It started for kicks at a poker game. Now Gaspy beats Facebook on the app charts and nearly a million New Zealanders rely on it to find cheaper gas.
Four years ago, Larry Green and his three co-workers at a software development company got bored during their regular Tuesday night poker sessions. “One of the guys commented that fuel prices were crap,” says Green. Back then, they were around $1.50 a litre. “He wanted a way to keep an eye on it.”
For fun, the foursome began using their Tuesday nights to design a programme that would allow them to find Bay of Plenty’s cheapest petrol prices. “We came up with this concept of being a ‘gas spy’,” says Green. Soon, they were registering prices every time they filled up, and competing to see who logged in the most. They soon had most of Tauranga’s petrol station’s covered.
Thus, Gaspy (it’s pronounced “Gasp-ee”) was born. Originally built just for Green and his three engineers at Tauranga tech company Whem, they began inviting friends to take part. Having worked with major corporate clients who always asked them to sign NDA forms, it was nice to have something they could openly talk about. “That’s why we made it free.”
Gaspy quickly took off, reaching 1000 users in six months based all around the country. It was a milestone they decided to celebrate. “We had a mini nerd party,” says Green, with “a warm bottle of chardonnay and a packet of crisps with the air conditioning on and lots of screens everywhere”.
These days, the celebrations deserve to be much bigger. Gaspy’s gone major, becoming an essential service for every driver in the country looking to find cheaper gas. Lately, that’s become more important than ever, with prices soaring above $3 thanks to rising barrel prices and oil shortage concerns as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues. Some suggest $4 a litre could soon be on the cards.
All of this has made Gaspy’s usage soar. This past Friday, as rumours spread about another looming rise, 32,000 new users signed up, far outstripping the previous daily record of 4000, and taking the company’s user tally to 885,000. Gaspy also topped the local app charts over the weekend, beating out Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and TikTok.
Green and his team never envisioned this kind of success. “We’re just four super-nerds who made a funny game about fuel prices that’s gone batshit,” he says. “We’re beating out Mark Zuckerberg and YouTube. A Kiwi app never beats Facebook … here we are in Bellevue, Tauranga. Any day you can get one over the giants, it’s a legendary victory in our IT community.”
It’s not just ballooning gas prices fueling their success. Gaspy is easy to access, and simple to use. Users log in, enter their location, and the closest stations offering the cheapest petrol instantly pop up. The app relies on drivers to log their fuel costs, and others to confirm the results. But there are incentives, with coins and badges awarded, and leadership boards for each region.
On Monday, the day I spoke to Green, the cheapest gas closest to me was in Albany Village at $2.93. “Boom!” said an excited Green when I told him the news. “Under $3 — that’s a steal today.”
Gaspy’s gone from something that used to be a fun way for friends to try and save a little money on petrol to an essential service for those struggling on the breadline. Green’s well aware of this, boasting the app saves the average user $800 a year. “When it’s $3 [a litre], it’s like, ‘holy crap’,” he says. Driving home the other night, he noticed prices veering between $2.90 and $3.20. “That’s a 30 cents difference. If you’re filling up your tank, that’s massive.”
Green believes “game-ifying” their app was crucial to its success. “People get a kick out of being able to share information,” he says. “It’s a bit like the weather — it’s useful. Tap one or two buttons and it makes life easier for everyone else. You know a lot of people are going to get great value out of it.”
He and his team don’t make money out of the app, with a scattering of Google ads helping to keep it running. That seems like a mistake, but Green disagrees. What about cashing out? “We’re in no rush [to sell it],” he says. “We know what we’ve got.”
Green’s open to offers though, and says there’s definitely room for future owners to grow and streamline Gaspy. There’s also room to improve it. Soon, they’ll add services for electric vehicle owners, and perhaps address some of the complaints they get about the app’s “clunky” interface and fonts.
But he’s staying mum on whether Gaspy will ever launch a similar app for grocery prices — the most requested feature among users. He knows it would work, because it’s already working for petrol prices. “There’s a real group of people out there who love working for the common good,” he says. “They would happily stand in the supermarket walking up and down the aisles all day.”
If they do it, Green and his team will take care of it on a Tuesday night. Yes, their “poker nights” are still going, yet there are no cards being dealt or bets being placed any more. They use that time to work on Gaspy, just “four nerds” sitting around a table, says Green. “It’s like the office pet — we have a great affinity for it.”
Download the Gaspy app for iPhone and Android here.