Successful entrepreneurial stories come in the most unlikely places. But those which amaze us the most, are the stories of people who find success outside their field of specialty. Meet Garrett Gee, the person behind the Scan app, which topped the charts for both Android and iOs during its heydays. The app was subsequently sold for $54 million to Snapchat in 2014. Yet, that’s not where Garrett Gee’s story ends. Who would have thought he will take a detour in his successful run as a mobile app developer?
His Life before Scan
Garrett Gee describes himself as an adventure journalist, athlete and a mobile applications developer by interest. He met his wife in 2007, when they were both in a Latter Day Saints Church Mission in Vladivostok, Russia. Courting ensued and the couple decided to get married in 2009. He took Industrial Design as his bachelor’s degree in Brigham Young University, in 2011. He was also a member of the soccer team.
His story as an accidental entrepreneur began when he received a smartphone in 2009. Gee downloaded a bar-scanning application out of interest. However, he was disappointed with its performance, because of the unfriendly GUI and the lagging performance. He deleted the application and tried to find a replacement. When he could not find one, he was inspired to create a better version of it. Gee sought the help of his fellow BYU students, Kirk Ouimet and Ben Turley to found a start-up company, called Scan.
Gee served as the Chief Executive Officer, Ouimet as the Chief Operating Officer and Turley as the Chief Technology Officer. They spent three months in developing a better and faster version of bar scanning applications Gee used to have back then. In one of his interviews, Gee was happy the two lent their help, as they are more technically versed. They launched the first Scan mobile application for iOS, in a student competition in BYU and they won second place.
Next, they sought contacts with angel investors while they were still studying in the university. They were able to raise over $1.7 million as fund seeding. Scan released its first application in February 11 and was downloaded for over 1 million times, three months later. In March 2012, Scan had 9 employees.
The Rise of Scan
Unsurprisingly, Scan became a hit after its public release. It knocked Angry Birds off the charts in terms of number of downloads. It was initially available as a free application, but the guys had to find a sustainable source of cash inflows. Scan has been downloaded for over 25 million times and was used over 27 million times per month in 2012. Eventually, they decided to charge $2 for every download, after a major upgrade in 2013. Revenues from advertisements also came flowing to the firm. Also, at its peak, Scan was the top ranking application in its category. Since then, Scan has been downloaded over 100 million times.
The success of his application stems for the reason that people have to use QR codes once in awhile. Its novelty aside, the convenience of reading QR codes through Scan was bought by investors, so the company received funding from different institutions. The warm public response is also a major factor in this case. The application consistently topped the charts and received glowing reviews from consumers.
The company also expanded the functions of its mobile applications to reading multiple codes, such as NFC, QR codes and other machine recognizable ones. These data were sent online for decoding and the information is delivered back to the user’s smartphone. An accompanying website was also designed, to allow creation of QR codes. Over the next two years, Scan received over $8 million for further improvement of its mobile applications. They made sure they adjusted its specifications to suit customer needs. In December 2012, the company launched the second version of its app, which also supported scanning of EAN, QR, UPC and ISBN codes. There was an overhaul of Scan’s website in August 2013 for a more convenient creation of QR and other codes.
During its heyday, the app was downloaded for as much as 80,000 times on a daily basis. Gee claimed they are making over $60,000 per month from paid purchase and ad revenues. Their team has also appeared on Shark Tank, albeit they didn’t team up with any of the show’s entrepreneurs. Instead, they sold their company to Snapchat for a whopping $54 million.
Gee found himself happy building an empire out of Scan with his team. However, the heat of living in the tech scene caught up with him. He found himself forced to spend less of his time with things that matter the most. He had limited time for his family or for himself. He eventually told his team he will go back in Utah. In addition, Gee never saw himself as a businessman, but he enjoys the creative side of entrepreneurship.
Life after Scan
Gee remained as a BYU student for a while, after Scan’s resounding success. He was designated the team captain in his second year, and left it after a year of playing. He dropped out of school in 2015, after his eligibility as a soccer player expired. As Gee saw the benefits he received at that moment, his need for a bachelor’s degree disappeared. He claimed that he received multiple job offers from blue chip firms after his accomplishment with Scan. On the other hand, his wife Jessica finished her degree at the same university.
He admitted he was not a good student during his stay in BYU. Getting high grades was not his primary target. He enrolled in various courses, but the university was not flexible for each student to design his own curriculum. One of his professors told Gee he won’t get a degree if he keeps on taking subjects that pique his interest. Nonetheless, Gee is keener in learning things.
