2019 SVP Startup Profile: Zapp! FinTech
Joshua Hong ‘21 is an entrepreneur on a mission, striving to eliminate the economic inefficiencies of loose change through his venture Zapp! FinTech.
Zapp is one of the innovative startups presenting at our Summer Venture Showcase on Thursday, July 25 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. I spoke with Joshua about the development of Zapp and his experience in the Summer Venture Program. Here are the highlights of our interview:
Tell me a bit about yourself and how you started Zapp!
Prior to entering Babson to pursue my entrepreneurial passions, I spent time in both Korea and Arkansas growing up. In high school I was fascinated with optimizing my personal finance, and it was through one of my personal finance experiences that I came across the problem of loose change. I became a fervent user of cash to avoid making impulse debit card purchases and accumulating credit card debt. While using cash has continued to help my finances, the main drawback is the change I receive with each purchase. It really hit me when I received ninety-eight cents back in change after buying lunch one day; everytime I used cash and received change I was losing purchasing power because of how difficult it was to use the coins I was getting back! Even if I saved them in a coin jar at home, cashing out with a CoinStar machine would further limit the value of the coins once the machine fee had been deducted. With the encouragement of my friends, I started researching better solutions to loose change two and a half years ago and really began accelerating the development of Zapp as a venture about a year ago.
How does Zapp! work, and what value does Zapp! provide to consumers?
Zapp’s system of eliminating loose change involves business locations giving customers the choice between their change or one of our redeemable Zapp cards. Regardless of how much change they would receive, the Zapp card would be worth $1 and the store owner would keep the change if the customer chooses the card. Each Zapp card features a unique QR code which can be redeemed in the web app we are developing. App users will have the choice of how to redeem the Zapp value after they’ve scanned $25 in cards, which then can be used to purchase gift cards or make charity contributions within the app. I’m sure you’re wondering: how is this profitable for participating business owners? The idea is that users would be able to exchange Zapp value for gift cards to the participating stores, resulting in repeated business. We think this is way better than loose change for both sides of the transaction!
What activity or resource from SVP has helped you the most so far?
The Lunch & Learn sessions have really helped me because the expert speakers each shared valuable perspectives. As a startup founder, you are initially forced to do everything on your own: legal, finance, human resources, everything. So to have these experts come in and share their perspectives on each subject has prevented me from stumbling through each subject alone. I was especially motivated by Diane Hessan’s Lunch & Learn talk for us; her stories of entrepreneurial resilience inspired me to work even harder on my business!
In what ways have your SVP peers and mentors supported you and your venture?
My SVP peers have helped me by holding me accountable. We’ll all work in our Boston space until 4:30pm, and nobody’s ever looking at the clock. Everyone’s working hard on their businesses and we all motivate each other. Even though most of my SVP peers are in different industries than me, their advice and suggestions have been valuable as I develop my business. I am grateful for the mentorship of the program director Bob Stringer, who gave me the advice to excel as a person before aiming to build anything valuable as an entrepreneur.
To have been connected with SVP’s tech-savvy advisor Clynton Caines has been extremely valuable, as he has provided phenomenal technical insight which helped us improve Zapp’s QR code and web app redemption system.
What major milestones are accomplishments do you hope to achieve during your time at SVP or have you reached any already?
What I wanted to achieve coming into SVP was the implementation of a beta test at a business location, and we have since pivoted towards building a very simple web app that allows users to sign up in and redeem their dollar through scanning a QR code. This has evolved into a pilot program meant to determine if businesses will benefit from using our service. I have visited a lot of local businesses, explaining and demoing my product for the store owners and cashiers.
Another milestone for me was finding my co-founder Maverlyn Tan, who is a full-time intern for Zapp. She took on the marketing and the communication of Zapp, which helped me a lot because that had been an area of weakness for me. She has a phenomenal background in consulting and marketing, and her attention to detail provides balance to my action-oriented work style.
What is a valuable challenge or learning experience you have faced as a founder?
A valuable challenge which I have faced as a founder has been accepting and balancing the various responsibilities which come with building a startup. Even though you might not have any background in certain aspects of your business, I have found that you have to be willing to learn and adapt for your business to succeed. I had no previous tech knowledge or marketing experience, but because I was passionate about building Zapp I was motivated to learn the basics of coding and marketing which was a worthwhile challenge for me.
SVP ventures commute to Boston to our workspace at WeWork as well as the Babson Boston campus. What do you like to do for fun in Boston, and do you have any restaurant recommendations?
I love to ride my electric skateboard through the city during the beautiful summer days! I especially like visiting Allston for the South Korean cuisine. Although its name is French, Tous les Jours is an amazing South Korean bakery there. Mala is great Chinese restaurant in this same area where you can split a great meal between four people because they give you so much food!
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, or for yourself at an earlier stage?
Being an entrepreneur is considered “sexy” in our society right now, but people forget that being an entrepreneur is more of a marathon than a sprint. You have to be persistent even through the lowest points of the business. During SVP I was offered the advice that “An entrepreneur’s job is to wake up every morning and pivot!” I thought that was so funny and so relevant because the entrepreneur’s marathon is never a straight line, but a zig zag filled with pivots. Pivoting is essential, and entrepreneurs need to be prepared to make changes to their business models in order to grow.
Where can we find Zapp online?
ZappFinTech.co is our informational website where you can learn about our processes and how our services benefit both consumers and business locations. Additionally, we have an operational website athttps://zappthecoins.com/ where prospective users can demo the basics of some of our web app technology. On social media, we are @zappfintech.co on Instagram and @zappfintech on Facebook.
If you enjoyed learning about Josh and Maverlyn’s entrepreneurial journey developing Zapp, be sure to stay tuned for more SVP venture profile blogs! To meet the entire SVP cohort and celebrate their progress, join us for the Summer Venture Showcase on Thursday, July 25th. RSVP at this link.