Like some other undergraduates at Johns Hopkins, Ian Blanchardon has been working on a business idea when he is not attending to classwork. Unlike many other undergraduates, Blanchardon’s classwork involves making music.
Blanchardon is a senior majoring in guitar at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University and practices for six hours a day. But when he’s not playing, he is running Blismo, a mobile payment app with a growing footprint in Baltimore.
“I have some classmates who think I’m crazy. I beg to disagree,” Blanchardon says.
Blanchardon describes Blismo as “Honey for brick-and-mortar establishments,” referring to an app that finds discount codes as users shop online. Two dozen bars, restaurants and shops in the Baltimore area now accept discounts through Blismo, according to Blanchardon, and the app also allows users to redeem their discounts by paying through Blismo as well as meet up with fellow users. No fees or charges are involved.
Blismo has more than 200 users in Baltimore; it aims to have 1,000 by the fall and then 10,000 users along the East Coast by next spring, according to Blanchardon. The company also is looking to add supermarkets and eventually department stores and hotels to its list of participating retailers.
Blanchardon plans to host events open to the public at several venues that accept Blismo payments, and the company plans to expand to New Haven, Connecticut, by December. The app will be getting large updates by the end of the year as well, according to Mao Li, Blismo’s co-founder and chief technology officer.
Blanchardon began working on Blismo three years ago. The idea came to him after a visit to China, where he saw people using a mobile app to purchase products and meet people. Blanchardon learned from an investor in late 2018 about FastForward U, Johns Hopkins’ hub for student entrepreneurship.
“It’s been a great opportunity for Blismo,” he says. “We have had access to a great space and resources to promote our business in Baltimore.”
Kevin Carter, FastForward U’s student ventures coordinator, says Blanchardon now is a “frequent flyer” at the Homewood building.
“He’s a great example of a student who is taking full advantage of our resources,” says Carter, “whether using our conference rooms for meetings with potential clients or making high-quality Blismo swag with the laser cutter and vinyl printer in our makerspace.”
Of the 1,200 students who have visited FastForward U since July 1, Blanchardon is one of just a handful from Peabody. But Carter notes FastForward U is ready to help any Johns Hopkins student from any school who reaches out wanting to develop or pursue an idea.
“We work with students creating consumer products, eco-friendly technologies, nonprofits and much more,” he says. “Our FastForward U student entrepreneurs reflect the diverse passions and skillsets of JHU students as a whole.”
Blanchardon has been playing guitar concerts since he was 8 years old and says he has been marketing himself as a musician ever since. He sees the similarities between making music and launching a startup.
“Whenever you play a piece, you always think: ‘How have others done it? And how can I do it better?’” he says. “The keys to success are persistence, ambition and flexibility to any venture one enters, whether it be music or business.”