Social media is a megaphone that oversees many different means of communication—brand promotion, small talk, storytelling and even trolling.
But lately, one in particular stands out—heated political commentary. Relentless debates are constantly erupting on digital battlegrounds like Facebook and Twitter and they’re largely centered on conflicting opinions about this year’s presidential candidates.
People have an innate need for their voices to be heard.
That’s why an app created by five NC State friends could be appealing. It lets people share their unfiltered opinions on recent political and social unrest, and hear arguments back.
The idea was formed one night when Josh Puente, a NC State computer and electrical engineering major, was watching First Take. It’s an ESPN talk show featuring discussions between co-hosts and interviewees that often escalate into heated debates.
Puente wondered if he could create a platform to serve as a medium for arguments by average people. Specifically, he wanted to create a mobile experience that allows users to “argue and go at it” like the personalities on First Take would.
He immediately pitched the idea to four of his friends—fellow engineering students Jeremiah Ufot and Rob Dates, along with business and sports management student Marcus Spruill and DomiNick Downing, a social work major.
Following that, Puente and Dates enrolled in an online coding course to learn the skills they needed to begin development.
It then took 15 months to create the app, a time span Puente calls “a journey,” leading up to its launch.
Finally the app, named Yaheard, became available to iPhone users for free in March.
Here’s how it works:
- A user initially makes a statement around any topic they want.
- Another user, the “attacker,” then poses an argument in response to that statement.
- Meanwhile, other users can engage with the debate by agreeing or disagreeing with arguments. These options are all anonymous, which Spruill says is a way of decreasing bias.
- Users anonymously vote on who they think argued their point best.
- Once statements are made and votes are cast, the names of the debaters are revealed, along with the announcement of who won.
Yaheard has an “explore” page that displays trending topics, which might give users some direction if they’re not sure what to post.
They can also browse fellow debaters’ profiles to see stats like following/follower count and their ratios of statements and arguments. A direct message function allows users to connect.
Puente says topics range from women’s rights and #BlackLivesMatter to sports and entertainment.
Debates of hot topics, especially those around the presidential election, are to be expected. But Spruill says sometimes arguments pop up around obscure topics. He recalls coming across a debate about the existence of aliens.
While some might see Facebook and Instagram as competitors in the social media space, Yaheard differentiates itself.
It has an implicit aim to eliminate bias by not giving users an option to delete their posts. And they can choose who they want to argue with and anonymously vote on the “winner” of the argument, says Puente.
Establishing a user base and building on feedback
Like many beginning entrepreneurs, the team is working to balance school and work with bringing to life an idea they’re passionate about.
In that way, Yaheard is more of a side project, but the team certainly doesn’t plan for it to stay that way.
With hopes to grow more users and land investment, the team plans to eventually dive into their work full time, outside of just nights and weekends.
Since March, the app has won almost 2,000 users. Puente says the app was launched as a “beta version,” and has received four minor updates.
Puente says most users reside in the Raleigh area, but some are scattered in random locations—like California, New Jersey and even London.
About 20 loyal users interact with the app daily and beg for new updates.
The team is prepping for a second release in November to give users those new features.
Puente calls the update a “reset with the full capabilities of what Yaheard is supposed to look like.”
It’ll include new user-experience features and improvements, all around a new design that allows for social media integration. A login-through-Facebook option will enable users to invite friends to sign up and join them on the app.
The new features will all encompass a unique, yet simple new design that’ll make navigating through the app easier. Spruill calls this the “argument interface.”
The transition from students to entrepreneurs
Since the startup is so young, the team hasn’t yet landed long-term mentors.
And, although it’s difficult, Spruill says there’s a positive to going at it alone. It strengthens the team’s dynamic as they learn each other’s strong suits and weaknesses throughout the startup journey.
But one snag they’ve had to face is an unexpected delay in Android development.
They originally planned to develop an Android version simultaneously with the iPhone version, but decided to focus completely on iOS until the version was perfected and user-approved.
But the November relaunch will free some time for the team to work on Android. They plan for a release on Google Play around March 2017.
Dates and Puente, both recent graduates from NC State, have already begun careers in mobile development. Puente works as a developer at Lithos Apps, a firm located in Raleigh, and Dates is a developer at Adobe.
Spruill, who graduated NC State in 2015, remembers having free time during the day to fulfill his role as Yaheard’s communications director when he was a student.
But now that he’s temporarily working full time at a clothing warehouse, he says it’s difficult to dedicate time to Yaheard since he’s only free in the evenings.
“I really can’t wait to be able to work for Yaheard full time,” Spruill says. “Hopefully that’s in the near future.”
Puente plans to continue working for Lithios and growing skills he can bring to Yaheard, but he wants to dedicate all his time to his startup as soon as it secures enough investment for the team to quit their jobs.
Outlook for the future
The men have bootstrapped Yaheard since the beginning, but the team hopes to change that and land funding around January of next year.
In efforts to do so, the Yaheard team will test out some revenue ideas alongside the app’s relaunch this fall.
The plan is to partner with companies interested in customer feedback. For a subscription fee, restaurants, tech firms or sports companies will be able to post content on Yaheard and see what users say. They’ll get access to charts and analytics that reflect users’ opinions about the questions they pose about their brands.
“The way we organize these analytics, based on the arguments on the app, is where it will become extremely valuable to third party companies,” Puente says.
On the marketing side, the team is looking to hire firms to help with social media and email campaigns. The update’s new social media sharing and invite features will also help spread the word about Yaheard.
Though Yaheard hasn’t secured any investment yet, it has geared for success in other ways.
Users have caught on to the idea because it satisfies their opinion-sharing needs in a way that’s more direct than other social media platforms which allow room for debate only as an aside to other functions.
Spruill affirms this when he says, “It relates to what people do on a regular basis."