When Artur Zvinchuk and Chahin Aghrim started developing the idea for Youpendo, they imagined leveraging a community of giving-minded people into a charitable crowdfunding resource.
By the time the app launched in May, the Goldey Beacom College students, who came to Delaware from Germany on soccer scholarships, had dropped the crowdfunding aspect and focused on one thing only: human connection.
Although it wasn’t planned that it would launch in the middle of a pandemic where social distancing from others has been a necessity, the timing of it was just right. People all over the world were distancing, quarantining and generally minimizing human contact. With the app — recently named a 2020 Technical.ly Awards nominee for Invention of the Year — they could virtually catch a “paper airplane” and find an encouraging message in video, audio or text from a stranger. In turn, they could choose a prompt to make their own messages to be “caught” by a random stranger.
In the early version of the app, which caught on by word-of-mouth soon after dropping in the Apple Store, that was the end of the relationship. Unsurprisingly, users wanted more connection.
“It’s been amazing to catch paper planes and to see inspiration from all over the world,” Zvinchuk said. “But what our users want now is to talk with the people that inspired them, they wanted to create new friendships and new meaningful connections.”
The solution Zvinchuk and Aghrim came up with is “rooms,” topic-driven spontaneous group conversations that automatically self-delete after 24 hours.
“You’ll can jump in and out of rooms, have conversations around big and small topics and create new friendships,” said Zvinchuk. “Paper planes are now like the icebreaker. If you like someone’s perspective, you connect with them.”
Users can create rooms themselves, including adding a topic.
“It can be a shower thought, it can be a question or whatever you want,” Zvinchuk said. “Then you can invite whoever you’re connected with on Youpendo to join you for an authentic conversation.”
One intentional limitation: No one-on-one chats, for safety reasons.
“We purposefully created and designed the rooms for groups. We believe it’s safer to meet people in group environments,” said Zvinchuk. “The special part of Youpendo is that you connect with people that you don’t know, but that’s also our biggest threat.”
As the app grows — it’s now in use in 111 countries, per the cofounders — safety concerns continue to be a priority. Currently, future features in development include premium subscriptions, which will help the app generate revenue, since they’ve committed to not running advertising on the app. The features will continue to focus on connecting people.
“For previous generations, making friends always happened in person,” Zvinchuk said. “The app breaks those boundaries and opens a new window to the world.”-30-
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