Yik Yak founders say their app is really about building community


Yik Yak, the popular college app that lets anyone immediately post to everyone in their vicinity, has a risky reputation that it will have to contend with as it tries to become a real business.

But Brooks Buffington and Tyler Droll, who founded it while in college three years ago, like to look on the bright side of Yik Yak. They were at SXSW talking about how their mobile messaging service can lead to community building, not the destruction that many colleges fear. Here’s part of the conversation, edited and arranged for clarity:

Yik Yak’s inspiration

Droll: I spent three hours trying to come up with a Twitter handle, and they were all taken, and it was frustrating. And then I realized, had I gotten the handle I wanted, I then would have spent weeks and months building up a massive base of followers. So we were, like, why not instantly connect everyone with people they want to talk with and remove the username component so you can instantly hop on the service and start chatting?

Cereal and serendipity
Droll: Someone had gotten a box of cereal, and they opened their fridge and they were out of milk. And they post on Yik Yak, “Hey does anyone have extra milk.” And within a few minutes someone knocks on the door with a glass of milk. Now, imagine posting that on Facebook or Twitter. You’d probably be called weird, and no one is living a couple of doors down from you that is on Facebook. So it fits perfect with Yik Yak, connecting people who aren’t friends on other social networks, who are living in the same community, are nearby.

We’ve had a number of these stories happen of people finding their lost pets. Someone’s cat got out, and they used Yik Yak to track it around campus; people were taking pictures, posting here it is. It was behind this building, and the owner went there and found it.

Buffington: One of my personal favorites is a kid who was driving and his car broke down. He posted on Yik Yak, and within minutes, someone responded. You could have put it out on some other social network, but you would not have gotten that sort of quick response.

Getting a handle on anonymity

Buffington: When we launched, we knew that we didn’t want to have profiles, because things like other social networks ask for — when you have to put in all these photos, everything is tracking what you’ve done in the past — and it just becomes this anchor that starts to weigh you down over time. Now, we found a way to introduce them in way that makes sense.

Droll: Over time, we’ve seen people asking for handles in ways they can identify who they’re chatting with, and building even tighter-knit communities. So last week, we announced the introduction of handles where you can pick a unique username handle component and toggle on and off as you post. But now, you can start to recognize people as you post and form relationships, build up your identity.

Yik Yak bullies
Buffington: It’s an unfortunate issue that the whole industry has to deal with. I think we’ve done a really good job of addressing them head on. As soon as we saw high-schoolers and middle-schoolers hopping on the app, we immediately geofenced them off.

What millennials want
Buffington: What they want in terms of apps is lightweight. When we started Yik Yak, we didn’t want to have to go through the username process profile creation or anything like that. We just put you right through to the content. Millennials also have super-short attention spans, so if all they’re seeing is four pages of tutorial and on-boarding process, they’re just going to get bored and say it’s not worth it.

Droll: You can see that trend with the rise of other apps outside of Yik Yak: this concept of making it quick and casual. Think about Slack. Think about Snapchat versus Facebook; it’s quick it’s casual. Snapchat versus Instagram. That’s what users crave. They want to emulate real life. We’re just having a conversation; it’s very casual versus taking two minutes to think about the next word I’m going to say.