During Wellesley’s finals period in fall 2014, Hannah Wei ’18 and Olivia Joslin ’18 were in the initial stages of creating a brand: CliqBit. A social media application designed for iPhones, CliqBit serves as a new platform for users to share, as Wei describes, “life’s bloopers” in the form of disappearing posts, memes, videos and more.
The name CliqBit represents two aspects of the application. Cliq comes from the word clique, or social group. Users can form “cliqs” on the app with friends in order to create a private space to share personal jokes and funny moments. Bit represents the comedic purpose of the app; it alludes to stand up comedy routines, which are called bits.
After meeting on their hall during the first week of their first year, Joslin and Wei began a close friendship. Although their backgrounds were very different as Joslin is from South Carolina and Wei is an international student from Taiwan, they had similar passions and ideas.
“We were so lucky to be able to meet each other. I think having a co-founder and a supporter in a startup is very helpful — someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who is on the same page as you in terms of goals,” Joslin explained.
During their first year, Joslin and Wei became familiar with the various social media apps popular around college campuses including Snapchat, YikYak, GroupMe and Facebook. Their reasoning for wanting to create a new social space that targeted college students and focused on humor, was that they found aspects of all of these social media platforms that they wanted to change or emphasize in their own app.
“Right now with current popular platforms, it’s either anonymous and very temporary, it disappears, or it’s professional or very permanent. Our hope for CliqBit is that it will be a bridge between these types of platforms,” Wei explained.
The co-founders decided that they did not want an anonymous platform and instead wanted to share usernames as a way to reduce anonymous bullying and promote positivity on the app. Users can create a profile and set up social groups, or cliques, in order to choose the audience with whom they share their jokes and funny moments. The co-founders proposed this feature in order to create a more personal and comfortable feel for the app.
“The pictures for CliqBit are more natural and capture natural and funny moments, whereas the pictures for apps like Facebook or Instagram tend to be posed or staged, specifically taken for the app. Whereas Instagram and Facebook sometimes have staged ‘candid’ pictures, the pictures on CliqBit are truly ‘candid,’” Talia Tandler ’18 commented. Tandler, a friend of Wei and Joslin, helped provide feedback by testing out earlier builds of the app before the official launch.
CliqBit sets itself apart from other social media platforms in that the user may choose how long their post will remain on their profile, whether a joke will stay for five minutes, 48 hours or permanently.
“That gives a generation that is very aware of digital permanence a lot more flexibility,” Joslin said.
As full-time students last year, Wei and Joslin encountered challenges not only in developing the product but also in learning to juggle classes, exams and launching a startup. Wei is a cinema and media studies and computer science double major and Joslin is an environmental science and computer science double major. Both discovered an interest for computer science in college. While Joslin was able to take time off from classes at Wellesley, Wei will continue this semester to attend classes at MIT, especially focusing on computer science and business management.
“I like the juggling act. It was a cool challenge to experience. I think that it was important for us to take a step back and realize that this is a lot,” Joslin said.
“You just have to make sacrifices, you can’t do everything; you have to realize that. And you can’t do everything perfectly. Running around and still completing your duties as a daughter and a student and as a co-founder … Some nights you sacrifice sleep or going out,” Wei added on to Joslin’s thoughts on their balancing school and work.
As first years during spring semester of 2015, the two were building a team to code the app, learn about the legal and marketing aspects of starting a brand and testing versions of the app. They found their team through recommendations from their corporate lawyer.
“It’s crucial,” Joslin said, referring to building a team to create the CliqBit brand. “We’re dealing with testing on our end, we’re dealing with marketing, we’re dealing with raising finances. In order to scale an app properly, most people don’t realize this, but you absolutely have to have a team behind you.”
Joslin and Wei relied on Wellesley friends as unofficial members of the CliqBit team. Friends tested builds of the app as the co-founders were producing them. There was a point in their 11 months of production at which the CliqBit team was releasing a new edited version of the app once a week on Apple’s beta-testing application TestFlight. Friends such as Tandler would try out the new version of the app and provide feedback. Their feedback was especially helpful because CliqBit was initially targeted towards college students.
Both co-founders emphasized that in launching their app and creating a brand for themselves, they have been consistently and rapidly gaining practical experience and have gotten valuable advice outside the classroom.
“The rate at which we are learning things is unequivocal to even what I’ve learned in school. It’s by hour that we’re making some mistakes and we’re growing in that way. It’s pretty astounding,” Joslin said.
Wei emphasized the importance of learning from others as students who were inexperienced in the startup world. The two founders especially sought support from Professor Brian Tjaden at Wellesley. Wei also found that people with experience were willing to share valuable advice in order to help the two begin to market their brand.
“It’s so important to ask questions and to listen to everybody, whether they be younger or older than you. Most people are very kind and they are willing to share their life experiences or their advice with you,” Wei stated. “From our friends at GetMii, what we really learned from them is that it is like a relationship in that you don’t come in and beg people to use your app; you try to form a relationship so that people feel connected to your product.”
Even after the launch of the app this week, the pace at which the co-founders have been working to create the CliqBit brand will not slow. Joslin and Wei will continue to raise finances, market and oversee new edits to the app. They will be speaking at WECode Harvard on a panel at the end of February. After their release this week, Wei and Joslin plan to expand their app both to the Android market and internationally, particularly in Wei’s native country Taiwan.