EMILY PRICE | DIGITAL STRATEGIST
Two 2013 Furman graduates recently raised $10 million from major Silicon Valley investors to fund Yik Yak, a controversial location-based social app that allows users to post messages anonymously to other users in their 1.5 mile radius. CEO Tyler Droll and COO Brooks Buffington – both just 23 years old – launched the app on Furman’s campus during Homecoming weekend in November 2013. “Within a week or two, a large majority of the campus was using it,” said Buffington. “It was then that Tyler and I looked at each other and said, ‘I think we have something.’” Yik Yak next spread to Wofford College after they told one student there to download it and share with his fraternity brothers; later Clemson caught on, along with a multitude of other colleges. On the heels of a $1.5 million seed
round of fundraising, Droll and Buffington can additionally cite venture firms including Azure Capital Partners and DCM as investors, along with billionaire Tim Draper, who made headlines earlier this month for purchasing all 30,000 bitcoins (a software-based currency) anonymously auctioned by the U.S. Marshals Service after an FBI raid. Draper is also known for ventures like Hotmail (sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $400 million) and Skype (sold to eBay for over $3 billion in 2005). BUILDING A TEAM Yik Yak recently established its first official headquarters in Atlanta Tech Village. With the $10 million, Droll and Buffington are actively building a team that is “really starting to take shape,” Buffington says. The full-time staff includes a frontend developer, back-end developer, community manager, community development manager, designer, lead digital marketer, director of operations and interns. “We’re looking for A-level people, plain and simple,” Buffington says. “How to build out an office and a team was never something we learned at Furman, so it was, and still is, a learning process for us. Luckily we have some gray hair around us in the form of advisors and investors.” Droll said he and Buffington “have also made it a strong focus to surround the table with extremely smart and experienced people, such as a director at Google, wellknown investors, and successful entrepreneurs.” HOW IT BEGAN The two initially developed the app while in school. Droll, an IT major, took a
UPSTATE BUSINESS JOURNAL
July 18, 2014
course in iPhone programming and discovered he wanted to develop iPhone applications full time. After Yik Yak seemed to take off, he decided to drop out of the USC-Greenville School of Medicine one week before the start of classes. “On campus, there were a few very popular anonymous Twitter accounts that would tweet engaging commentary about life at Furman,” Droll Yik Yak COO Brooks Buffington (left) and CEO Tyler says. “I knew that there were Droll (right) created the social app while students at Furman. They recently raised $10 million in more students that could say venture funding from Silicon Valley investors. clever things like these… but building a large base of followers is hard and time-consuming. users can discuss both personal and community issues they may not feel There had to be an easier way.” comfortable addressing in an identiHe found a way to capitalize on the fiable forum. conditions of author anonymity (“the Some of the $10 million will also be content is judged by the content; not allocated to continue to build the “peek by who is saying it”) and a captive, feature,” a tool for glimpsing into other hyper-local audience of “thousands of Yik Yak networks. This is part of an people around them” who could ideneffort to build Yik Yak into what Bufftify with specific subjects and events. ington calls “a technology that fulfills GOSSIP, SLANDER AND a higher purpose of delivering unCYBERBULLYING abridged news in real time.” Yik Yak was born, but not without They also plan to use a significant controversy. Critics attack the app as amount of funds to market the app lacking productive purpose and and build its user base. College users serving as a vehicle for gossip, slander remain a target. Most college stuand cyberbullying. High school users dents “understand the importance of in particular tend to use the app “in- acting responsibly on social media appropriately” in ways that do not and the negative impact of cyberbul“align with Yik Yak’s mission of cre- lying,” Buffington says. Collegiate ating beneficial social communities,” communities are beginning to Buffington says. “self-regulate in a positive way” In response to cases of cyberbul- through methods such as up- and lying and backlash, the creators set down-voting messages. an age restriction of 17. Since they “A large user base often results in began geo-fencing primary and sec- the expedited down-posting of negondary schools from accessing the ative and hurtful comments, which app in March, they have blocked 85 leads to the quick removal of such percent of them in the U.S. comments,” Buffington says. Agreed The creators want the app to be a Droll, “as Yik Yak communities get medium for commentary on current larger and more diverse, the more events or other general knowledge effective these social policing mechrelated to the local area, and a place anisms become.”
Furman grads secure $10M for anonymous social app Yik Yak
Upstate Business Journal published for the Upstate of South Carolina. Designed and created by Community Journals.