Trinity alumnus’ app helps support local businesses during COVID crisis
by Jeremy Gerlach
The timing couldn’t have been worse for Drake Dukes ’16.
Just after leaving a successful Dallas position in finance, Dukes had decided to travel the world in February 2020, just when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.
“It was poor timing. Everything got shut down, I had to cancel all my trips, all my plans,” Dukes says. “And going back to work—firms aren’t hiring, so I had decided to spend some time in my hometown and hunker down.”
But Dukes, like many Trinity grads, has always found opportunity in challenging times. “Locked in my room, I thought, ‘Now is the time to learn new skills. To try things you’ve always wanted to try, but you’ve never had the opportunity or the time.’ So I decided I was going to make an app.”
Dukes, an economics and finance graduate from Wichita, Kansas, has created the apps Support Local Dallas and Support Wichita, aimed at connecting socially distanced customers with their local restaurants and eateries. On the apps, locals can see updated hours, menus, and specials, along with information about delivery, curbside pickup, and more. The apps also highlight charitable organizations that are donating to restaurants and service workers.
“Right now we crave that day-to-day interaction we’re missing. We don’t have that same sense of community right now,” says Dukes, whose apps have already garnered thousands of users. “So when people see businesses in their community struggling to stay open, they can bond around that.”
Years ago, before Dukes found himself back at home in Wichita, he was a prospective student looking for a new community. He came to Trinity to “get a great education, keep playing football, meet awesome people from all over the world, and get away from the cold.”
Dukes has always been good at math, and arrived at Trinity planning to be an engineer. But a great economics course experience his first semester propelled him to explore a new direction, while Dukes also found his way into the world of finance, which fit well with his math prowess.
For Dukes, staying adaptable has turned out to be a valuable, lifelong mindset.
“Trinity transforms you into a well rounded student by forcing you out of your comfort zone,” Dukes says. “You might be taking classes or learning skills you don’t think you’ll ever use in the real world, but you’re really developing an underlying skillset of being able to take something you know nothing about and learning how to succeed.”
“A lot of schools don’t force you to do that,” he continues, “and you go down this strict, specialized path. That may work, but I think that when times change, you could be out a job, and you’ll need to be able to start using new skills.”
Just a few months ago, Dukes couldn’t have imagined he’d ever be living this nightmare scenario in person.
After graduating, he’d moved on to a coveted position at Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” professional services firms that recruit heavily from Trinity’s business school. He’d worked hard to get his foot in that door, fortunately meeting a company recruiter who was married to a former Trinity football player—a perfect conversation starter for Dukes.
The finance whiz got a job in valuation, working in mergers and acquisitions for big-name clients like Hewlett-Packard and FedEx. But the job, for all its perks, entailed a heavy load of working hours and a lot of business traveling. Eventually, he wanted to do some travel for himself. So Dukes left his position—which he saw as more of a three-to-four year spot—and set out into the world, only to end up stuck in his apartment when COVID-19 hit.
“I was locked in my room, watching what was happening to all these companies,” Dukes says. “Entire industries went from a period of expansion to having a demand shock that’s caused many to go out of business. There’s so much information changing daily.”
Finding a way to navigate this shifting information landscape was intriguing to Dukes, who wanted to keep customers informed on ways they could keep supporting local businesses. So, Support Local Dallas was born.
From the safe confines of his room, Dukes profiled 250 local restaurants. He aggregated information on hours, cuisine info, policies on delivery, takeout and curbside options, and social media pages. He transformed this all into a positive user experience that attracted more than 3,000 users in just 10 days.
“I knew nothing about web development or coding,” Dukes explains, “But fortunately, there are so many tools that can aid in getting a minimum viable product off the ground as long as you stay focused, and keep trying to improve it.”
Eventually, Dukes wanted to be back with his family in Wichita during the pandemic. But his innovative drive didn’t peter out with the change in environment. “Every city needs something like this,” Dukes thought.
So, Dukes took the existing framework he’d built for the Dallas app, and made the next step with Support Wichita, profiling almost 1,000 local businesses and beefing up his product even more.
And the Wichita community, in large part, has embraced the app. It attracted more than 7,600 users in just five days.
“More people living in Wichita are local,” Dukes says. “They raise families here. The businesses you pass by here every day, those aren’t just burger stands. It’s a guy supporting his family—you see the personal side of each business.”
The drive to “support local” is not a new philosophy. So, Dukes thinks his app has a future beyond the COVID-19 crisis—hence the broader name, “SupportWichita.”
“I hope that people are going to want to keep buying local and that the types of tools on the app are going to be useful even when we’re not in an emergency situation any more,” Dukes says. “I think people are going to realize how important their communities are, and that’s going to affect the way they’re choosing to spend their money in the future.”
The tools and data Dukes has amassed could also pivot into a different project entirely: He could add different industries other than food and drink. As he’s learned from the past few months, it doesn’t hurt to stay adaptable.
“It’s fine to be working hard every day, but every day you’re working on the same skills, you may be missing out on other things that are out there, opportunities to learn new things,” Dukes says. “You have to be a curious novice. You approach new interests saying ‘I don’t really know this, but I want to learn.’”
With this approach to lifelong learning, a bit of “poor timing” can turn into the right moment for new growth. “If you have time on your hands, just create something that adds value—for your community, your industry, or just you. You might be surprised how it scales over time.” Dukes says. “If not, move on to the next thing.”