Students rapidly design and sell new app
In just 50 days, two USC students have built an app, partnered with Samsung, and launched their product in Spain at the Mobile World Congress, the largest mobile event across the globe.
USC student Karthik Gollapudi and USC alum Evan Tann have created an app called iwunta, which they believe is the first true social network.
Gollapudi, a junior majoring in computer science and business administration, said that the real purpose of a social network is to bring people closer to their friends.
“If you think about it, Facebook is past tense, what happened at last night’s party. Snapchat and Twitter are present tense, what is happening right now,” Gollapudi said. “But if a social network is supposed to bring you closer to your friends, it has to be future tense to actually help you foster new relationships. That’s where we come in.”
Iwunta is designed to help make last-minute plans for anything spontaneous. The user first selects what he or she wants to do, such as working out or getting coffee. Then iwunta will find friends that are nearby to go with the user in one tap. A user will choose a friend group to invite, the time and the event activity. If the user sets the time for the event in an hour, the app will send the message only to friends within a one mile radius. If the user wants to go to the beach in a few hours, the app will send it to all of his or her friends within the city.
The friends will receive a message about the event and will have the option of downloading a group chat. Even if the user sends the request to 100 friends, it will not send to all 100 at once. It would start with one’s closest friends, and if no one responds, it will continue sending to a broader and broader group. The user will only hear back from those who say yes, so you only hear positive feedback.
Gollupudi said he appreciates that the app provides location-based messaging without revealing your friends’ locations.
“It never reveals the location of the people you are contacting so you don’t have to infringe on anyone’s privacy,” Gollupudi said.
Gollapudi and Tann partnered with Samsung in January, and joined Samsung in Spain for the Mobile World Congress. At the event, Samsung globally released its new Gear 2 wearable device and featured iwunta as one of its main apps. Iwunta was featured adjacent to the CNN mobile app.
“It was buzzing with activity and it was really incredible that Samsung featured us on their device and has been working with us,” Tann said. “We’ve been building technology for them ever since.”
Now the pair is talking to global partners and working to get distribution across the planet. They are now venture-funded out of Silicon Valley and have key angel investors, private investors who bring monetary value, powerful connections and have incredible experience building companies and serving as advisors. They designed the product on iOS for iPhones, Android and the Galaxy Gear 2 watch, so that if someone receives an iwunta the user can respond to it on any device. They plan to release iwunta to all of USC on April 9.
Gollapudi and Tann first designed the app after Tann met with an investor at the Consumer Electronic Show, the world’s largest electronic show in Las Vegas. The investor suggested that Tann should start building messaging on wearables. Tann and Gollapudi were classmates together at the time in one of USC Professor Ashish Soni’s courses. They quickly began to brainstorm ideas about how to make messaging work on a wearable watch, which has a one-inch screen, no speaker and no keyboard.
They believe that building off this small wearable device was the best thing for the app, since it produced a design that was easy.
“One of the reasons we have an advantage is because our app is clean and simple, since we started with wearables,” Tann said, “we focused on very core features and traveled backwards onto the mobile phone, whereas most people build for the phone first.”
For Trojans interested in tech entrepreneurship, Tann recommends getting started quickly. The two learned the coding language for the app and built their first version in just two weeks during the school year. They also encourage USC students to seek help through a professional advisor.
“Find somebody you really respect in the industry. Reach out to them. Show them that you really value their advice and that you really care about what they have to say by following through with everything they suggest,” Tann said. “Follow through 110 percent beyond their expectations.”
Tann said that drive helped them attract their chairman, Wendell Brown. Wendell has been in the startup industry for almost 30 years, and he’s had incredible successes. His past two companies have been sold to Microsoft and AOL. He cofounded LiveOps, which has made more than 150 million dollars in annual revenue.
Gollapudi recommends starting early and finding good people to work with along the way.
“Literally just start building. I think the biggest component is making sure you’re having fun doing it. Find people you really like working with,” Gollapudi said. “Start building things first because you honestly can’t iterate just on ideas.”
“Get out there and start building,” Tann said. “Chances are if you push yourself hard enough, and you’re willing to put in the hours, you can. That’s how you’re going to move faster than anybody else, and that’s what it’s going to take to beat others in the industry.”
“I think the most valid excuse would be, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ but no one does,” Gollapudi said. “To be honest, we don’t know what we’re doing a lot of the time. We didn’t even know Objective C, which is a language that all iPhone programs are written in. We didn’t know that the day we started on this app so it’s a matter of getting out there, doing it, and learning it on the fly.”
Tann also emphasized the importance of being malleable.
“Don’t fall in love with the idea, either. A lot of people have ideas that they think are brilliant and are going to be perfect, and it’s never the case — no matter how good you are,” Tann said. “Facebook, when it first started, was essentially a phone book for colleges and it grew a lot from there. You can’t know where to grow until you get it into the hands of users and start asking for their feedback. Fall in love with a solution and helping people — not a specific idea.”
“We have a lot more to do,” Gollapudi said. “So far we’ve built a product but now it’s time to build a company. Now it gets busy.”