Dubai (CNN) – From calling and messaging friends and family to searching for memes on social media, there are endless distractions that keep young people glued to their phones.
Craig Fernandes is on a mission to change that. “When I was in college, I noticed that a lot of students in class were always on their phones,” he says, “and I wanted to do something about it.”
Fernandes, 24, is the co-founder and CEO of Lock & Stock, a free app that rewards students for not using their phones during class. Users collect a coin within the application called “keys”, and earn a key for every minute that their phone is locked. These keys can be exchanged for prizes, discounts and offers.
Fight digital addiction
“Lock & Stock was actually launched to help students fight digital addiction,” says Fernandes, who is based in Dubai. With more than 100,000 registered users from more than 25 countries, Fernandes says the app has evolved to make education “more accessible and affordable for students.”
Students can save their keys to apply for a scholarship at one of the 1,200 Lock & Stock partner universities. These include almost all the universities in the United Arab Emirates, half of those in Malaysia and Turkey, 300 in the United States, and 300 in Canada.
Fernandes says that an application costs about 300 keys and that the average scholarship discounts about 10% of tuition fees, but can save up to 50% in four years.
The app issued more than a million dollars in scholarship funds in 2020 alone. “We tell students, ‘You don’t have to put off your dreams because you can’t afford the degree where you want to study. We will help you », says Fernandes.
Gershwyn Lobo is a 21-year-old student at the American College in Dubai. He has been using Lock & Stock since 2018. “I use the app every day to study,” he says. “If I have a job, I lock the phone so no one bothers me.”
Lobo says that he applied to the university through the app because it offered him a 25% discount on tuition. “It cut a lot down and made it affordable for me,” he says.
Fernandes claims that the average user locks their phone for 51 minutes at a time, and that Lock & Stock users have accumulated 1,151 years of offline time since the app launched in 2017.
Lock & Stock isn’t the first company to encourage students not to use their phones. Other apps like Pocket Points in the United States and Hold in Norway offer students discounts for locking their phone.
Lock & Stock is currently associated with more than 1,000 brands, including Adidas, Sephora beauty store and Tim Hortons fast food chain, and students can exchange keys for a number of discounts. Rewards costs can vary, but an offer to buy a coffee at Tim Hortons, for example, would cost about 60 keys.
Fernandes claims that most of Lock & Stock’s revenue comes from universities, which pay for exposure on its platform, as well as for promotional campaigns and marketing activities with partner brands.
“The ages (between) 14 and 24 is a notoriously difficult demographic to grasp,” says Fernandes. “Every partner that works with Lock & Stock, from coffee shops to movie chains to e-commerce companies and universities, works with us to achieve better exposure and performance within the student demographic.”
Young businessman, young team
Fernandes, who grew up in Dubai, was just 20 years old when he created Lock & Stock. “Back then, I didn’t even have facial hair. I was 20 years old, but it looked like I was 15, ”he laughs. Because of his age, Fernandes says finding investors and universities to partner with was challenging. “If you are an entrepreneur, they expect you to be older, 40, 45, 50 (and) have 20 years of experience.”
He reflects on his encounter with big companies like Amazon and Starbucks. “They looked at me and said, ‘Who is this guy?” Four years later, Fernandes says he continues to receive the same reaction. “It’s an uphill battle that you have to climb,” he says.
Fernandes says he is proud of the youth of his team. “To build a company and create products for students, we have to keep the heart and soul of this young company,” he says. The average age of employees is 23 years old. “I am 24 years old, but I am one of the oldest in the company,” jokes Fernandes.
It has not been an easy road, but Fernandes believes he is making an impact through Lock & Stock.
“I haven’t had two consecutive days off in four years,” he says. “I regret? No, because every day when we get to work… when we count our numbers and see the number of lives we’ve had a real impact on, it makes it all worthwhile.