From calling and messaging friends and family to scouring memes on social media, there are endless distractions keeping young people glued to their cell phones.
Craig Fernandes is on a mission to change that. “When I was in university, I noticed that a lot of students in class were always on their phones,” he says, “and I wanted to do something about that.”
Fernandes, 24, is the co-founder and CEO of Lock&Stock, a free app that rewards students for staying off their phones during class. Users collect in-app currency called “keys” – earning one key for every minute their phone is locked. These keys can be redeemed for prizes, discounts and offers.
Fighting 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 over 25 countries, Fernandes says the app has evolved into making education “more accessible and affordable for students.”
Students can save up their keys to apply for a scholarship at one of the 1,200 universities partnered with Lock&Stock. These include nearly every university in the United Arab Emirates, half the universities in Malaysia and Turkey, 300 in the US and 300 in Canada.
Fernandes says an application costs around 300 keys and the average scholarship takes roughly 10% off tuition fees, but can save as much as 50% over four years.
The app issued more than $1 million in scholarship funds in 2020 alone. “We tell students, ‘you don’t have to put your dreams on hold because you can’t afford to study where you want to study. We will help you,” Fernandes says.
Gershwyn Lobo is a 21-year-old student at the American College of Dubai. He’s been using Lock&Stock since 2018. “I use the app daily to study,” he says. “If I have work I lock my phone so nobody can disturb me.”
Lobo says he applied for university through the app because it offered him a 25% discount on his school fees. “It reduced a huge chunk and made it affordable for me,” he says.
Fernandes says the average user locks their phone for 51 minutes at a time, and that Lock&Stock users have racked up 1,151 years of offline time since the app launched in 2017.
Lock&Stock isn’t the first company to incentivize students to stay off their phones. Other apps like Pocket Points, in the US, and Hold, from Norway, offer students discounts for locking their phone.
Lock&Stock is currently partnered with more than 1,000 brands, including Adidas, beauty retailer Sephora, and fast food chain Tim Hortons, and students can redeem keys for a range of discounts. Reward costs can vary, but a buy-one-get-one free offer for coffee at Tim Hortons, for example, would cost around 60 keys.
Fernandes says most of Lock&Stock’s revenue comes from universities who pay for exposure on their platform, as well as promotional campaigns and marketing activities with partner brands.
“The ages of (between) 14 and 24 is a notoriously hard demographic to target,” Fernandes says. “All partners who work with Lock&Stock, from coffee shops to cinema chains to e-commerce companies to universities and colleges, are all working with us for better exposure and performance within the student demographic.”
Young entrepreneur, young team
Fernandes, who grew up in Dubai, was just 20 years old when he started Lock&Stock. “Back then, I didn’t even have facial hair. I was 20, but I looked like I was 15,” he laughs. Because of his age, Fernandes says finding investors and universities to partner with was a challenge. “If you’re an entrepreneur they expect you to be older, 40, 45, 50 (and) have 20 years of experience.”
He reflects on his meeting with large companies like Amazon and Starbucks. “They would look at me and go, ‘who is this guy?” Four years later, Fernandes says he still gets the same reaction. “It’s just an uphill battle that you have to climb,” he says.
Fernandes says he takes pride in his team’s youth. “To build a company and to build products for students, we have to keep the heart and soul of this company young,” he says. The employees’ average age is 23. “I’m 24, but I’m one of the oldest people in the company,” Fernandes jokes.
It hasn’t been an easy ride, but Fernandes believes he’s making an impact through Lock&Stock.
“I have not had two consecutive days off in four years,” he says. “Do I regret it? No, because every day when we get to work … when we tally up our numbers and we look at the number of lives that we have actually impacted [it] makes it all worth it.”