Startup Forensics | Yik Yak: a deadly combination

This is Startup Forensics: Yik Yak.

Startup Forensics, Yik Yak

Keeping it simple

The idea of ​​the YikYak founders was quite simple: short messages, called Yaks, to share with anyone who was close, very close, without having to reveal an identity.

  • Class notes requests
  • Complains about the cafeteria food
  • Or it was simply used to express your thoughts without the risk of being judged

What they did right.

A diamond in the rough? YikYak was a social network that would reach a coveted market sector: university students. At the peak of its fame, in 2014, Yik Yak was better ranked than giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest in the AppStore, counting 1.8 million downloads that year.

More muscle than their competitors

During Yik Yak’s prime, other apps like Secret and Formspring used anonymity to grow a community of users around them. These apps ran with the same fate of disappearing, but they died even earlier, in 2015. They couldn’t beat Yik Yak in terms of venture capital either.

When did the ship start sinking?

Although the initial enthusiasm of freely asking “who wants to go for a beer later?” could keep Yik Yak’s flame alive, anonymity also gave place to disturbing situations: like receiving negative comments about your image or being close in the same room as your stalker and not knowing who it was.

This wasn’t enough.

Cases like that of young Elizabeth Long echoed in the press. Elizabeth tried to commit suicide and while she was recovering, she saw some messages in Yik Yak, which invited her to do it again, but this time to have “luck” in achieving her goal. Another well-known case was that of feminist Grace Rebecca Mann, who appeared dead. United denounced that she had received numerous threats through the anonymous platform.


Chicago was a particularly problematic site for the application. In an interview, one of the founders said that it was curious that people did not stop talking about Yik Yak in that state, but when they came to download it, they simply could not use it.

What happened to them?

Droll said they stopped listening to their users, distanced themselves from them and, according to him, that’s when the fall began.

Lessons learned:

  1. Power & responsibility: generating expectations in users and investors is a great power that comes with great responsibility.
  2. Anonymity and proximity: The thing that made your company grow can also destroy it if you don’t evolve.
  3. Change the rules of the game: Listen to what your customers want and give it to them, but don’t pivot so much that they don’t recognize you or identify themselves with your product.
  4. Bad press: if they are talking about your company, it’s fine, but if they associate it with negative situations all the time, well, it isn’t. When the press talks about your product, act as soon as possible.
  5. Grow with your audience: It’s fine that you focus on your customers, but think about how you can continue to be relevant to them. Especially if they are college students, who will soon graduate and go home.




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