Two student co-founders have created and released Emit, a social media app created to help users find social events through user-released “flares,” alerting others of new and nearby events.
Brandon Li M.S. ’22, a fifth-year master’s student in computer science, and Anderson Addo ’23, a computer science concentrator who has declared a certificate in entrepreneurship, have worked with co-founders and former team members Nathaniel Goodman ’21 and Eyal Levin ’22 for almost two years to develop the app, which was recently released for download on the App Store and Google Play.
“Emit is focused on expanding your current circle” — distinct from existing social media, which “is all about coalescing your social circle,” Li said. “Emit is about finding new people to add to your social circle and finding new things to do.”
Addo and Li are currently developing their app to cater to a target audience of college students. They also intend for the app to be used by graduate students, potentially high school students and anyone else who wants to actively meet new people.
Originally, Emit was intended for existing friend groups to spontaneously alert each other about social events. But over time, the idea evolved so that people could use the app to connect with new people nearby. Emit is aimed at improving accessibility to events for Brown students and college students in general, especially as social distancing restrictions begin to loosen on campus.
Emit initially started as two different projects — one by Addo, and one by Li and Goodman. Addo conceptualized an early version of Emit at the beginning of his freshman year, driven by the frustration of coordinating lunches with his friends.
At the same time, Li and Goodman were struck by the difficulty of keeping in touch with friends due to quarantine restrictions. After hearing about the similarity of Addo’s app, Li reached out to collaborate.
“I had a full product, but did not have the environment to deploy it,” Addo said. “When we had our first meeting, we realized that they had done the bottom-up research and interviews, and I had the full platform.”
Li and Goodman gathered feedback from users on what they wanted from a social platform, allowing them to pivot Emit to fit the new context of social life during the pandemic.
Goodman said he was a proponent of gathering customer-focused data, and the team interviewed more than 50 people. They also took steps to prepare the platform to thrive after social gathering restrictions were lifted. Throughout the winter and summer 2020 seasons, they worked together virtually to broaden the reach of Addo’s platform.
Goodman added to Addo’s platform in its early stages, but has currently decreased his involvement since starting a full time job. Levin also conducted user interviews and added new features to the app, but left the team to pursue other projects.
This past summer, Li attended the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship’s Breakthrough Lab to develop Emit. The program allowed the co-founders to focus on branding and demonstrating the value of their product. The co-founders also received mentorship from Jason Harry, director of B-Lab and professor of the practice of technology and entrepreneurship. Harry continues to serve as an advisor for Emit with the co-founders.
“The thing about existing platforms is that you already have to be part of the group. One of the biggest challenges is to get into social situations,” Harry said. He believes “what makes Emit different is that it is for ‘not-yet’ friends.”
Harry added that each new group of students on campus provides a new opportunity to expand Emit, such as the most recent class of first-years.
Emit could additionally be used at events such as professional conventions, where participants have common interests but may not otherwise find opportunities to socialize, Harry said.
Li describes Emit as a “social app,” instead of social media. He believes that existing social media does not always encourage people to meet others, and hopes that Emit will combat some of the negatives of social media, such as isolation and fear of missing out.
Currently, Li and Addo are still working on some variables, like growing their user base. They are considering questions about what motivates users to go to an event, why people will use the app and where participants feel safe using the app.
“One of the problems with making a platform like this is that it is only powerful when people are on it,” Addo said.
The goal of user acquisition has dictated their outreach, such as promoting the app to the classes of 2025 and 2024 and gathering their post-pandemic plans for after the pandemic. While the current climate restricts people from physically gathering, Li and Addo see it as an opportunity for growth by capitalizing on users’ eagerness to eventually socialize once restrictions are lifted. Their underlying mission is to increase awareness by framing Emit as a resource for the Brown community.
“Even though COVID-19 is posing a lot of problems, I think there is a huge potential that if we can ride it properly, it can have an effect that lots of other startups can’t pounce on,” Addo said.
Currently, “people are still craving a way to meet and socialize with others,” Li said. The app comes into play once restrictions loosen up, timing which the co-founders describe as “very crucial.”
“Our ultimate vision for Emit is that any person in their community can open up Emit, look at a map and see a lot of different activities to do,” Li said. “They can meet new people who share the same interests or attend something that they weren’t expecting to be fun.”