EdRover: A Compelling Location-based Service for School Boosters

By Adena Schutzberg


I’ve said it and the stats confirm it: location-based services are simply not compelling enough, yet, to attract more than about 4% of U.S. adult online users. But there are some bright spots for those who find the idea of “mayor of Starbucks” or free basketball tickets uninteresting. One I noted more than a year ago, CauseWorld, ties “check-ins” to donations to charities. The latest entry into this “check-in for others” space is edRover (APB coverage). The “ed” here is “education” while the “Rover” refers to the “charity treasure hunt” aspect of the application.
I spoke at length to Tania Mulry, the creator of the app, who has a background in location-based services dating back to “ATM finders.” She was at MasterCard and was involved with that company’s finder app as it moved from MapQuest to MapInfo technology. She observed that users of the finder app “enjoyed the technology.” She clarifies: it was compelling and “did the job” for the user. After a stint with the mobile ad firm, ipsh!, she found a match for her expertise and her passion: linking the excitement of LBS type check-in apps with the need for education funding.
Interestingly, Mulry is not a big user of Foursquare. She uses it as a research tool, rather than as an everyday habit. She sees it, and apps like it, as having lots of potential that has yet to be well exploited. And she plans to do just that with edRover. In her community, parents dutifully collect box tops. Each one is worth 10 cents. Volunteers spend hundreds of hours campaigning for more box tops and sorting the ones that come in. How much income is raised each year for the local school? $1,000. That’s a lot of work for a small return, she admits, but clearly the parents are willing to put in the time and effort.
The trick, per Mulry, is harnessing that energy, and sustaining it, via a new channel: the smartphone. Most moms have smartphones, so the vision is to get them to fundraise via location-based services. Since many of these mobile users may be new to, or concerned about, LBS apps, edRover offers a “no sharing” or “share anonymously” option, alongside the ability to connect check-ins to Facebook and Twitter and leave comments and reviews.
The edRover pitch is pretty straightforward: users can go through edRover to either make a purchase from one of the participating vendors or check-in at sponsored locations to generate a donation toward educational supplies for a selected school or classroom. As edRover prepares for launch about 60 merchants are on board.
How edRover works in practice is not that different from other LBS apps with rewards:
  1. Download and install the app.
  2. Completing a brief registration.
  3. Fire up the app while out and about to access a list of promotional offers from participating merchants in the area.
  4. Check-in at those locations for a standard donation or buy via the app for a percentage-of-purchase donation.
  5. Funds will be allocated to “wishlist” items identified by the user’s selected school or specific teacher on ClassWish.org.
The location connection is broader than just a merchant’s location. As an example, Murly suggests, “You might see an ad for a national pet store while at the dog park.” 
The edRover app is mainly aimed at individuals who already support education funding for their own family’s schools. As Mulry points out, these are the people who are tapped regularly to buy wrapping paper, candy, cheese and sausage, and the like, for the various fundraisers. About 90% of parents buy those sorts of things and just 49% of the price goes to the school. With edRover, the starting percentage going to the school is 80% of merchant donated funds. Mulry hopes that percentage will rise over time.
I asked Mulry about her experience with CauseWorld, a check-in app that gives money to charity. She noted she was very excited about it initially but found over time it was not compelling. Why? “The causes were too generic.” Icons like “support water” or “give food” were not as meaningful as donations to a charity to which she might have a direct or even geographic connection. She feels the connection to education in general and a specific school or project will be far more sustainable in the long run.
While the current launch is the first order of business, Mulry has lots of ideas for the future. Right now edRover is a standalone app, but she’s hopeful that in time it may have an API and be connected into specific branded apps and into more generic LBS apps like Gowalla and Foursquare. Also noteworthy: a vision for a student ambassador program where students can solicit local businesses as sponsors in exchange for scholarship opportunities for college.
I can certainly see how, with the right marketing, and especially with the power of the mommy blogging network, edRover could be a gateway app into location-based services. The edRover app is currently available in the Apple AppStore (iTunes link) and an Android version is planned.

Published Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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