News, University News

Evans ’14 builds app for inspirational messages

Buoy shows Brown students optimistic notes submitted by other students, faculty

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, September 30, 2016

Drawing on his experiences at Brown, Jordan Evans ’14 created Buoy, a mobile application designed to provide Brown students with a source of daily encouragement. The app made its debut Sept. 22.

Buoy was created with the essence of its name in mind: “As a verb, buoy means to cause to become cheerful, more confident — to inspire,” Evans said. This is in alignment with the app’s mission as a “daily peer-to-peer inspiration network for specifically Brown University students.”

Upon downloading the app, students will find a wealth of quotes, one for each day, that deliver a positive message. Generally, the Buoy team selects the featured quote of the day from an inventory of Brown faculty and student submissions. “We encourage students to submit their own inspiration via the inspire form,” Evans said. “We select one that’s real, that’s relevant, that’s appropriate and aligned with our mission,” he added.

Everything about Evans reflects the positivity he broadcasts through Buoy. He answered nearly every question with praise and enthusiasm and signed every email with the hashtag “#stayinspired.” This connection between the app’s mission and Evans’s day-to-day behavior is indicative of the app’s relation to his own personal experiences. “When I was a freshman in the fall of 2010, I came home after my first semester and got some pretty difficult news, and that news was that I failed (ECON0110:) Principles of Economics,” said Evans, who was a BEO concentrator. “Fortunately, what got me through were my friends … who regularly encouraged me,” he added. From there grew his desire to incorporate that kind of encouraging substance into his daily life, he said.

Inspiration for the project was also derived from Brown’s culture. “I think Buoy is a direct result of our experience(s) at Brown and being challenged to be unique,” said James Clemmons ’14, a founding team member. “At Brown, it wasn’t so much (a question of) if I could do something, it was a matter of when. And that mindset I think is what drives Buoy,” he added.

According to Evans, Buoy’s development began with a business plan in October 2015. By January the team’s initial members were making more concrete steps toward the app’s creation.

One crucial element of the product’s growth has been feedback. To better understand their consumers, the Buoy team “distributed a survey to 150 Brown students,” Evans said. “We asked questions that would help us understand how students get their inspiration.”

“The takeaway was (that) over 51 percent of Brown students appreciate and enjoy enlightening messages or inspirational quotes,” Evans said. “So that really gave us the green light.”

Once the app had been generated, a process that required a third-party app builder, Buoy “did a pilot launch on campus” using a minimal viable product, which “targeted about 15 students” who used the app for a week and then gave feedback, Evans said. “We were able to get feedback that validated our assumption again that students would actually want and use the app,” he added.

Though the app’s initial construction is complete, it continues to evolve based on feedback. “We realized that this process is about constant iterations and constant changes. We know we’ve made mistakes, and we know we’re going to make mistakes. But the biggest thing for us is making adjustments quickly,” Evans said.

Following the official launch, the company is working on promotions and marketing, a process aided by five current Brown students who work as Buoy Campus Ambassadors. Beyond spreading the word, BCAs “review the content submissions” and decide what to post, Evans said.

On average, about 10 inspirational submissions are sent in per day, and the app has been downloaded about 200 times, Evans said. But some of the best elements of the app’s success are not so tangible. “The most rewarding part of this experience was definitely coming back to campus,” said Oyeleye Odewunmi ’15, another founding team member.

When back at school for alumni weekend, Odewunmi met students who have downloaded and enjoyed the app. “It was just really a feel-good experience to have this whole bus full of young students get excited about something that we created,” Odewunmi said.

For now, the Buoy team is working on extending the app’s outreach at Brown, but going forward the goal is to expand to other colleges as well. “We are going to grow Buoy to create inspiration networks also on other college campuses,” Evans said.

Despite having ambitious goals, Evans doesn’t succumb to discouragement when the path forward seems tough. “I have to stay encouraged because I’m literally looking at inspirational messages every day,” he said.