Features, Profiles, On-Campus Profiles

Blood, Sweat, and Code: BC Sophomores Create Synopto, the Future of Studying

According to Eamon Coffey and Max Pintchouk, all it took to win the 2023 Penn Blockchain Conference Hackathon was a week of coding and a generous supply of energy drinks.

“The idea was born after four Red Bulls on a Saturday,” Pintchouk, CSOM ’26, said. 

For several hours last February, the then-freshmen brainstormed ideas for the Penn Hackathon, part of the University of Pennsylvania’s annual blockchain conference to promote student-led, crypto-based innovation.

“We were just discussing ideas, and we started to think of the things we hate doing most, and we all came to the agreement that we all suck at studying,” Pintchouk said. “I’ve never really met someone who confidently says, ‘Oh, I’m really good at studying and I don’t have any issues with it.’”

So, they crafted the blueprint for their award-winning application, Synopto—a study tool that enables students to master a subject through emphasis on strict schedules and rewards for consistency.

“To put it in short, Synopto is a study app that not only promotes memorization and helps you study for a test, but also really enforces your understanding of a topic,” Pintchouk said.

Coffey, MCAS ’26, said that while he and Pintchouk initially heard about the hackathon through a club on campus, they pursued the competition independently.

“We didn’t go with the club officially,” Coffey said. “They were just like, ‘There’s this cool thing that you guys should check out.’” 

Despite their limited coding experience at the time, Coffey and Pintchouk decided to enter. 

“We heard about this competition and, at this point, we’d coded for maybe four months collectively,” Pintchouk said. “We were like, ‘What if we just go and win?’”

After the judges released last year’s theme, “Real World Utility,” Pintchouk called Michael Muzafarov, a friend from home, to enter the competition with them. The three stumbled through several bad ideas before reaching a good one, Pintchouk said.

“Once we got onto a call and just started yelling at each other—that’s when something good came out,” Pintchouk said.

As they commiserated about their poor studying habits, the idea for Synopto hit them.

“We were like, ‘Why don’t we make this third party that will get me off Instagram reels and do all the work for me?’” Coffey said.

Unlike applications like Quizlet, Synopto aims to help students study within an extended time frame and prevent them from cramming at the last minute, according to Coffey.

He and Pintchouk said they wanted to create an app that could promote studying over long periods of time without relying purely on student discipline—or lack thereof.

“If you learn something over a period of time, you’re going to retain it better,” Pintchouk said. “However, there’s currently no platform online that really forces you to do such a thing.” 

He added that they took inspiration from Opal, an app that blocks notifications and limits users’ screen time. 

“They’ve done unbelievably well for how simple the concept is,” Pintchouk said. “We want to take that concept and apply it to a bit of a more niche context: studying.”

With an idea now formulated, Coffey and Pintchouk scrambled to code the application within a week.

“We did not do anything except code,” Pintchouk said. “I remember we were in the Williams basement and people would look at us funny because we wouldn’t leave.”

The weekend of the competition, the three freshmen drove to Penn with a lot of math coded, but very little crypto.

“Those three nights that we were there, we did nothing but learn how to code smart contracts,” Pintchouk said. “I remember we sat at a Buffalo Wild Wings for maybe six hours—like, I’ve never been to a restaurant for that long in my life. It torments me to this day.”

Pintchouk also admitted that during Hackathon week, day-to-day schoolwork took a backseat.

“So many assignments missed, so many emails sent … it was hectic,” Pintchouk said. “What’s really cool is that most professors really do understand that these types of things do come up.”

After their makeshift coding marathon at Buffalo Wild Wings, it was time to present.

“We show up to this auditorium at the Penn Museum, and all the different teams are scattered all over the auditorium,” Coffey said. “They went one by one, team by team, just calling them up into this room behind the stage. Then you went in and all the judges were just sitting in a row.”

A week’s worth of blood, sweat, and code all culminated in a mere four-minute-long presentation, Pintchouk said. Operating within such a limited window, the Synopto team had to delegate their time efficiently.

“The time included us presenting and the judges asking us questions,” Coffey said. “So, we knew that if we presented too much and they didn’t get enough time to ask us questions that we wouldn’t be able to elaborate on things they were unsure about.”

Coffey and Pintchouk said their strategy paid off, and they each walked away with $200 Amazon gift cards.

Though they were excited about the reward, Coffey and Pintchouk emphasized that the priority was always to help fellow students.

“At the end of the day, I feel like we’re getting a little bit more than money out of it,” Pintchouk said. “We didn’t really go there expecting to win money—that was not our goal.”

So, rather than simply pocketing the gift cards and flaunting their accolades on LinkedIn, Coffey and Pintchouk decided to continue developing Synopto.

“We weren’t supposed to win,” Pintchouk said. “We’d never coded, we didn’t make something so spectacular technologically, and our blockchain stuff was pretty obsolete. The idea, however, was super coherent. So we thought about it and we decided, ‘I think they actually liked it.’”

Maira Samary, undergraduate program director for the computer science department, encouraged Pintchouk to continue developing the app through an independent study last spring.

“I really think that they have a high chance of becoming something big,” Samary said. 

From there, Coffey and Pintchouk contacted friends, venture capitalists, and professors for feedback on their original pitch. After reframing and refining the app several times through, Synopto’s code is no longer based in blockchain and is unrecognizable from its prototype, they said.

“I don’t even know where that code is anymore,” Pintchouk said. 

But building an application as full-time college students hasn’t been easy, Coffey and Pintchouk both said. 

“When we finished the Hackathon and decided to keep working on it, we decided to make the project architecturally sound,” Pintchouk said. “Every time we build something, it’s usually paired with double the time spent researching and planning before the actual coding.”

As a student juggling rigorous classes, a job, and a start-up, Pintchouk said sharpening his time-management skills and maintaining a positive attitude is essential

“Everything kind of flows together in computer science—every concept builds on one another,” Pintchouk said. “So I can’t really say it’s made my academic life harder. It’s also fun.”

Although he said he enjoys the work, Pintchouk added that he and Coffey’s mutual lack of time is frustrating because it continuously delays Synopto’s release.

“So we hoped for September 23, and then we hoped for February 24,” Pintchouk said. “If we were to have designated time on a paid schedule to make this app right now, it would be done next week.”

While Synopto is slated to officially launch by the end of 2024, Coffey and Pintchouk said they are not sure when students will be able to access it on the App Store. Either way, before its release, Coffey and Pintchouk said they hope to squeeze in a few more features and enhance the user experience.

“We’re planning to add an entire game ecosystem to it,” Pintchouk said. “In short, it’s going to be fun.”

Samary, who worked in the computer science industry for over a decade, said she truly believes these two sophomores are going far.

“You know, they are amazing guys who are very creative and very capable,” Samary said. “I joke with Max, I say, ‘When you get back, you have to pay me a very good dinner at a very fancy place.’”

April 7, 2024