Co-founders Craig Fernandes and Hussain Ali Asgar, have programmed all your solutions in one nifty, fix-snapping app, encouraging users to step away from their phones and dive head first into a world of hobbies, passions, or erudite pursuits — and win big as you do.
Lock&Stock is a modern-age revolutionary breaking onto the scene with a cartful of offerings, in cahoots with some 600 brands, and 650 universities, all set to spread good cheer as the season takes a festive turn, with discounts, fee waivers and scholarships galore.
Fernandes, CEO, alongside Chief Marketing Officer Asgar, built the company from ground up in 2017 as a student himself, baffled by the flashing seas of lit-up screens around him, the smartphones seemingly hoisting an unbreakable hold over his peers.
And so began the epic tale as the gears in their heads churned to life.
So Craig, how did you arrive at the concept? I mean, ‘disconnecting’ in a surreally connected world — how does that work?
Craig: See, I was a student in university about 3 years ago and it almost happened by accident. I was in this Econ class with 30 other students, and all of them, all 30 of these students were on their laptops, tablets or phone. The professor was talking. No one was paying attention.
Oof. Yep, that definitely sounds like my uni days.
Craig: Right? I remember noticing and thought to myself ‘Wonder, if there is something we can do about that.’ This was way back in 2017, so I am sure it’s gotten worse over time. I went back home that day and did some research. Turns out: 61% of millennials are addicted to their phones. On average, 26% of a classroom time is spent on a digital device.
Those are some figures.
Craig: Now, at that point in time, I was broke and remember thinking to myself that — Hey, maybe in exchange for a ‘Buy one get one free’, I wouldn’t mind logging off my phone for a couple of hours.
That was our eureka moment.
But that was then, huh? In a pandemic age, where connections have faltered but grown vital, how exactly has L&S played up the values of ‘disconnecting’?
Hussain: We definitely had to adapt. The app is now proud to boast a global approach, open to users anywhere and at all times, in a classroom or at the gym. We still hope to encourage people to disconnect for a while.
Hussain: People are now constantly before a screen — to study, work-from-home, or otherwise. That’s about 6 to 8 hours a day, sometimes more. Being stuck at home means having access to more than just one device. We’re just trying to encourage students to do the things they love without the constant buzzing from the cells.
Things they love?
Hussain: That’s right. When you log into Lock&Stock, the app asks what it is that you intend to do in the downtime. There is even an option for watching Netflix!
See, our end-all is to promote digital wellbeing and less screen time. It is so easy to get distracted by a simple WhatsApp message. There are already way too many distractions at home. Your smartphones shouldn’t be one of them.
Well, give us a run-through! You hop on, and then-?
Hussain: You simply register. The first thing to note is that the app will shoot a bunch of questions your way. Why do you want to lock your phone, the amount of time you wish to stay disconnected, that sort of thing.
If the student attempts to unlocks their phone before the set time, the app will alert them of the time left and encourage the user to keep it up for just a bit more.
I’m guessing the incentives come in full force here?
Hussain: It’s like a game, really. For each minute, the user earns one key.
Let’s say, you lock your phone for 200 minutes. Well now you can avail a buy-one-get-one-free at Tim Hortons. Want to enroll at a particular university? All it takes is 150 minutes of your time to secure a scholarship.
Dang, hard to give that a pass – I love Timmy’s! But that aside, I’m sensing a real student-friendly pattern here.
Hussain: Yes, absolutely. Lock&Stock is 100% fueled by a students-for-students drive. Our end goal is to help and promote student communities, and so with that in mind, we’ve even tailored the app to run everyday features like a class time table, which prompts the students before their sessions begin.
There’s also a leaderboard system which promotes healthy competition between users — to bag the top-score on ‘disconnected’ minutes — and rewards the top 10 with prizes every week.
And as I mentioned, we’re a community that grows as one, so we have brand ambassador programs where students learn from each other and spread far-reaching awareness on digital wellbeing.
Did you host all these features from the get-go or grow gradually over the years?
Hussain: The leaderboard was always there, but the app has definitely developed over time. See, we crave feedback from our users. They tell us what they want and we provide.
That includes brands, jobs, the countries they want to earn scholarships from – all this and more. We just go out there and get it for them.
Initially when we joined, we had only brands, jobs came after and scholarship has been the most recent addition. The gamification aspect though was always deeply rooted.
So do the students reach out personally, or is there a system in place?
Hussain: We do pride ourselves on the relationship we’ve built with our community. Over 50% of our users know exactly what Craig and I look like – and they approach us directly. All the feedback zips straight to our personal emails, there’s no automated response for any of them.
Angry users, happy users, all of them are welcome to share their thoughts at all times. Some of them even drop in to say hi or appreciate how much money they managed to save from the offers and we’re glad to respond personally.
We also have a research team who design surveys based on which we deduce the students’ likes and dislikes.
Alright, now that we have a grasp on the hows, let’s delve into the whys. Why choose to work towards ‘digital wellbeing’?
Hussain: A lot goes down on social media, stuff that affects young minds. The perk of staying away from your phone is that students can learn to distress and detox. We even ran a campaign last year — a whole month of digital detoxing.
We have also realised that there are so many students with genuine talent on our platform. The lockdown, as well as time away from their phones, has allowed them to explore their creativity.
As such, we recently launched another initiative called the Founders Club which is very close to our hearts. It’s a platform that guides students who want to launch businesses in the U.A.E. It’s been a rewarding experience.
Hussain: Well, it took us three years to build this level of trust among the community. When they listen to us, that is our validation. We have learned much over the course of our journey, so we try to pass on whatever little knowledge we have.
Commendable, truly. It can’t have been an all-sun, no-rain path to your current successes. Tell me, how did the company manage to tackle its own challenges along the way?
Craig: You know, I think what really defines us is perseverance. Devastating bugs, glaring technical faults, financial hiccups — we’ve had to overcome all of that.
What really defines us is power, hard work and motivation. Staying committed to calls, helping students develop the ‘lock and disconnect’ mindset and just never looking back. That’s an aspect that we seek in everyone we work with. How may we best meet the needs of the users? That’s the attitude we take on.
Let’s talk numbers. Is there a set direction Lock&Stock’s heading in the foreseeable future?
Craig: Our core aim is to equip students with the best reason to switch their phones off.
We hope to continue innovating, keeping up with the trends and demands as they come. Our app just recently launched in Pakistan so we’re quickly moving towards a global front.
With 15,000 users based outside the U.A.E on our platform, Pakistan became the first country where we expanded formally in 2020. In 2021 we plan on expanding to India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Oman.
When students apply for scholarships and fee waivers, they are also applying to the University in itself. This has really cemented our place in the higher education industry in the emirates, Australia, and the U.S.
At present time we have some 650 universities on-board and our aim is to reach 1500. We’ve also teamed up with 600 brands, as of now.
Our initial preposition was to allow students to lock their phone and bag some cool discounts. But 8 months into the launch, we brought internships into the mix, and a month later, scholarships came into play.
And it’s all yours to have. All you gotta do is turn away from your screens for a bit.
The team has had an illustrious 2020, bagging both the UAE Business Awards for the Most Innovative Education Incentive, as well as the Gulf Capital SME Awards as the ‘Tech Disruption Of The Year.’
Last year, they won Arabian Business Future Star Award and are currently shortlisted for the Pitch Deck Asia’s ‘Best Edtech in Asia’ title.