False Alarm at UNC Sparks Bevii's Revival - 1

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False Alarm at UNC Sparks Bevii's Revival - 1
The backlash from Bevii founder Taylor Robinette's fake shooting alert at UNC last fall might have seemed like a death sentence for any young startup.

But the saying must be true that, "No press is bad press," because Robinette still has $300,000 in funding and new plans to relaunch the site in the fall on campuses across the Southeast.

ExitEvent learned of his plans after several interviews in recent weeks. He admits that the decision to ironically promote his new social media application through a campus-wide emergency email blast was a poor one. Besides that he alarmed many members of the student body, UNC temporarily shut down his site as punishment.

But the wide reach of media coverage in the days after the escapade won him some valuable new contacts which will soon help him expand the app's reach around the nation.

"It was funny seeing that the article was written in several different languages and published in a lot of national publications," Robinette says. "We weren't ready for national publicity and it (the app) was still closed off to UNC, Duke and State at the time. Going forward now, we've opened up to the whole nation, brought on a new developer and are looking to expand."

Robinette is working out of Launch Chapel Hill alongside mentors to ensure a bright future for the company.

So what is Bevii? Robinette explains it as a mobile location-based app that rates a user's relationships based on a combination of time spent online and offline with those people. It also helps users create new relationships based on the common places they frequent. Relationships are ranked on a scale of one to five, showing more information about a person the longer the user knows him or her and the more they interact on and offline. Bevii also awards points for inviting friends to join- those can be redeemed for prizes. Here's a video explaining it all:

Bevii originally launched in October 2013 and had about 1,500 downloads. But the app had some major flaws- the existing GPS and wi-fi technology didn't connect users accurately. Since the debacle last fall, Robinette and a team of developers have worked to fix the glitches and add more features-like sharing Bevii activity on other social media sites. To relaunch the company this fall, they'll enlist campus representatives to help advertise the service initially at the local universities and James Madison University, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.

Robinette thinks Bevii's improvements will help the social media venture take off.

"In general, the feedback that we've gotten (on the revised app) is that it looks great, people really like the design, the concept is spot on."

Robinette, a historical high achiever

It shouldn't come as too big of a surprise that Robinette has landed on his feet. He has a history of ambition and entrepreneurism.

The Maryland native wasn't your average lemonade stand operator. As a young kid, he earned more than $300 through a Coca-Cola and candy stand and later, made $20,000 in 10 days selling Taylor Made Kettle Corn at the Maryland State Fair. His first technology startup was LifeClickz, dreamt up during his freshman year of high school. It was a platform that awarded credits, redeemable for prizes, for inviting friends, taking surveys and answering daily questions. Though he operated LifeClickz from his bedroom, it had 250,000 members in the first month.

Robinette was then a finalist for the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program, a full-ride scholarship program at UNC and Duke.

He started Bevii during his freshman year of college and raised an initial $75,000 for its development from John Stedman, the Charlotte investor whose family backs the Carolina Challenge.

Since then, Bevii has received $300,000 in investments from local angel investors including: Jim Kitchen (the UNC professor who helped create Launch Chapel Hill and opened 1789 Venture Lab), Tim Huntley (COO at the health IT company Paired Health) and Timothy Goettel (partner at Smith Anderson).

As a freshman, Robinette enrolled in Kitchen's upper level Business 500 class. He's also in the process of creating his own interdisciplinary studies major called Tech Entrepreneurship. It would combine the best classes from the Computer Science Department, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kenan Flagler Business School and the Minor in Entrepreneurship. Robinette said he needs a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences to back his proposal.

The funds and the plans.

Robinette said his funding was raised in two rounds-first, $110,000 and a second round with $190,000.

The funding has helped the team move away from the traditional location-based services and into Bluetooth low energy technology, which more accurately detects location and won't drain a phone's battery. Bevii's initial development was handled by Smashing Boxes out of Durham. But now Bevii has hired a head iOS developer to take over development.

Bevii is ramping up for the fall and Robinette is hopeful that the influx of students coming back will help the app take off again. A meeting with Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian after the email disaster lent him some helpful advice.

"He said in almost every tech startup he's ever started, almost every time it's a high point on launch day, then you fall in a trough of sorrow, followed by false wiggles of hope and then user growth," Robinette says. "We get more than one shot at this. Hopefully we're almost out of that."