Rob, the co-founder and president of Yapper, wants to help you connect with others in a more effective way. Our Mobile Development graduate created this app to reverse the goal of social media. Instead of meeting online, you can now better connect digitally with people who you’ve met in person. Recently, the Yapper team was tasked with organizing Washington’s presence at SXSW 2015. They’ve been named the “Official App of the DC House at SXSW.”
TLDR: If you’re from DC, and you’ll be traveling to SXSW, you should absolutely download Yapper.
What were you doing before you came to General Assembly?
Where to start?? Well… I grew up in… haha, j/k.
About two years ago I founded my second company with a close friend that I had known for over 6 years. We were getting our MBAs at the time. Prior to grad school, I was working in Miami managing and directing an asset management database for the FDIC.
What motivated you to enroll in our Mobile Development (MOB) course in Washington, DC?
Being a ‘non technical’ co-founder is a bit of a faux pas in the tech space. Early on, that didn’t concern Justin (my co-founder) and me all that much, but as we built out our business we saw it becoming more and more significant. We’ve been lucky to have (generally) great experiences outsourcing our development, but that is by no means a scalable solution. Enter GA’s Mobile Dev course.
Tell us more about Yapper?
At its core, we’re trying to connect people in a personal way. The goal with Yapper is to reverse the trends of social media – instead of connecting you with everyone you’ve ever met, we’re trying to get you to form real connections with people experiencing the same thing as you.
To do this, we’ve focused on relevance and personalization. Messaging apps are this generation’s ‘social lubricant,’ so we made a product that leverages that idea but is also open and public. Use our app anywhere in the world and you can have a conversation with other people around you. That is a very powerful tool. We’ve modeled the app after iMessage so it is intuitive to use and is inherently personal.
What is your role at Yapper?
As a co-founder of an early-stage startup, the easy answer is “everything.” Justin and I complement each other perfectly. He is more focused on daily operations—marketing, sales, finances, and investments—while I’m more focused on the product, technology, and creative aspects of the company. We both dig in and collaborate on all major decisions.
You have a big role engaging people at SXSW. Can you tell me more about that experience?
I just smiled reading this question. 🙂
SXSW is such a fantastic opportunity for us because all our assumptions from a product perspective can be addressed in one weekend. There is a very large amount of people in one location at the same time…we can have overlapping conversations. We can promote events for organizers who don’t even know we exist. We can provide content that people outside of Austin can find valuable. Best of all, we can do all of this with the technology that we’ve developed and is available today.
First, we were lucky enough to meet the wonderful team at WDCEP tasked with organizing Washington DC’s presence at SXSW this year. They are promoting everything DC and have selected Yapper to be the “Official App of the DC House at SXSW.” It’s a really fun way that we can promote their efforts and the DC community while doing what we love —connecting people and shaping local communities.
Because we feel that SXSW is such an amazing opportunity, we’ve gone much further than just coordinating with WDCEP. From a technical standpoint, we’ve integrated with the two largest event organizers on the Internet (meetup.com and Eventbrite). From a press standpoint, we built a public portal where you can see all of the conversations happening on our network in real time (yappwith.us). From a guerrilla-marketing standpoint, we’ve hired a street team and have a comprehensive online marketing strategy. But, let’s be realistic. Our marketing budget is slim so in order for Yapper make a dent at SXSW we need to have a product that people will tell their friends about. This viral loop has taken us a long time to build and is an absolutely crucial element if any mobile app is going to be successful.
We’re so excited to have you as a part of our GA Advisors team! What do you hope to bring to fellow graduates during your office hours?
I love chatting with early-stage entrepreneurs. Ask me about your MVP, your app’s UI/UX, fundraising goals, marketing strategies, or have a high-level conversation about Apple’s Swift programming language. I’d like to be a resource that can help GA students with anything “Mobile.”
How has GA been a resource to you and your peers outside of class?
That’s easy—thanks to GA, my company can now make money!
When I started the class Yapper was a consumer-facing app. We had no monetization strategy; we were trying to hit the home run. Today our model is more refined. Justin and I realized that the “location” aspect of our location-based app was only the start of tackling the “relevancy” problem I talked about earlier. We realized that in order for our users to have a truly relevant experience we need to integrate our technology into other third-party apps. That’s what I’m building for my final project—a GA branded location-based messaging app. Coming soon to the iOS app store will be a way that students can communicate with other students on any GA campus anywhere in the world.
Justin and I decided that we want to give our SDK away to all GA students for free. The SDK is still in the works, but at scale we’ll be able to provide locational and conversational data for the Data Science classes, we will provide the back-end tech for a GA Mobile Developer to make the dating app of his/her dreams (powered by Yapper), and we will provide content for the GA Front-End Web Developers to create a categorization system that rivals Reddit. And that’s just the start of what creative programmers can do with this kit! To get a taste of what I’m talking about, I encourage all the devs out there to check out our first public API.
Have fun, and remember — we’re hiring!
Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I don’t know if there is such a thing as an aspiring entrepreneur. I don’t want to be brash, but you either have it or you don’t. There’s very little I can say that the great entrepreneurs of the world haven’t already said— so read everything you can, follow people that inspire you, and live your life pursuing something that you’re passionate about. If you’re passionate about creating a company, that’s awesome, but that doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal. It can be traveling the world with your girlfriend, or working promotions for a sports team. Everyone is different, and if you focus in on what you’re passionate about (“passionate about” is different than ‘”enjoy doing”) you will be successful.
“Ever have those really clear thoughts right before you go to bed?
… I made a habit of writing those down.”
Lastly, who is your favorite teacher and why?
My favorite teacher is iTunes U, hands down. I know that’s vague, but it’s so true that nothing else comes close.
In the fall I followed along as Sam Altman of YC taught an incredible course called How To Start a Startup. Currently I’m following along (even though I’m intimidated every time I press play) with Stanford’s Spring 2015 Developing iOS 8 Apps with Swift. These are just two examples of the world-class material that is available to everyone with Internet, for free. Whether you buy into open sourcing or not, there’s no argument that this effort is transformational.
Melanie Albert interviews alumni from around the world as the Global Program Manager of Alumni at General Assembly.