UT-Austin graduates sell website created to help people find essentials during COVID-19

Katy Nelson, Senior News Reporter

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct timeline and spelling of InStok.org, Bryan Leach and Darshan Bhatta. The Texan regrets these errors.

Three UT students created the website Octoshop in March 2020 to help consumers find the best online deals. They sold their creation in December 2021 for a multi-million dollar deal. 

Sriram Hariharan, Rithwik Pattikonda and Darshan Bhatta started the website in March 2020 after noticing how the COVID-19 pandemic made finding basic items such as toilet paper or hand sanitizer difficult. The students initially named the website InStok.org, and the platform grew to host over 800,000 users before becoming a browser extension, Octoshop co-founder Hariharan said. 

“I used to see my parents … go to different stores and … they’d get there, and then they would try and get eggs and milk and they wouldn’t be able to find it,” said Hariharan, a staff engineer at Ibotta. “They would just go from store to store trying to get the products they want, but they wouldn’t be able to find what they need, and by doing so they were also putting themselves at risk of actually getting COVID.” 

In September 2021, Ibotta, a company focused on providing cash back to customers with their purchases, contacted the students about purchasing Octoshop. Octoshop founder Bhatta said Ibotta’s larger audience led the team to agree to Ibotta’s offer. 

“We’d been working on (Octoshop) for two years and one idea was we could continue doing as we do it right now … or we can maybe raise money and do it full time,” computer science senior Bhatta said. “Then the third option came when Bryan, the CEO of Ibotta, contacted us and was interested in buying us.” 

Hariharan said one of the biggest struggles for the team was starting the website remotely. He said he and Octoshop co-founder Pattikonda knew each other from a previous startup, but he had never met Bhatta until Pattikonda introduced them.

“The first six months I hadn’t even met (Bhatta) before,” Hariharan said. “I didn’t even know what his face looked like because we mainly were talking through voice chat … but we were working together and we just became really good at working remotely.”

Pattikonda said he hopes Octoshop continues to help consumers find the products they need and leads to them making more data-driven decisions as they’re searching for products online.

“Letting people understand when the right time to buy is and where they need to buy from, I think that’s pretty key to what our mission was,” Pattikonda said.