New app, Oxford Guru, aims to change the way people see Oxford
By John Touloupis
Special to the EAGLE
Gathered around a dark, wooden coffee table in their room in their fraternity house, three Ole Miss students work on an ambitious plan to alter the way people navigate Oxford.
Blaine Sullivan, a sophomore entrepreneurship major from Florida, walks out of the 14 by 14-foot room, stepping on dirty clothes and crushed cans of Natural Light to take a phone call from their app developer, Darren Nelson.
Sophomore marketing and corporate relations major Dylan Kaplan, nicknamed the California Cowboy, scans Excel spreadsheets with dozens of listings of restaurants, shops and businesses. He pounds his keyboard while plugging essential information like store hours and phone numbers, along with a brief description of the store into Google calendar.
Memphis native Will Courtney, a sophomore public policy leadership major, lounges on his camo couch, sifting through his contacts on his iPhone trying to decide who he should reach out to for branding help.
“We need people with a big following,” Courtney said. “We need people big on campus or who have huge followings on social media.”
Together, the trio is in the midst of one of their biweekly founder’s meetings.
Their app, Oxford Guru, launched on the app store Saturday, Oct. 21, in honor of the Rebel’s biggest home game of the year against LSU.
“It’s a synthesis of Oxford. It literally has everything you need two clicks away,” Sullivan said. “Whether it’s live events, which bars are hosting what bands, food and drink specials, clothing sales, it doesn’t matter. Everything is on there.”
Back in 2011, Sullivan’s father, J.D. Sullivan, created the original Oxford Guru Facebook page with the hope an app would be on the way. However, Sullivan’s original software company Town Wizard struggled to create the app he wanted.
“J.D. made the Facebook page anticipating the app would come with it,” Courtney said. “But it wasn’t what they were looking for, it wasn’t what they wanted.”
The older Sullivan and his partner, Mike Ragsdale, owner of 30A.com and the 30A app, worked with the developer Destin Shines to create their own app.
“They wanted their app and technology to be exactly what they wanted,” Sullivan said.
When the younger Sullivan enrolled at Ole Miss last fall for his freshman year, the father and son duo were ready to bring their patent tested and approved technology back to Oxford.
“It was nearly impossible to run it from Florida,” Kaplan said. “You don’t know what’s going on. But it was clear from the small amount of time the Facebook page was up there was potential. The potential was always here, now we just have the app.”
This past spring, Sullivan started working on plans to launch the app when he returned to school.
“I told my dad I was going to take it and make it better. The software wasn’t good when they had it,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t live here and he doesn’t how to reach kids our age. There were disadvantages to it. I know it can work in this town because there is nothing like it.”
Sullivan reached out to Courtney to see where his interest was near the end of finals.
“Blaine told me he had an opportunity for us. It’s here and it can be ours, we don’t know anything about it and it’s going to be a ton of work,” Courtney said. “But we can make it work.”
In his pitch to Courtney, Sullivan explained all the baby blue stickers with 30A seen frequently on cars is actually an app. Those stickers, which are seen in cars from Texas, to Tennessee, to North Carolina, were all part of Ragsdale’s doing, along with the 30A website and app.
“When I heard Mike Ragsdale would be mentoring us through this process, I knew it was going to work,” Courtney said. “When you figure out something you’ve grown up seeing for seven years every time I’m in Seaside, Memphis or Atlanta, is actually a really successful app, the decision to come on board was a no-brainer.”
Sullivan and Courtney spoke on and off during the summer to discuss plans for the app. They met over black coffee and mocha frappuccinos at Starbucks with their developer Nelson to hash out different design templates.
“We looked at the 30A app and picked the pieces we wanted and liked for our own app. We created a rough template at that table,” Sullivan said. “We knew we wanted live events and specials in the beginning.”
While Nelson went to work on designing the app and acquiring the necessary Apple agreements and licensing, Sullivan stumbled into finding a new partner to bring to the team just before classes started.
“Blaine called me to come over because he got me a belt buckle from his time in Montana this summer,” Kaplan said. “We were just catching up and talking when he mentioned Oxford Guru and his plans for this new app.”
What was supposed to be a five-minute conversation turned into a two-hour idea breakout session? For the next three days, Kaplan kept blowing up Sullivan’s phone with ideas for the app along with merchandising opportunities.
“The reason everyone is here is that they can bring something to the table no one else can,” Sullivan said. “We’re all best friends and know each other on a personal level. Everyone has something they’re good at.”
For the past two months, Sullivan, Courtney, and Kaplan have tirelessly worked on putting the finishing touches on the app.
The app contains a Rolodex of restaurants and bars in Oxford to help local students try something new or a prospective family dine on the best local flavor.
The shopping section ensures users will be gameday ready when women are looking for the perfect powder blue outfit or men realize they have lost their red gameday polo and need a new one.
Along with local weather, feature news stories, and a gallery of the best pictures in Oxford, the key to Oxford Guru’s success is the events and specials tabs.
“Through a push notification, we can let people on the app know what’s going and where ” Sullivan said. “If we send a notification saying ‘No cover at Roosters when you check-in on Oxford Guru’ to users on the app, that’s a win-win for everyone. The patrons save money on covers and can spend more at the bars, and the bars see an increase in the volume of traffic coming through their doors.”
The trio knows the biggest challenge they face is brand awareness and marketing themselves to everyone, but they rest easy knowing the model was proven successful.
“The hardest part of the app was accommodating everyone, but that’s what we’ve done with the app. Whether you’re young or old, a student or parent, this app is for everyone,” Courtney said.
All the technology was patent tested and proven in 30A. In a small town like Oxford with a close-knit, intertwined college like Ole Miss, the trio remain confident it’s only a matter of time until their app catches on the same way.
“I want it to be the first thing anyone in this town checks to find out local information,” Sullivan said. “It’s going to change Oxford.”