On a fall night four years ago, CS student Samuel Porta was studying for his finals on the fourth floor of the CULC.
Sitting with his notes spread out on the table in front of him, the thought came: “I need some coffee.”
So he packed everything up in his backpack and headed down to the Starbucks on the first floor.
He was greeted by a 30-minute line. Out of the frustration of sitting a few flights of stairs away and still not knowing how long the wait would be, however, grew an idea: Tech should have a solution for this.
Four years later, that idea has become an app called queues that collects data from its users in order to cut down on wait times.
Porta created the first prototype of the app in an English 1101 class at Tech, where he was asked to pitch a problem that needed solving.
He described that class as the “culmination of inspiration and opportunity.”
In the Summer of 2018, queues was accepted into the Startup Launch program of Create-X, Tech’s initiative to help entrepreneuring students make their businesses into reality.
The support the team received from Create-X, said Porta, “carried us and helped us grow into where we are now.”
From their initial prototype, Porta and his team realized that mobile reporting of wait times wasn’t enough — “people would use the app if there were good wait times, but we weren’t able to get good wait times if people wouldn’t use the app,” he said.
So queues partnered with GT Dining’s provider Aramark to install tablets all around campus that enabled students to report their wait times without having to download the app, facilitating 5000+ reports per month.
In March 2020 — its third time competing — queues won first place in Tech’s prestigious InVenture prize.
Fresh off their hard-earned victory and on the cusp of partnering with Aramark, which would allow them to expand their services to more campuses in the Southeast, the future was looking bright to the queues team. Then the pandemic hit. Queues’s data-gathering tablets suddenly became unfeasible.
Several members of the team left.
The partnership with Aramark got put on the back burner. Undaunted, queues relaunched in October with the added functionality of tracking the lines at COVID-19 testing sites around campus.
Since then, the app has gained 50 to 100 users a week, all contributing to the app’s mission to “Wait Less, Together.”
The team, now 16-strong, is also working to develop a computer vision algorithm in partnership with Tech that will analyze footage from the Institute’s cameras.
Porta says that the biggest challenge is collecting enough data; he has realized that the only way to make the operation scalable is by using the computer vision software.
He’s hoping to expand to study spaces and common areas around campus where the app can tell the user how many seats are available.
Now, the team is focused on officializing its relationship with the office of the Provost and connecting with SGA.
Liz Welsko, queues’ VP Marketing, says the priority for the whole team is to secure the relationships and partnerships that will make the business profitable enough to support full time jobs.
Welsko, who joined the team this year and will graduate in the spring, said she would love to stay on the team post-college, but the company’s partnerships are the “deciding factor.”
“Everyone on the team is passionate about what they do,” said Porta.
“The big thing is the economic realities.”
At the end of the day, there needs to be enough revenue coming in that team members can be paid competitively once they graduate.
Porta’s goal is for a position at queues to be “your first and last job: the minute you graduate we have a job waiting for you.”
In ten years, Porta envisions a country with shorter wait times because of queues.
He hopes to have the app accessible in major restaurant franchises across the country, enabling anyone to easily figure out where they can get the quickest bite to eat.
“Those wait times — when you could be studying, or doing something else — add up,” said Porta.
He hopes that the growth of his startup will, through the collection of data, “make somebody’s life easier.”
Queues is available for download on the App Store and the Google Play store.
Learn more about the app at queuesapp.com or on Instagram @queuesapp.