Yik Yak has laid off 60 percent of employees amid a downturn in the app’s growth prospects, The Verge has learned. The three-year-old anonymous social network has raised $73.5 million from top-tier investors on the promise that its young, college-age network of users could one day build a company to rival Facebook. But the challenge of growing its community while moving gradually away from anonymity has so far proven to be more than the company could muster.
Employees who were affected were informed of the layoffs Thursday morning, sources told The Verge. Yik Yak employed about 50 people, and now only about 20 remain, the company said. The community, marketing, design, and product teams were all deeply affected, one source said.
“We recently made some strategic changes at Yik Yak in line with our key areas of focus for the company,” CEO Tyler Droll told The Verge in an email. “Unfortunately, as part of that we had to make the difficult decision to lay off a portion of the team. We are incredibly appreciative of their contributions toward making Yik Yak the special place for college students around the world that it is today.”
Atlanta-based Yik Yak was founded in 2014 by Furman University students Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington. The app updated the concept of dorm newsletters for the mobile era, letting anyone post comments about school, their campus, or life in general. The fact that comments were anonymous initially helped the app grow, as it encouraged more candid forms of sharing than students might otherwise post on Facebook or Instagram.
A year after it launched, Yik Yak had cracked the top 10 most downloaded apps, and it eventually spread to thousands of college campuses around the world. By November 2014, investors had valued the company at $400 million.
But growth stalled almost immediately after Sequoia’s investment. As with Secret before it, the app’s anonymous nature created a series of increasingly difficult problems for the business. Almost from the start, Yik Yak users reported incidents of bullying and harassment. Multiple schools were placed on lockdown after the app was used to make threats. Some schools even banned it. Yik Yak put tools in place designed to reduce harassment, but growth began to slow soon afterward.
In March, Yik Yak began letting users add optional handles to their post. In August, the company started requiring users to add handles. The handles did not have to correspond to the users’ real identities, but users revolted anyway. The App Store was littered with 1-star reviews, and the app did not see its usual bump in downloads when college students came back to school in September. Yik Yak is not currently among the 1,500 most-downloaded apps in the App Store, according to market research firm App Annie.
Yik Yak quietly reversed itself in November, allowing users to once again post to the app without using handles. But the move appears to have done little to attract new users.
The company still has millions of dollars left in the bank, giving it more time to figure out a new path forward. Yik Yak says the existing app will continue in development. But given the current trends, it seems likely that the remaining team members will need to try a new approach.
Update, 4:09 p.m.: This story has been updated to include new information about the number of employees affected. An earlier version of this story said that 70 percent of employees had been laid off, but Yik Yak later revised the figure to 60 percent.