A conversation with the founders of Yik Yak

“On our college campus, there were only a few powerful Twitter accounts, mostly run by the student athletes, with thousands of followers and loads of attention,” says Tyler Droll. “So we made this app where you could post something and have it instantly seen by thousands of kids around you. It gave everyone a voice.”

And so began the journey of Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, who in 2013 created the app Yik Yak, which has since burst on to the scene as one of the biggest free apps available.

At its core, Yik Yak is a location based anonymous app, with the mantra, “Share your thoughts, Keep your privacy.” But it’s so much more than that too. Both Tyler and Brooks call their app “a virtual bulletin board, where everyone has an equal voice, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.” Because of the anonymity, no poster is viewed as better than another and there’s no follower count dictating who sees what you post. So I asked how users see other posts. “Our app is marketed towards college campuses, so it’s based on location – you see posts within a mile and a half of where you are. Our reasoning for that is to really create a sense community within the campus. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, students at campuses with no power could stay connected through Yik Yak.” It’s also interesting to study the demographic of Yik Yak users. Obviously, most of them are college students, and the app has seen the most success on the East Coast and the Mid West, while its growing rapidly on the West Coast. Normally, it’s the opposite; an app sees success on the West Coast and then finds its way to the East Coast.

However, the app is not without its controversy. Many have called it a platform for bullying. We asked the apps’ founders if they were conscious of its negative possibilities. “Well, our vision was to create an integrated community where people could share their thoughts and stay connected. Some users, especially high school students, have taken advantage of this and used the app as a platform enabling them to hide behind a screen and bully others. We’ve taken proactive steps to prevent this; the app is only available for users 17 years and older, and we’ve banned it on high school and middle school campuses. So if you sign into it at your high school, it will not be available. Yik Yak’s community is also very good at self-policing itself, if a post has more down votes than up votes, it will be deleted. Here at Yik Yak, we’re committed to making our app as user friendly as possible, and ensuring that the community remains just that, a community.” It’s great to hear that the founders acknowledge that their app has created a bit of controversy, and that they are fully committed to eliminating the cyber-bullying done through their app.

Here at Stevens, we have a thriving community of brilliant students with original ideas. Many of these students have formed their own startup companies, some of which have gone on to achieve quite a bit of success. Similarly, when Tyler and Brooks had the idea for Yik Yak, and decided to create their own business just after graduating college. They described the process as “crazy, weird and strange. Within one year, we had graduated college- with no business experience, and started our own company. It was just us. No employees, and no experience- just an idea. We were fortunate enough to have fantastic resources available to us, and we both had parents in business so they provided a ton of help as well as an amazing support system.”

Surely, Tyler and Brooks must be working on their next project, right? Well, actually, no. “We’re not really looking into doing anything else at the moment. This summer, we hired a bunch of employees for Yik Yak, we’re up to 16 now. At this point, we’re just focused on Yik Yak, and growing it’s community. There’s no reason we can’t be the next Twitter or SnapChat, social media is in its prime right now.”

Our final question for Tyler and Brooks was what advice they may have for startups. Here’s what they had to say: “Start simple, start with one small core idea, put it out there, and see what happens. See if it goes viral, then build on it, add new features. Users like to get in on the ground level, and they’ll feel like a part of the company if they’ve been with it from the very beginning. Also, users would rather have you update your idea or app with good content rather than having to patch bad content out of it. Start now, because there’s nothing quite like college – you’ve got thousands of unique students surrounding you, and actually a significant amount of free time. Work on side projects, express yourself creatively though them, and you never know how far that will take you.”

Overall, it was a humbling experience to speak with the founders of Yik Yak. Interviewing them gives a different perspective of the app itself, as well as an inside look at the establishment of a budding company. It’s also worth noting that Yik Yak is hiring, and both Tyler and Brooks would be pleased to work with some of the bright minds here at Stevens. You can apply at http://www.yikyakapp.com/jobs/