Stalled user growth has been blamed on harassment and hyperlocality.
The Verge reports that Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging app that swept college campuses in 2014 and 2015, has laid off about 50 workers, leaving only about 20. Yik Yak told The Verge the layoffs amounted to 60% of staff.
Layoffs were reportedly concentrated in the company’s community, marketing, design, and product teams.
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This comes less than two years after a November 2014 investment round, led by Sequoia Capitol, that valued the startup at $400 million. App growth stalled quickly after that funding round. In April, longtime CTO Tom Chernetsky left the company, following departures by several other senior employees.
Observers chalked stalled growth to challenges inherent to the app’s initial appeal. It limited interaction to users within a small local area, giving users little incentive to recruit faraway friends.
The platform’s anonymity also helped breed hate speech and harassment, including a wave of anonymous threats, sometimes leading to class cancellations and school lockdowns. Some universities and high schools banned the app as a result.
Yik Yak tried to curtail harassment and threats in August by requiring users to post with handles, reducing the sense of anonymity. But many users opposed the change, with one astutely describing it as “contrary to the whole idea of Yik Yak.”
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The company apparently agreed, reversing itself in November and making handles optional again.
But that change does not seem to have reversed declining engagement quickly enough, and CEO Tyler Droll told The Verge that the company has “recently made some strategic changes,” presumably in hopes of reversing its decline. Yik Yak reportedly still has substantial cash on hand, so there’s still a chance it can successfully pivot before it disappears completely.