University City

This phone app makes the grade

Sometimes it's not so bad tanking on a test.

If Jeremy Olson hadn't failed one of his statistics tests a few years ago, he might not be where he is today.

Or where he was back in June, accepting the coveted Apple Design Award, a prestigious honor given to only a select few of today's best app designers: the people responsible for the thousands of games and tools on your iPhone, iPad or Mac computer.

Olson, 21, an upcoming senior this year in UNC Charlotte's College of Computing and Informatics, earned the award for his mobile app Grades 2, which helps college students calculate what they need to get on future quizzes and tests to achieve the final grade they want in a course.

"I was doing pretty well in statistics, and then I bombed one of the tests," said Olson. "I wanted to figure out what I needed to do, how much I needed to work, to get back to an A."

The app shot to stardom shortly after being launched in April of this year. Downloaded more than 150,000 times in the last four months, Grades 2 remained the number one educational app for one week, and has peaked in 197th place for the number of downloaded free apps overall.

"It's mind-boggling," said Olson. "That's still 200 from the top, but when you're considering the hundreds of thousands of apps that are in the app store, you're beating apps like the Fox News app, your beating The New York Times, Grand Theft Auto, the free version," said Olson.

Olson created an earlier version of the app in 2010, called Grades 1. Grades 2 comes with a new look, thanks to his brother Josh, 22, plus added features like a GPA calculator and due date function, and also a new price: free. The earlier version cost 99 cents to download, and led to the purchase of his first car.

Although he won't say how much money he's made from Grades 2, Olson does say the app has helped draw business to Tapity, the company he recently incorporated with Josh and his dad, Todd, in July. Large, household-name clients seeking Tapity's assistance in creating apps surged after Grades 2 became a success, leading the potential profit for the company to reach anywhere from the tens of thousands to millions of dollars, he said.

The success of Grades 2, said Olson, came from spreading the word throughout the iPhone development community. "I'm a college student, so I'm penniless, so I didn't spend any money on marketing, but I did do a lot of marketing." That meant frequent updates on the status of the app through his blog and on Twitter.

Soon the audience he wanted to reach was buzzing about the app, and Apple began to take notice. "When the Apple community is talking about something, Apple notices it, too, because Apple is embedded in the community," he said.

In June, Olson took the stage in front of thousands of his mobile app developer peers to accept the Apple Design Award, given by the powerhouse company responsible for some of the most cutting-edge technology available today.

The trophy, shaped like a glass cube embossed with an apple, glows when touched. "After you receive the award, the host gives a demo of your app on the big screen, and you are there with your glowing cube, and your glowing face," said Olson. "It's kind of surreal."

All thanks to a low grade on a statistics test, which Olson overcame, with the assistance of Grades 2. "I did end up getting an A in the class."