Lee Haider, a North Dakota native, is a student in the Bachelor of Innovation program at UCCS. Haider, along with fellow students Meghan Lunday, Andrew Stevenson and Elijah Salberg, have created Trof, an app that aims to connect strangers around a meal.
“For Millennials and Gen Z, there are thousands of social media apps. But these generations feel more lonely,” Haider said. “What those apps do — they’re going to connect you on a screen. They won’t connect you in person.”
Trof was conceived in an Entrepreneurship 1000 class, which all Bachelor of Innovation students at UCCS must take to earn their degree.
“You have to come up with an idea and pitch it to investors,” Haider said. “Say I just moved here and want to go downtown to eat, but I don’t want to eat alone.”
Lunday, who spent some time in the Navy, said she moved around frequently and found it difficult to meet new people.
“It’s hard to meet people, period,” she said. “But it’s also hard when you’re traveling and you’re not in a place very long and just want to have a meal with somebody.
“There are apps for making groups and committing to groups. But I just want to eat with someone today or grab a beer and not be alone.”
Trof, which went from student project to bona fide business, officially launched early this month at local brewery, Goat Patch.
“At the launch party someone came to talk to us who said Trof reminds him of pub culture,” Haider said. “I think that sums up what we’re trying to do — match people up who share interests who want to get beer and food together.
“Humans have been sharing meals together since the caveman times, that’s how we interact.”
How does it work?
In order to use Trof, which is currently free to download and access at trofapp.com, Stevenson said one only has to create a bio and a meetup at a local eatery, or join an already existing meetup.
Stevenson said the appeal of Trof, among the myriad social media apps in existence, is that the end goal is in-person interaction.
“We’re in a world where we are so much more connected online, but we forget the in-person connections,” he said. “Specifically we want to get past the over-the-phone messaging and have your first interaction be in person.”
Haider said, “We want to get you on our app to get you off our app.”
During the first two months of development, the team tackled how Trof would look and operate.
“We made a wireframe [a website’s skeletal framework] and competed in an international competition at UCCS,” Haider said. “We were two months old and took third place.”
Shortly after that competition, the group was invited to pitch in Denver at the Rockies Venture Club.
“We’ve had a lot of people interested in backing us,” Haider said. “Our mindset initially was: ‘It’s ready. Let’s go pay an app company and develop it.’ We had our heads stuck on that route for three months. Then it hit us — why don’t we build [a minimum viable product]? Elijah can do it. Let’s build it in-house and not even focus on funding right now. Why dilute our equity early?”
Stevenson said Trof was built on a lean startup model.
“Let’s start with something first and get validation from customers,” he said, adding app updates are a continual part of that process.
“Now we’re at almost 100 users, we’ve had meetups,” Haider said. “Now it’s making more sense [to pursue outside funding]. We’ve launched and people are finding the problems and what needs to be fixed, so it would help to have extra hands developing this. Funding makes sense now.”
Stevenson said generating 100 users in a couple weeks is a good first step, but the company’s milestones weren’t set around numbers.
“We’ve hit 100 users in a couple weeks and that’s on Android only,” Stevenson said. “We haven’t even hit iOS. That’s a big milestone.”
The group expects to move to iOS in the next several months.
“That depends on if we get funding and what amount,” Salberg said. “If we don’t get funding, we’ll still pursue it, but it will take longer.”
So far, though, the greatest challenge facing Trof revolves around the schedules of its creators.
“The hardest part is being students and trying to build a startup,” Haider said. “We’re constantly pushing out updates and making the platform better. … But midterms are going on right now too. So how do you balance that time?”
Salberg said the foursome also work jobs outside of Trof.
“Scheduling is hard,” Lunday said. “Getting the four of us together is a challenge and it changes every semester.”
As for the positives?
“Colorado Springs is a place where you can get a hold of anyone very easily,” Haider said. “So when we’re scaling, I can get a hold of Natasha [Main], the executive director at Peak Startup, with just an email.”
Salberg said the startup community is small and personal.
“You know everyone and everyone knows you,” he said.
But, Stevenson added, even if everyone knows each other, oftentimes opportunities for collaboration fall through the cracks because of a lack of communication between startups, incubators and educational institutions.
“The community here is amazing,” he said. “If only it was better connected.”