On October 12th, 2013 two guys who were good friends and recent college graduates joined Atlanta Tech Village with two Hot Desk memberships and a cool idea. One year later, they have 11.5 Million in funding, a 32 person corner suite in the Village, and one of the hottest social apps in the country. It has been an honor to watch Yik Yak grow within our still being renovated walls.
The Village and Yik Yak have grown together and we are so proud to know these two founders- Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, and their growing team. They are some of the smartest, hard working entrepreneurs we know who still manage to have a good time while developing a cleverly branded app changing social interactions on college campuses all over the US. Here’s my interview with Co-Founder and CEO, Tyler Droll. Enjoy the adventures with Yik Yak.
Let’s start with the basics, what is Yik Yak?
The. Best. App. Ever. Just kidding, but seriously Yik Yak is an iPhone and Android app where users post messages or “yaks” for other nearby users to read and interact with. Users can up vote, down vote, and reply to yaks. “Yakkers” can also peek into other locations around the world. It is the best way to see what’s going on in cities and on college campuses.
Where were you when you came up with the idea, and who helped create it?
I had a thought while on a run, and then I sat on a couch for a few hours thinking about it. Brooks Buffington and I (Tyler Droll) created it a few days later at hot desks in the Atlanta Tech Village. My mom actually came up with the name and jokingly sold me the naming rights for a future boat haha. Brooks did all of the artwork and marketing while I coded the app, so it’s been a great partnership from the beginning.
Y’all are taking off! Can you share what traction you currently have?
The past year has been a wild ride on the yak! We have gotten tons of downloads and hundreds of active yak communities or “herds.” On the App Store we have been ranked as high as #3 overall, but we are usually ranked top 25 which puts us amongst apps like WhatsApp and Twitter.
How has your age/being young founders impacted your startup?
Brooks and I are both pretty young. I just turned 24, and Brooks will turn 24 in November. Being this young has been great because we are in the demographic that our app targets, so we can easily get in the minds of our audience. I also think that people have been more helpful because they are happy to teach young kids and don’t mind that we are naive about most things. Being young and inexperienced also allows me to ask some really absurd questions like, “What is a business plan?” without being laughed at.
You have gotten some negative press regarding younger people abusing your app, what would you like folks to know?
Any technology can be abused, and kids younger than college age actually make up an extremely small percentage of our users despite what headlines might indicate. We realized that kids were abusing our application so we became the only app to proactively geo-fence most of the high schools and middle schools to kill any popularity it had in that demographic. We also have tons of filters and moderation running to protect all of our users from any inappropriate content. The best thing we have seen is that the longer our app is around and the more users it gets in a location, then the better a community becomes at policing itself and understanding how to positively use Yik Yak.
What do you love most about being in the Village?
Other than beating Moxie Sports
in ping pong, I really enjoy all of the connections that come from being in an environment like this. Most of our hires have come from referrals or people connected to the Village. I keep hearing that it is hard to find tech talent in Atlanta, but the Village brings people together and has made it really easy!
Where would you like to be in one year?
Hopefully chilling on the roof of the Village sipping a nice pumpkin ale. Ideally Yik Yak will be popular on every American college campus and in every city. The beauty of Yik Yak is that is works anywhere, so I would also like to see it expand internationally. Hopefully whenever there is a big event or news story everyone will turn to Yik Yak to peek into it to see what is happening because no other app provides unfiltered authentic commentary from a specific location.
Any words of wisdom for other young entrepreneurs?
Don’t try to paint the Mona Lisa before you first release your product. I am a huge fan of getting a product out quickly that is merely functional and centered around a very simple idea. Twitter had 140 character text messages, Google had only search, Snapchat had disappearing photos, Instagram scaled way down to just sharing pictures, etc. Don’t get caught up in design, scalability, and tons of features because all of those can come later. By releasing a simple product first, you can instantly see if it is an engaging idea without risking a ton of resources on features you can develop later if necessary.
Anything else you would like us to know?
I love those fruit snack things. Also…work hard, take risks, and don’t be afraid to fail. The worst thing that can happen is you learn something. The best thing I ever did was take a chance and make a different app that failed, but then I used it as a learning experience instead of letting it be a Debbie-Downer.
What is your favorite yak?
My favorite yak is probably the Golden Yak. Those yaks are rare, and their color is so pretty.