college and wanted to revamp the experience and make it more worthwhile for all.

So, he and his two partners, Jamie Marshall and Johnatan Cameron created an app called Snackpass - so every student can order take-out from nearby campus restaurants, and socialize at the same time.

Collecting points, sending gifts, and a social media feed are some of the features that make the Snackpass app preferred over the rest. And with three inventors behind the product, the app promises a nutritional, safe, and simplified way to find great food options on a budget. Here’s how the story of Snackpass unfolded.

A Talented Bunch

Kevin Tan, the CEO, and founder of Snackpass was born in 1993 in Ohio. Having a Chinese heritage, he was raised on Chinese food cooked by his mother. Sunday supper was a family tradition at the Tan household, as eating was their way to socially connect.

At the same time, Jamie Marshall, the COO and co-founder of Snackpass today, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1996. She was an intelligent and extremely curious young girl, who showed deep interest in many different fields. In high school, Jamie was one of the best students of her generation and partook in a wide range of activities like becoming her sports team captain and playing instruments in her spare time.

Head of Sales and co-founder of Snackpass, Jonathan Cameron, was also born in Ohio. Interestingly, he and Kevin knew each other before they started working on Sanckpass. He is yet another bright kid of the bunch and always looked to learning new things as a way to satisfy his educational appetite. College Days

Kevin was the first to decide to leave his home and study at the prestigious Yale University. He studied physics there, and also gained knowledge in web development. While at Yale, Kevin was a chef in the students' kitchen, since he took a special interest in food from a very young age. Among other tasks, he was also helping out a friend who owned a pizza place and created a website for his brand so his friend could appeal to a wider audience.

In 2015, Jamie followed in Kevin’s footsteps and also enrolled at Yale University, where she began studying neuroscience. Before she met Kevin at Yale, Jamie also spent a summer at the London School for Economics and Political Science, as well as a 4-month internship in Coach Up in Boston.

Jonathan, on the other hand, had a slightly different career path. After working a year in the whole foods market, he decided to travel to Thailand and enroll at the National Thailand Normal University. While studying there, Jonathan also worked as an English teacher. He returned to Ohio after one year spent at college and got into the Ohio State University to study Asian culture. Following this experience, Jonathan also worked as a sales associate and a sales account manager for Inergroup International and System Sales Inc, both Ohio-based companies.

And then, he got a call from his old friend, Kevin.

Someone Just Sent You Your Favorite Smoothie

Kevin was missing Sunday supper nights with his family. Food, being an important part of his life, left Kevin frustrated especially since he was a student with no decent food options to consider. Of course, he couldn’t afford to order delivery, as it was truly expensive. Going to the restaurant to buy food, on the other hand, required waiting in line and having limited options at times. Plus, it wasn’t all about food but what food represented - a way to bond with others and share the experience.

To help his own discomfort and uneasiness, Kevin started working on an app that would allow users to order food. However, there were already numerous apps similar to his idea, so Kevin knew he had to make something different. He actually first got the idea for Snackpass whilst trying to think of a way to impress the girl he liked.

Kevin knew the girl and also knew her favorite smoothie place was, so he thought it would be great if he could send her a smoothie as a gift. To do that, he needed a designated app, one that would also feature the social component.

Calling All the Food Places!

Kevin initially teamed up with Jonathan to work on their new app. When they launched the first version of Snackpass, it only featured ordering services listed from nearby restaurants, as well as discount information. When Jamie first saw - and used Kevin and Johnatan’s app - she immediately wanted to meet either, and when she did, they offered her a place on their team.

With Kevin’s idea to make the app social, it was only a matter of implementing its top features. With them, the app allows users to: see who is ordering what; recommend places to eat to others; collect points that earned them free foods or drinks; send points or order gifts, and more. All in all the app was beyond practical - but fun as well. It actually helped the restaurants market themselves through the app, only charging 7% from each order.

Despite their initial success, it was tough for the three creators to make it big. Having no funds meant spreading the word of mouth, and flyers became their only marketing tool. The team actually went door to door in restaurants, trying to convince owners to collaborate with them.

There were even cases when they had to help in the restaurant when a large volume of orders took place. Washing blenders in the back and calling out customers and handing food and drinks themselves didn’t sound as cool as creating their app - but it was a necessary means to get their platform out there.

Pass Me the Snack

Snackpass’s popularity amongst Yale students grew by the day. The company’s monthly revenues were rapidly increasing, and, when the school year began, some restaurants even made suitable work adjustments to meet their growing orders and make even more use of the app.

Snackpass did not stop at its home, Yale University, but soon expanded to other campuses as well. After only two years of work, the company managed to spread across a total of 11 different student campuses.

As for the financial empowerment behind it, the company got its first funding from YCombinator, a startup accelerator, less than a year after it was born. At the time, the investment rounded $120.000. Just five months later, the company got $2M from First Round Capital - and that was only the beginning.

An incredible $21 million dollars were invested in Snackpass by the end of 2019. With the lead investor being Andressen Horowitz’s partner - Andrew Chan - many celebrities and known names also showed interest in investing in the platform, including rapper Nas and football player Larry Fitzgerald.

The biggest growth the company saw was in 2021 when an additional $70M was invested by Craft Ventures. The company also witnessed investments by celebrities like actor Kevin Hart, basketball player Draymond Green, the Jonas Brothers, and DJ Steve Aoki.

Snackpass is Looking at the Future

Snackpass’s headquarters are based in San Francisco, California, with Kevin Tan as the company CEO. The brand is spread over 13 campuses nationwide, with more than 500,000 students using it daily.

Also, the company collaborates with well-known brands like Subway, Papa John’s, and Popeye’s. Its future plans are to expand further and even move to campuses located outside urban areas.

The success of Snackpass also led to their two co-founders, Kevin Tan and Jamie Marshall, to be listed in Forbes under 30 report.

The story of Snackpass is not just inspirational, but a moving one as well. Aiming to meet every student’s nutritional needs, whilst extracting the risk of overspending could only be done through knowing your audience and trusting your product. Luckily, Kevin and his team knew exactly what - and whom - they were aiming for.

And it worked like a charm, granting them nationwide recognition and belovedness!