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BYU student parlays app idea into a life-changer

VINEYARD, Utah County — Garrett Gee is an unlikely technology entrepreneur.

After serving an LDS Church mission, Gee enrolled at BYU in 2011, eventually majoring in industrial design.

The Utah County native bought his first smartphone and was downloading apps that he felt might be useful. One app of particular interest to him was designed to scan and read UPC barcodes used to purchase virtually every retail product available.

“I downloaded a specific app, but it was quite ugly and I didn’t like it," said Gee, 26, "so I deleted it and tried to find a different one that would do barcode scanning the way I wanted it to."

As it happened, he was unable to find one to his liking, so he thought, “Maybe I should try to design a scanning app that is better … and faster.”

Gee spent the next six months working to develop a more user-friendly mobile scanning application. He also recruited two classmates, Ben Turley and Kirk Ouimet, to lend their expertise to his endeavor.

“They were both older and more experienced than I was, and technically (advanced),” Gee said.

About three months later, the trio had completed the app. It was made available on iTunes where it was downloaded more than once per second, knocking "Angry Birds" off the App Store top 10 chart.

Not bad for a first foray into application development.

“I remember that very exciting day when something I had built was on the real-life App Store,” Gee said. “I thought that was so cool.”

Though the app was highly rated, it initially didn’t result into much in the way of remuneration because it was free to download. But the company, Scan Inc., raised more than $8 million in investor funding over the next two years and was able to upgrade the original app by adding “much-requested features,” Gee said, and it became a paid app costing $2 per download.

“It became the No. 1 paid app in our category in the entire world,” he said.

At the time, revenues rose to $60,000 per month, Gee noted.

Gee and his co-founders were invited to show the app on the TV show “Shark Tank,” though they decided not to partner with any of the show's entrepreneurs. In December 2014, they sold Scan Inc. to Snapchat for $54 million.

Even after splitting the money among his partners and equity investors, Gee was left with a tidy sum, allowing him and his young family to have financial security for years to come, he said.

“I made the quick and easy decision to put it away and keep it safe, make wise investments and keep on living my life as a frugal (college student),” Gee said.

Not having to worry about money has been a “blessing,” he said, particularly as he considers his family’s long-term future.

“We’ll be able to take care of our children, put food on the table and give them opportunities to pursue activities (and interests) that are available to them,” Gee said. “It also affords us the opportunity to be a very close family … spending lots of quality time together, instead of me having to go into an office all the time (for work).”

Currently, Gee is still a student at BYU living in a modest apartment with his wife and two children, ages 3 years and 6 months. But he said that he plans to drop out of school when his soccer eligibility runs out this year, and he's already working on his next project.

Gee walked on to the BYU men's soccer team during his second year in school and eventually was named as a team captain.

“For me personally, in my situation, I feel less of a need for that degree because I’m seeing the benefits without it,” Gee explained, adding that he has had multiple job offers from prominent companies based on the success of this first app.

Gee said he plans to continue on the technology development career path after taking some time off to travel with his wife and kids.

“We’re going to leave behind our apartment and most of the belongings that we have … and do a tour around the world, going from Tonga to New Zealand to Australia to Bali (Indonesia) to Thailand, Vietnam, and continuing onward, just bouncing around tropical locations around the world,” he said.

The proceeds from selling their possessions will go to pay for food and accommodations on the trip, so their excursion will be done "on the cheap" rather than at great expense, he explained.

"Part of the reason we're selling everything we own, even though we don't need to, is so we don't dip into our savings in any way. We're going to be totally self-sufficient," he said. "For me, because of my family's history, there is a big feeling of being frugal and careful with this money."

With no specific timetable, Gee said he and his family will take as much time as needed to explore the places they find of interest.

Upon returning to the U.S., Gee plans to continue working on his next app development project and reconnecting with some of the business contacts he has made since launching the scan app.

For now, Gee said he wants to carry on with his ideas for new business opportunities rather than working for someone else.

“I have plans to continue building more apps,” he said. “It’s a lot more exciting to take some of my own ideas and bring them to life.”


Twitter: JasenLee1