Four Social Media Startups Winning on Uncommon Ground

Four Social Media Startups Winning on Uncommon Ground

The social media world has thrived under the dominance of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Their influence is so loud that you wonder if there will ever be a chance for any other social media startup. But there is a new breed of startups scaling through the domineering wind of the giants by doing things differently. The four of them have figured out what is missing in the dominant social media platforms and leveraged on them to pull a surprise.


TTYL, founded by Alex Ma and Austen M, with a startup capital of $2 million, invested by Floodgate Fund, SV Angel, Weekend Fund and Shrug Capital.

TTYL makes an iphone app that aims to change how people talk to each other on the phone. The idea came when Alex Ma graduated from the university and felt he had lost touch with his friends. Although they still talked often, but there was something missing.

“I started to feel like I was losing touch with my friends, even though we were texting every day.” He told The Information that he started calling them randomly, and realized that “how we get into phone calls just hasn’t changed since the landline.”

So Alex teamed up with his brother Austen to build a place where people can feel present with their friends and family when they’re physically apart. And so came the birth of TTYL.

TTYL uses Snapchat’s nascent developer platform to authenticate new users and allow them to add custom Bitmoji avatars to their profiles. Ma said the technique makes more sense given the user overlap between TTYL’s younger target demographic and Snapchat’s. Moreover, he has no intention of selling ads so there is no need to collect people’s information: A reason why he chose Snapchat because it collects little user data. Ma said revenue will eventually be generated through optional in-app purchases or through the sales of physical merchandise.


Another startup with a potential to scale the hurdle is Squad. Founded by Esther Crawford and Ethan Sutin, the company has raised $5 million through investors like First Round, Alpha Bridge, Y Combinator and BBG Ventures.

The idea of Squad came when Esther Crawford’s 13 year old daughter complained that she couldn’t see what her friend was doing on her phone’s screen while the two of them were talking on the phone.

So Crawford and Ethan Sutin, set out to create Squad, which lets users see what is happening on their iphone screen in real time while they’re video chatting. Squad is using apple’s software for iphone which gives developers the ability to easily capture what is happening on a user’s screen.

Squad relies on scanning user’s contacts list to suggest new friends while it’s working on developing a new functionality to discover new friends.

Over 200 million minutes have been spent on calls inside the app in 10 months of availability. The company commands a large number of young people who are between the ages of 13 and 22, most of them are based outside the U.S.

Squad also uses Snapchat’s developer platform for quick user authentication and because it has no intention to collect user data or serve ads. Crawford said:

“We’re not interested in an ad-based model. We think that the gaming model is much more interesting, where you have micro-transactions and micro-subscriptions. It aligns users with product development in a much better way. Because we want to build little things that you will actually pay for.”


Another one is YOLO, founded by Gregoire Henrion and Clement Raffenoux with an investment capital of $2.5 million by A Capital, Bridgewater Capital, SV Angel and Weekend Fund.

The startup is an anonymous social network for young people where they can pose anonymous questions through their Snapchat stories. About five months ago, the app went up to number 1 on apps chart list, beating the odds where similar apps like YikYak have failed.

Like TTYL and Squad, YOLO leveraged Snapchat to pull a crowd of users in a very short time. The app is planning to add a new feature that includes anonymous, interest-based group chats for users who have a common interest: For instance, a workplace or a high school; using Snapchat’s Bitmoji avatars so that users can be identified by their digital avatar instead of their real names.

But there is a challenge! Due to the anonymous style of the app, content moderation becomes a top priority and the company is taking at it aggressively using artificial intelligence. About 10 percent of the messages sent fail to deliver because they are scanned and found to be offensive or hateful. Henrion said it’s a challenge that anonymity has presented.

“The challenge with anonymity is to create a healthy community, and we are doing that.”


Cocoon is the fourth app on the list, founded by Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell with an investment capital of $3 million funded by Y Combinator, Lerer Hippeau, Susa and Norwest.

Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell were two former employees of Facebook who sought to do things differently. Instead of allowing users to connect to as many people as possible, Cocoon narrowed the connections to closest relationships.

Although the app is yet to go public, Sachin described what they are working on as a digital space for close friends and family. The founders have been researching on a couple of things, from how people use apps to physical spaces like the living rooms, and how people interact in those spaces.

The idea is to create a method quite different from what is common in popular social media platforms that can keep family and close friends in a circle. Sachin said:

“We have a lot of latent desires that I think just, given the way everything shook out over the last 10 years, has sort of been left behind a little bit.”

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