Ah college, the days of waking up at noon, drinking cheap beer out of a can, and making irresponsible decisions.
I still do two of those things, but I’ll leave which two a mystery.
Blend is a mobile app for college students that gives them free stuff in exchange for doing college-y things and sharing photos of them. The company has raised $1.325 million in seed funding to continue its national expansion.
“Blend’s platform introduces a unique model on how things are advertised on social media, and specifically to millennials,” CEO and cofounder Akash Nigam told VentureBeat. “Blend’s model allows relevant, college-focused brands to reach this demographic in a cool and innovative manner. It’s not scammy and there are no gimmicks. College students are being marketed to without them even knowing it.”
Blend sets a new theme for each day. The example the company gave me was “Tailgate Saturday.” Students share photos related to that theme and earn “snaps” from their peers. These snaps are used to redeem gifts from popular college brands.
Young as they may be, I believe college students know a marketing campaign when they see one. Slipping a gift card offer into a photo feed is hardly ground-breaking, but perhaps its just that college students are uniquely primed to get excited about something like this.
I spent a week during my senior year subsisting off cheese cubes from end-of-year parties, and I remember how thrilling “free” can be at that time in your life.
Blend also appeals to students because it gives them a place to share photos that is much less public than Facebook. Their grandmother won’t see a picture of little Julie kneeling below a beer bong, and a future employer doesn’t have to know about that time you fell while trying to learn a hip hop dance routine with your roommates (this never happened to me).
“College is an experience like no other,” Nigam said. “We created Blend to help all students share their unique college experiences exclusively with their peers. Not with their parents, not with their younger siblings, or professors. In the process, we’ve developed a new advertising model that is both very social and very targeted.”
Brands benefit from access to this key demographic.
Nigam said that Blend is “very discerning” about the brands it picks and only works with brands that will appeal to the students. However students who don’t spend their days in polo shirts may not find too much to their liking.
He also said that college is “the best four years of their lives,” which for the students sake I hope isn’t true.
Blend is currently active on 30 campuses around the country, including the University of Michigan, University of Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, University of Alabama, University of Texas, Duke, and UCLA.
Expansion is driven by Blend’s army of 150 “influencers” who apparently run around campuses in full-bodied mesh suits and hold events to engage students. These “guerrilla marketing tactics,” as Blend calls them, seem to be successful in signing up students, and the startup claims the user base is growing by 50% on a weekly basis.
Nigam and cofounder Matt Geiger grew up in the Palo Alto area. Nigam and Geiger both ended up dropping out of the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to build Blend. Geiger met third cofounder Evan Rosenbaum at Wharton.
Nigam said the goal is to get every college student in the U.S. and internationally on Blend. New Enterprise Associates partner Kittu Kolluri, CEO of VuClip Nickhil Jakatdar, former CEO of Qik Ramu Sunkara, and Cristian Burci of the Digital Catalyst Fund contributed to the round.
The premise and the brand offerings seemed a rather thin to me. I am ever-skeptical of any new photo apps, but college students are known for being active engagers with social media and early adopters of new apps. Facebook got started on college campuses, and college kids love thriving apps like Snapchat and Tinder.
Maybe Blend will seriously takeoff and I have just gotten old. College was only five years ago, but looking at all these screen shots of frat parties and tailgates makes me feel old.