The 24-year-old co-founders of location-based app Yik Yak took the stage at SXSW this morning, donning matching socks with the notable Yik Yak mascot. Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington recounted a familiar story in the world of startups — meeting during college, coming up with a cool idea and eventually launching. The difference with these two is they weren’t out of one of the typical schools like Harvard or Stanford. They actually hail from Furman, a small liberal arts school in South Carolina. Well beyond launch and investment rounds, Yik Yak is still based in the Southeast, something the founders are passionate about.
That’s not where the differences end between Yik Yak and other startups. Their approach to outreach around the app was also unique in that it was incredibly personal. Maybe this is the Southern touch. The founders went school by school, sending personal emails to student representatives and school newspapers. They’ve actually stayed away from the tech press, “doing a lot of college paper interviews. Those are the people who are using the app,” Droll said.
If you’re not a college student, you might be wondering what Yik Yak is. It’s a location-based application that surfaces topics around you. Where it gets really interesting is that the people posting are anonymous. When you log in to Yik Yak, you’re not prompted to develop a profile and follow people like you would elsewhere. All of this was of course done on purpose.
“On Twitter, it takes a long time to build followers,” Droll said. He and Buffington wanted to make conversation instant, so they removed user names and ensured the platform isn’t about building a following. “Location first, anonymity second.”
The anonymity angle may remind some of other apps like Secret but Yik Yak is different, according to the founders. “The reason why people are anonymous on Yik Yak is that it puts everyone on a level playing field. It matters that you have something good to say. Other apps are anonymous for other reasons.”
While some of the use cases around this end up being completely for fun (just look at the prevalence of people posting as “Campus Squirrel”), there is a lot of utility for Yik Yak. Droll offered up the example of the Florida State shooting. “People found out about the shooting on Yik Yak nine minutes before a campus alert went out.” With that kind of hyperlocal utility in mind, Yik Yak “can have more serious implications around petitions, elections, and protests.”
The ability to broadcast to only those around you, it makes Yik Yak different from Facebook or Twitter — at least for now. Twitter, reportedly, has been exploring a location-based Tweet feature. Would that kill Yik Yak? The founders don’t seem to think so and, for now, are focused on international growth and then a post-graduate audience.