The couple faced a tough decision after receiving that undisclosed amount of money. They discussed the possibilities of what to do next. They crossed out owning a home and a car, since these are not their priorities, according to an interview in People’s Magazine. Their plan to travel the world started as joke, until it became their real goal.
Gee continued to live a modest life, even after the multi-million dollar sale. His wife and him lived in their apartment for quite a while. Then, they decided to sell all of their belongings for $45,000. He used the proceeds to do what they wanted the most – travel the world. Gee explained that he does not want to spend out all their savings. Hence, whatever was spent on food and accommodation came from these proceeds. He claimed he inherits this line of thinking from his family’s frugal way of living. Gee invested the money he received from the sale of Scan in their financially security. He was relieved, since they’ll be able to take care of their children’s future. He also saw this as a blessing, because he has more time to bond with the kids, instead of living a 9-to-5 life as a salaryman.
While they are currently busy traveling the world, enjoying the scenes is not the only thing they do. They are mostly in low profiles – anonymously giving donations to the ones in need. The Gee family reportedly helped parents of a kid who cannot afford his sports fees and other deeds they preferred to give in private. However, they are also criticized in terms of parenting the kids while having a world tour, despite the rather luxurious life they could live right now. Garrett brushed off these claims, but Jessica was affected at first. Mr. and Mrs. Gee reported that the kids are doing fine in their journey. Of course, the plane ride is not easy, but they somehow survived raising them even without a nanny.
They also pledged to donate LASIK eye surgery to five people in Saltwater City, Utah. Understandably, a lot of requests for assistance came down. Their philanthropist stint came from their belief of looking for others instead of focusing to themselves. They wanted to inspire people, and that’s what they think is important at the end of the day. The Gee family initially planned their travel to last for six months. They visited exotic places, like Bali, Tahiti and Tonga, as a part of their itinerary. However, they took a liking to their journey and they extended the schedule for another three months. That was also supported by the fact that the $45,000 pocket money hasn’t dried up yet.
Perhaps, after the sale of Scan, Garrett realized that a thing he poured so much heart and soul into can disappear. He remembered what the CEO of AngelList told him – to build a brand around him, while he’s still young. Gee took these words in his heart and started a business to earn income while traveling. The family remained active on Instagram and Youtube as The Bucket List Family. They regularly update their journey photos and videos, and they amassed over 93,000 followers. These accounts made their nomadic lifestyle sustainable, at least for a while.
The journey was not without risks, though. Garrett got the Zika virus in Dominica and Jessica accidentally slipped while taking a shower. The transpacific flight is also not exactly kind with the kids. Nonetheless, the pros far outweigh cons in their journey. The Bucket List Family experienced things normally seen in textbooks. They have been into places many of us can only dream about. This journey also enabled him to build the kind of business he wants for now and a personal brand no one can take away.
Garrett Gee finally left Scan in 2015 to pursue his family’s penchant for world traveling. He said on his family blog that he is currently planning to develop a new app while in their journey. Once they go back in the US, he will continue his career in technological development, even without the need of a college degree. For his next application, investors are eagerly waiting, but he turned down their offers.
The Bucket List Family intends to focus on their traveling for an extended time. Gee admits that the kind of life they’ve adopted is not for everyone, but he encourages traveling once in awhile. “I think life is better when you’re trying new things.” he added. Given the photos they regularly post on their social media accounts, it remains unknown if or when they’ll end their vacation.
His former company, Scan, has also grown to a multi-million dollar firm, after its sale to Snapchat. Chasing the same success twice might be fatal, but let’s just see what he plans next to revolutionize the world of mobile application.
If you are a budding entrepreneur, inspiration is the very first thing you need to succeed. Gee realized he is not satisfied with an existing product, so he created a better one. Scan would not be a multi-million dollar firm, if Gee wouldn’t have looked for people who can deliver his vision. Once you are in the limelight of success, never stop improving your product. Many applications see their rise and fall, on both iTunes and Playstore, because of their unresponsive updates. Scan improved through the years and people remained hooked to its premise.
Moreover, the road to success comes with some bumps and turns, as we learn in his life. Garrett Gee had some taste of it at first try, through the groundbreaking Scan. He soon realized this well-worn road is not for him and soon left the world of mobile app development. He chose not to conform with the conventional route to success and built his own tracks. More importantly, at the end of the day, the Bucket List Family is more than glad to inspire people with their deeds.
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