Hooked: Examining the rise of an app

Rachael Garner/Senior Staff

Every new generation of college students brings with it its own new trending apps. We saw the rise and fall of Yik Yak and Whatsgoodly. Dating apps such as Tinder and Bumble continue to dominate the college dating scene. Now, food and drink app Hooked seems to be making its debut.

The college market is oversaturated with burgeoning apps. The success of Hooked may show that the secret to app survival lies in effective initial marketing that eventually results in self-sustainability.

The Hooked enterprise is owned by a group of recent college graduates in their 20s and run entirely by teams of student interns at each affiliated college campus. The app offers daily deals organized according to the GPS location of the user. Students just have to download the app and show the deals at local restaurants to get discounts.

Marketing manager and UC Berkeley senior, Courtney Gielow, and her roommates, Elizabeth Koehler and Megan Gray — also seniors — helped start the Berkeley branch of the Hooked app.

They describe Hooked as a company that runs like a small startup, but its results show something much bigger. Now one of the most prominent food and drink apps for the college population, it’s “hooking” students across the nation.

In the two months that Hooked has been at UC Berkeley, it has gained over 25 percent of the student body as users and delivered 13,000 customers into local restaurants.

Food and drink apps are not uncommon, but their success is. Gray attributes much of Hooked’s growth to its distinct business model — an intern team that rotates each semester.

The students who run the app at each campus do everything from signing up businesses and creating deals to marketing to students.

Gielow described the work environment as relaxed, independent and centered around friendly competition. A few weeks ago, the interns competed with the team at the University of Virginia to see who could get the most downloads and are gearing up for another competition Nov. 10 — National Hooked Day.

The app seems ubiquitous among freshmen because of the interns’ freshman-focused marketing strategy. In this community, it has started to market itself.

But it appears to be relatively unknown among upperclassmen — it hasn’t been as easy to convince them to use the app. “Getting seniors and juniors to download the app took a little more explaining and a little more time,” Gray said.

The team hasn’t stopped trying; it continues to create Facebook events, approach students and speak to campus groups. Their next milestone? A third of students on the app by the end of the semester. Their next target? Sororities and fraternities.


This expansion is where the rotation comes in. While the current intern team has been successful in reaching the freshmen and athletic communities, a new set of interns could tap into different campus groups.

Yet, attracting students is only half the battle. The team also has to recruit businesses to join the app.

“Some people were skeptical of (the app),” Gielow said. “(They would say), ‘I’ve seen so many apps in Berkeley and then they die within a few weeks or months.’ ”

Tony Hernandez, general manager at Gordo’s Taqueria, concurs: “Originally, they came and talked to us a few times before we ever agreed to it; we were kind of on the fence about it.”

Part of Hernandez’s hesitation came from an obstacle largely inherent to Berkeley — high operational costs. The app’s draw is centered around offering substantial deals, which can sometimes be impossible for local businesses.

“Some stores only have a profit margin of 15 percent, and we want their deals to be at least 20 percent off,” Gielow said. “We don’t want super lame deals because otherwise no one will use the app.”

Gielow was able to convince Gordo’s to join the app, and Hernandez is glad they did. Since Gordo’s began using the app, it has delivered 1,300 additional customers to its Telegraph Avenue location.

“We definitely get a lot of students in with the app almost every day now,“ Hernandez said. “Because we’re not a block away from campus, people forget that we’re here, so (promotional events from the app) brought more attention and I’ve definitely noticed we’ve been a little busier now, more consistently.”

He later added, “I think it’s been a win-win for both them and us.”

As the app has gained popularity, it has become more self-sustainable. While the interns initially had to approach restaurants to join, they now get calls from businesses asking to participate.

Perhaps the app’s largest attraction is that it’s free to everyone — both businesses and students — as it relies exclusively on advertisement revenue.

Additionally, Gray emphasized the simplicity of the app and its social appeal. “The idea that you don’t have to put a credit card in … that was the main draw for me,” Gray said. “All you do is click a button and show them. … It’s not like you’re jumping through hoops to get the deal.”

Students have to go to a Hooked-affiliated restaurant to use the deals, incentivizing eating out with friends.

Gielow echoes, “We all want to go out … and the app justifies going out.”

Clara De Martel and Anvi Singhal are writers for the Weekender. Contact them at [email protected] and [email protected]